To misquote a certain loveable water-vole, “there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in gliders.”
Gliders enjoy a special place in the hearts of many amateur aviators. It’s easy to see why – soaring through the air in a glider is a truly unique experience. Where other light aircraft are slaves to their noisy, fuel-guzzling engines, the glider is supremely silent.
On first glance you might be forgiven for thinking a glider was just like any other plane. But there are a number of key differences. The most immediately obvious is the wings. They’re huge! This super-extended wingspan allows the aircraft to catch even the smallest of thermal up-drafts – currents of warm air rising from the ground which keep the glider aloft for extended periods.
Another big difference is in the design of the body of the aircraft – smooth and sleek to closely emulate the streamlined body of a bird. Without engines to counteract the immense drag of the air rushing by, gliders need to be as aerodynamic as possible to keep them in the skies.
Speaking of engines… well, they haven’t got any, obviously. How to they get into the air then, you may ask. Well modern gliders use one of two methods to launch: aerotow and winch. An aerotow is, as the name suggests, a very simple launch by which the glider is literally hauled up into the air on a tow-line attached to an engine powered aeroplane. Once both reach the desired height – usually several thousand feet – the tow-line is released, setting the glider free to soar on the wind for as long as the weather and the skill of the pilot allows.
A winch launch, on the other hand, is maybe a little less dignified, but no less exciting. The glider is again attached to a tow-line, however the line is not attached to another aircraft but to an engine-powered winch, which winds rapidly, tightening the line and catapulting the glider into the sky at incredible speed. Winch-launches don’t tend to attain the same heights as aerotows, but the thrill of a high speed launch can’t be overstated.
However you get into the air, the experience of flying a glider is a uniquely serene one. Moving through the sky in silence is strange at first, but once you’re used to the sensation, it is highly addictive. There are many gliding clubs around the UK, and many more enthusiastic amateur glider pilots. Even if you’re an experienced pilot in powered aircraft, if you’ve never tried gliding you don’t know what you’re missing!
Check out some of the Top Glider Flying Lessons in the UK