Gliding or Power Flying?

Gliding and power flying have much in common with the experiences that they make available to pilots, and to aspiring pilots.

Gliding however offers a whole range of aviation adventure not generally accessible or affordable in powered aircraft.

For anyone contemplating flying training, either for themselves or their child, there are several paths available. However gliding offers the very best way to begin learning to fly as it provides the surest foundation for all forms of flying, including power flying.

For this reason, previous gliding experience is highly regarded by both the airlines and the Military in pilot selection. Many commercial and military pilots began flying in gliders and attest to the value of commencing this way. Some of those same pilots continue gliding in their leisure time.

The Airline Perspective Most applicants for airline pilot positions would be expected to have some prior flying experience, typically a minimum of 250-500 hours. A significant proportion of this experience can be gained in any approved aircraft type including gliders.

The type of flying experience can be more relevant than the amount of flying experience. The airlines don’t view prior General Aviation experience as necessarily the best first step to later flying in the multi crew environment of heavy aircraft. Gliding experience is ranked more highly.

Airbus A380 VH-OQE operated by Qantas airways

But why? Lets look at what piloting skills the airlines rank highly and how gliding develops those same skills..

The Royal Aeronautical Society Conference on International Flight Crew Training around this topic was held in 2013.

A key point during the conference which was agreed by many (if not all) speakers and delegates was that in the past 15 years, manual flying skills of airline pilots has atrophied. Increased cockpit automation, rigid standard operating procedures, more use of flight simulators and a reduced pool of military pilots has conspired to erode basic flying skills in a new generation of pilots. 

The Conference focus was -‘Upset Prevention, Recognition and Recovery Training’. and it was rated “the best and most productive conference held anywhere on the work to prevent aircraft loss of control in flight”.

Some keynote questions around the challenge of eroding basic flying skills in commercial pilot training were posed at that same conference: Could gliding be the low-cost training answer to keep airline pilots’ manual flying skills fresh and sharp?
Could gliders hold the key to improving airline safety?

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Here is what one airline captain presented at the conference….

At first glance, there may be little in common between a glider weighing between 500-800kg and the latest single-aisle jet airliners carrying hundreds of passengers. One is powered, utilises complex computers, has radar, flies higher, faster and is heavier being made out of metals (and composites). What does a professional airline crew with the weighty responsibility of the safety of their passengers have in common with a two-place sport glider, flown for fun? Capt Sarah Kelman, Airbus pilot EasyJet

Capt Kelman, an accomplished glider pilot herself as well as an airline pilot, observed that there were skills that she maintained in her glider that are directly relevant to her day job as an Airbus pilot and, which indeed, enhance her situational awareness and ability to deal with these non-normal, and recover quickly from, upset situations. She said that already many commercial airline pilots fly gliders already in their spare time, because of the direct experience of flight and that every flight is different and a challenge.

Indeed the most famous example is Capt Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger whose gliding experience proved critical at the right time in the Hudson River in 2009 – saving all 155 people on board.  

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The Miracle on the Hudson

In the words of Simon Hackett, an Australian commercial pilot…. “I began my flying in gliders, and I still fly them today. If you (or your kids) find an interest in flying, I’d strongly recommend going to a gliding field and going on an Air Experience Flight.”

“Flying a glider (also known as a sailplane) is a flying experience that involves being absolutely in tune with the atmosphere and with the sights and sounds of the world.It shows you, in the most direct manner, why and how the wings of aircraft give humans this incredible capacity to ‘slip the surly bonds of earth’.

That pursuit that has ingrained, in my hind-brain, the fundamental sense of how an aircraft works and how to work with it. The principles that keep a little single seat glider flying about between thermals on a summers day are the very same ones that keep an A380 flying between continents.


The Military Perspective The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) rates gliding so highly that it conducts its own gliding operations for young people through the Australian Air Force Cadets program

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Acknowledgement to Australian Flying
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Becoming a RAAF Pilot If you have aviation experience this will also help, I advise people who do not have flying experience to consider gliding. Gliding is much less expensive and the training provided by gliding club instructors is more aligned to military techniques than the powered variety of training. Squadron Leader RAAF Phil Frawley – Fighter pilot.

Australian Air Force Cadet (AAFC) Glider Training AAFC gliding activities use the facilities of Air Force- approved service providers. Week- long training courses are held during school holidays.

Gliders are controlled and flown just like conventional powered aircraft. Gliding trains pilots to be very well coordinated on the aircraft controls and to have a high degree of in- flight situational awareness and excellent out- of- cockpit lookout. Many Australian Defence Force and commercial aviators began their flying careers by learning with the AAFC.

