Learning to Fly Sailplanes

Your first step is to take an introductory flight in a sailplane. That flight will introduce you to a world you have never known. And it is so exciting that you will want to explore it, to learn more about it and to become part of it. Accept that challenge and you are on your way to becoming a part of the world of the glider pilots.

As with any course of study, the more material you read on your own, the faster you'll learn and the more competent you'll be. You will be studying this material while you are taking your flight lessons. After you have passed your FAA written examination and your flight instructor has given you his or her blessing, you will take your private pilot test. Passing that test will entitle you to take passengers for rides with you.

The closer together the lessons are, the easier it is to build on the knowledge gained from the previous lessons, and the faster you will learn. Most people try to fly at least once a week, and most prefer to take more than one flight during each lesson. The sailplane you will fly has dual controls, and your instructor will sit behind you with all the directional controls that you have and will show you the control motions or follow along with you as you are learning to glide the sailplane.

If you have not flown before, some of the maneuvers and coordination may seem difficult at first, just as riding a bicycle may have seemed nearly impossible when you were first learning. After a few flights, however, you will be making the sailplane do what you want it to do, and you will wonder why you felt so clumsy on your initial flights. Basically you learn to fly your sailplane straight-and-level, to turn it in varying degrees of bank, and to recognize and recover from stalls. You will practice flight courtesy and safety, and will glide down to enter the airport traffic pattern at a pre-determined altitude. You will fly your approach precisely, land your craft with its wings level, and stop it where you want to stop. You will learn emergency techniques so there will be no unexpected surprises for you when you become a licensed pilot.

You will learn that a sailplane is a docile and responsive machine that answers to gentle, coordinated pressures on its controls. As your touch develops, you will become less and less conscious of the control movements necessary to make it respond to your wishes.

How long it takes you to solo depends on a number of factors. They might include any previous pilot experience you have had, how open you are to your instructor's guidance, and how relaxed you are. Other factors would include the type of sailplane you are flying and the weather during your training.

You can solo if you are 14 years old or older. Most instructors feel that 30 to 35 flights of pre-solo flight time are the minimum needed for most people with no previous flight experience. An experienced private power pilot can generally solo a sailplane in 10 flights. After you have soloed, you will continue to fly with an instructor from time to time to see that you are maintaining good flying habits and developing your judgment and flying skills.

You will be eligible for a private glider rating if you (1) are 16 years old or older, (2) have had the FAA minimum solo time in a sailplane, and (3) have passed the FAA written examination. These regulations apply if you have had no previous FAA ratings. But if you already have a private or commercial power pilot rating with 40 hours of solo time, you can be licensed in gliders if you have a minimum of 10 solo flights during which 360 degree turns have been made, and you have passed a flight test. No additional written FAA examination is required, although the oral test given by the flight examiner generally covers the same material which would be covered in the written examination.

Learning to fly a sailplane safely is easy. The instructor can teach you the mechanics of flying the aircraft in just a few lessons. But don't be led too quickly into thinking that you have learned all there is to know. Learning to soar is a series of steps and plateaus. How high on that ladder you wish to climb is up to you. Some pilots are content, at least for a while, to soar around an airport. Others find exhilaration and satisfaction in cross-country flight and ultimately in competing with other pilots. Learning while flying is fun; a fine balance of determination, flexibility and much practice is necessary to gain the proficiency and skills you will need to get the most out of your sailplane and your rating. The sport requires alertness, self-control and self-discipline. It requires a combination of coordination, flexibility of thought, quick decision-making, and good judgment - all skills which can be achieved only through conscientious effort. The requirements for continually taking off and landing safely at the same airport are obviously not the same as those placed on a pilot who ventures into the unknown on a cross-country flight. Fortunately, most human beings have the inherent capability of becoming fine glider pilots. The more you learn, the more fun and personal satisfaction you will have. The rapid growth of the glider movement is testimony to the rewards and satisfaction other glider pilots have found in their chosen sport.

Please see our Introductory Membership for a great way to start learning to fly.

Earning your Tow Pilot Add-on

Towing sailplanes is a unique flying experience. It isn't often that you get to fly a high performance tug (an aircraft towing a glider- generally a crop duster in a former life) while attached to another aircraft by a 200' rope. If you join the ranks of "tow pilots" you belong to a small group of pilots who have an "endorsement to aero tow gliders" signed off in their log books. Towing is challenging and requires precision flying skills. It is also great fun!

Getting your tow pilot training is a great bargain with lots of free flying and training! It is not easy, and it is not for everyone. But if you have the skills and determination you will be successful. Here is what you need to get started:

  • Minimum 200 hours PIC in powered aircraft of any type, with 100 hours PIC in ASEL
  • Minimum 25 hours PIC in single engine tail wheel aircraft
  • High performance signoff (more than 200 HP)
  • At least a Private Pilot, 3rd Class Medical and flight review

Tow-pilot-only membership to WVSC is only $100 with $25 dues per year. You will get well over $1,000 in flying and training, including flight and ground training in gliders. New towpilots are required to deposit $200.00, refundable after 100 tows. 

Naturally, it is in our best interest (and responsibility) to have you become an excellent tow pilot. Our job is not to teach you to fly, but rather, it is to help you become competent and safe while you perform an often challenging role in a complex flying environment. Our standards are high. But if you qualify, and tow gliders, you will become a more competent pilot.

Want to get going? First meet the minimum requirements above and join WVSC. Then meet with one of our tow pilot instructors (you can find them on our members' web site). Download information on towing and our tow planes and study the information. You can take a short on-line study course at SSA.com on towing. They even give you an on-line test and program certificate. You may have to review all your flying skills.

You can expect to fly with one of our tow pilot instructors (CFI's) for several hours in a rented two-place conventional-gear aircraft and make a number of simulated tows under his supervision. You will also have at least three instructional flights in a glider with a CFI-Glider, so you know what everything looks like from the glider pilot's perspective. Expect several hours of ground instruction in gliders and tugs. Then you will make at least 10 takeoffs and landings in one of our tugs before you do an actual tow.

You will find that the sport of soaring is very labor intensive. It takes a number of people to operate and launch gliders, so things often move slower than you might expect. Your training may take several days, and you need to "push" it a bit by setting up times to fly, calling your instructors, etc. You need to be pro-active. Try to come out on Wednesdays or mornings when operations are typically slower. Demonstrate that you are interested in leaning about soaring and towing. Plan to "hang" out at the glider port, make friends, and learn how to stage gliders and how to make the operation safe. We have many outstanding pilots and instructors in WVSC. Get to know them, fly with them and learn all you can. Remember, we are a club dedicated to flying; we are not a "business." If you are willing to "put in" you will "get out" far more than you can imagine.

Tow Pilot Checkout

All training is performed by a current Tow Pilot, who is also a CFI-A. An hour or two of ground review covers aircraft systems, performance, emergencies and towing parameters. Flight training is structured for the particular applicant; most tail-wheel pilot participants are able to demonstrate satisfactory competency in a couple of hours of dual instruction. Currently, our initial Tow Pilot training and recurrency is accomplished using a rented two-place Sport Cub airplane doing simulated tows.  The training is completed by doing a minimum of three actual tows in one of the Club tow planes with a CFIG flying the glider.