Gliding Australia Brochure - 8 page introductory summary of gliding in Australia
Can anyone fly a glider in Australia?
To fly solo, you must be older than 15, be a member of the Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA) and a member of a recognised gliding club and have been cleared to fly solo by a qualified instructor. The health requirements are similar to that for getting a vehicle driver's license. There is no mandatory upper age limit for flying a glider. To fly cross-country, you must have achieved a rating (C Certificate) which includes tests for outlandings and retrieves.
I don't know if gliding is just for me. How can I have a test flight?
Trial flights are officially called 'Air Experience Flights.' You can get a trial flight before joining at any one of the 22 Victorian and Tasmanian gliding clubs. One will be at a convenient site to you. To find one click here. You can give them a ring and arrange it or alternatively, if the weather is reasonable, you can just turn up and take your turn on most weekends and public holidays. Some clubs operate 7 days a week. Do bring a hat and sun glasses.
What age, height and fitness requirements are there?
Minimum age to fly solo is 15 Taring can commence before 15 but you need to be big enough for the straps to secure you well. There is no maximum age limit. Max weight is 110kg. You should be reasonably physically fit and have good eyesight with glasses is needed. Generally, if you are 6’3” (190cm) or less, you should be fine. If you are taller, there may be only certain gliders you can fit into.
How do sailplanes get airborne?
There are two main ways to get be launched. The first is where the sailplane is towed up by a light aircraft with a tow rope. Both the glider and the tow plane have special tow releases for the rope. The sailplane releases when it has been towed to the desired height. The other principal method of launching for many gliding clubs is with a powerful winch. Once again, a special tow release is used at the glider end of the winch rope. When the glider is at the top of the tow, either the pilot releases the rope, or the release automatically lets go of the rope. Many modern sailplanes are self launching. They have a motor concealed in the fuselage behind the wings which can be used to launch the glider and to get you back home if the lift stops.
The advantage of towing up behind an aeroplane (aerotowing) is that the sailplane can release at the height and location it wants to… hopefully in a thermal. The main disadvantage is cost. The advantage of winch launching is cost. Perhaps half that of aerotowing. The disadvantage is that the release height and location are more or less fixed, and it not quite as reliable a way of finding a thermal.
How is a glider controlled?
Almost all sailplanes are flown with the same "3 axis" controls as any aircraft. A control column or joystick controls the elevator for pitch control, and the ailerons for roll control. There are pedals to control the rudder for yaw control. Pilots are in full control of the direction they wish to take providing they have sufficient height.
All sailplanes also have very efficient air brakes which are used to adjust the glide or descent angle when landing. Higher performance sailplanes have retractable undercarriages to reduce drag and flaps to optimise performance in fast and slow flight regimes.
How does a sailplane stay up?
As long as a sailplane keeps moving forwards, lift generated by the wings keeps it up there, just as with a conventional powered aircraft. The sailplane is slowly sinking as it moves forwards through the air… in fact sinking far more slowly than powered aircraft.
Typically, a sailplane sinks at around 600mm per second. Updrafts in the air called thermals, commonly under clouds can rise up much faster than 600mm per second and lift a glider up to cloud base faster than almost any powered aircraft can climb… but even in this rising air, the glider is still sinking relative to the air it is flying in.
At some sites, lift is found on ridges and mountains, where the air is deflected upwards by the shape of the terrain. Lift is also found in wave lift which is similar to ridge lift, but more so! Altitudes of over 8,000 metres are common in wave lift, and the record is much higher than that.
How far can you fly? And how fast?
Experienced pilots on strong thermal days can regularly fly over 500 km and land back at base. The longest distance flown from in Victoria/Tasmania is over 1100 km. The world distance record is unofficially over 3,000 km, flown in wave lift in South America. Most sailplanes can easily achieve speeds of over 250 kph.
So what happens if the thermals run out?
Not much! The sailplane gently glides towards the ground. In almost all cases, the pilot, either by judgement and experience, perhaps with the aid of a sophisticated glide computer, works out how much height is needed to return to the airstrip, and makes sure the aircraft has plenty of height to perform a normal landing circuit. In fact, gliders rarely land out ie not get back to base.
That being said, gliders are designed to land in paddocks and on many of these an aerotow retrieve is possible. If not, the glider is taken apart and put in its trailer for the trip home by road. Dismantling (de-rigging) a single seat glider is usually less than 30 mins
Does anybody regulate sailplanes in Australia?
Of course! CASA, the government body charged with regulating aircraft in Australia, delegates responsibility to the Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA). Sailplanes are certified aircraft, just like any light aircraft or commercial aircraft. This means that the manufacturer certifies that the aircraft has been built to internationally agreed standards. In fact sailplanes are built to higher strength limits than most general aviation aircraft.
The GFA has been in existence many years and has efficient programs for glider maintenance and inspection as well as pilot and instructor training.
So how safe are sailplanes?
Gliding is a very safe form of aviation and its members are extremely safety conscious. The Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA), the controlling body, has prescribed safety standards for operations, training and sailplane maintenance, which must be strictly adhered to.
What's the cost of learning to glide?
Gliding is not an expensive sport mainly due to most instructors and other members assisting are voluntary. The cost of learning to fly does vary from club to club and the launch method used. As a rough guide after you have paid your club and GFA memberships, it costs about $600 to $1,000 to the solo stage.
What about owning a glider?
You can own your own glider but in fact there is no need to buy your own glider. Almost all gliding clubs own a range of gliders, single and two seaters which are available to club members for hire by the minute, the day or the week. You need to hold a recognised gliding qualification and will need a check flight, but there's no need to own your own plane. You can also hire a glider at almost any club in Australia and when you go overseas.
You can buy a competitive second hand sailplane for less than $25,000. Less than that if you don't want to fly competitions. You could also buy a 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4 share in one of these for a lot less. The annual costs are quite low. Each glider has to be inspected annually. These are often done by qualified club volunteers, annual costs can be as low as a few hundred dollars.
How is training organised?
All your training will take place in a two-seater dual controlled sailplane, with an instructor registered with the GFA. The initial part of the training takes you to a stage where you can fly solo in a glider. Everyone follows a set training syllabus, which is common throughout Australia.
At most clubs training is done on the basis of 'learn at your own pace'. Some clubs or commercial operations conduct intensive full-time training courses. This can be a good way to get started. Obviously you can tailor your training to your own preferences and your budget.
How often should I train?
To ensure progress, once a fortnight is a minimum; once a week is preferable, at least in the initial stages.
How long does it take to go solo?
This will vary, depending on ability and how regularly you train. An average time to solo would be 10 to 15 hours of flying time.
Do you fly in winter?
Gliding is an all-year-round sport in Australia. Strong winds will hamper gliding because of ground-handling problems. Too much rain makes it difficult for the ground crews but occasional showers won't stop operations. Bad weather often means a chance to catch up on maintenance problems.
Will gliding count if I take up power flying?
Yes. Soaring pilots can have their power licence training hours reduced in line with their gliding experience. Each individual is assessed by the flying school.
Once I'm solo, what can I aim for?
Going solo is just the start! As you progress, you'll graduate to flying single-seater sailplanes and will be encouraged to undertake cross-country flying.
You will also aim for recognised gliding certificates - one of the first is the 'C' certificate. The main requirement for this is two soaring flights, each of one hour's duration. Then comes the Silver badge, which requires a five hour duration flight, a 50km cross-country, and a height gain of 1,000 metres.
The Gold badge calls for a cross-country flight of 300km, and a gain in height of 3,000m. 'Diamonds' are then added for a 300km flight to a nominated destination, for a 500km flight, and for a height gain of 5,000m. Certificates are issued for flights of 750km, 800km and 1,000km.
And what after that?
Gliding competitions are held at club, regional, national and international level. There are records to be aimed for, again at all these levels, in any number of categories. Records are set in single or two-place sailplanes, and self-launchers, for men and women, and can be for distance achieved, or more commonly for speed around a triangular course of from 100km to over 1,000km. And of course you can always race yourself around a course, against the clock, to improve your personal best time. But if you prefer not to bother with competitions, there is a lot of pleasure to be had from soaring the local skies, watching the ever-changing scenery, free from the worries of earth-bound life!