Australian Air Force Cadets

U.S. Air Force Capt. Danny Sorenson, who instructs in F-16s, is a glider pilot. He stated, “As a result of my glider training, I’m always thinking, ‘Where can I land this thing?’” He also noted that during his F-16 training, simulated flame-outs were never a problem for him, “It’s instinctive,” he said. “I’d just fly my circuit and glide in.”

Desirable Personal Qualities. Employers carefully scrutinise the personal qualities of prospective pilots. Leadership, teamwork, excellent communication skills and quick thinking rank highly. After all, what use is a pilot with good flying skills but who finds it difficult to communicate effectively, to be decisive and to work well with other crew members? The cooperative structure of gliding operations promotes the development of such desirable personal and social skills.

Australian Air Force Cadets and Teamwork


Is Gliding a More Affordable Path to Flying? There is a strong argument that glider training and glider flying is considerably cheaper than flying in other forms of ‘fixed wing’ aircraft. This applies equally whether gliding is the final goal or is utilised as the springboard to other forms of flying

In the early stages of learning to glide, the savings, although real, may not be as significant as they are when flying solo. A significant cost component of each glider flight is that for the launch provided by a tow plane (in the case of ‘aero tow’). A typical aero tow to 3000′ above the ground (AGL) costs $60-$70. The hire of the club glider itself less in comparison, around $1 per minute. Initial training involves a number of flights of fairly short duration so each flight costs relatively more in stable air compared with that of soaring flights.

As with all fixed wing forms of flying, costs are calculated around time in the air. When there is lift around, most commonly in the form of rising warmer air called ‘thermals’, then flights can become much cheaper for gliding club members. Whereas a 30 minute flight in stable air might cost $100, a two hour soaring flight would be around $180 and a three hour flight $240. Many clubs then offer free glider hire after three hours on one flight. If this flight is shared with another pilot then the cost can be halved.

Thermal Formation
Gliders fly a ‘sawtooth’ flight profile using thermal lift, then searching for the next thermal.

Most gliding instruction is free to gliding club members. It is provided by experienced volunteer instructors who do so in order to contribute to and promote the sport that they have gained so much from. This in itself is a big saving as power flying schools are commercial operations using paid instructors. Typical hire rates for common general aviation aircraft start at around $250-$300/hr plus instructor.

This pic is of a Cessna 152, a classic metal, two seat training aircraft in general aviation for many years.

This Diamond DA40 is a later trainer type made of composite materials, mainly fibreglass. Its smooth lines are underpinned by its motor glider design heritage.

The ultimate aim of many glider pilots is to some day own their own glider. An even better option is to form a partnership or syndicate of like minded fellow pilots. In this way there is more help for carrying out the various maintenance tasks and fixed costs are divided evenly.. With good second hand gliders available for less than $20000 this is a very affordable option where the glider is shared and as an owner, you need only pay for the launch cost.


Does Gliding Training Make Better Power Pilots? Many private pilots fly both gliders and power planes. Each offers its own special experiences to a pilot. Possibly the best way of explaining this is by making the comparison between sailing and power boating. Sailing is more sport orientated with performance closely related to interpretation of the weather and nature and to personal ability and experience. The power boat sailor relies more on their motor to counter the weather and nature to a large degree, however both are sailors.

So what does gliding offer power pilots? Quite a lot actually.

When the engine of a power plane fails, then that becomes a serious event for the pilot and an emergency landing ensues. Power pilots are trained to look for and assess suitable emergency landing areas for this of course. However they RARELY get the opportunity to inspect the selected landing area at very low level or to complete their forced landing and to confirm their judgement from the ground. Instead, the throttle is opened by the instructor at maybe 200′ AGL and the aircraft is climbed away.

Glider pilots are trained to land first time, every time as of course no “go around’s” are possible. Pilot judgement around landings needs to be consistently accurate. This is a very useful skill for all power pilots in preparation for the engine failure that may well happen one day…usually when you are least expecting it!

The goal of most glider pilots is flying cross country…flying over often several hundred kilometres of countryside before returning to your departure point. As cross country soaring can cover such distances and take several hours, occasionally the weather (or the pilot performance on the day) isn’t conducive to completing the flight. An ‘oulanding’ must then be carried out.

Outlandings require pilot assessment of every aspect of unfamiliar landing areas, from the air

Glider pilots are only approved to fly cross country after being trained in selecting suitable outlanding areas. Over many decades, the considerations and judgement necessary to perform a safe outlanding have been formally incorporated into gliding training. This is quite an art. Having made a range of assessments of a landing area successfully, remotely from that area and well in advance of the actual landing, achieving a safe outlanding is nothing less than extremely satisfying.

If you are a power pilot or considering becoming one, glider landings will be particularly helpful to you. Outlanding selection steps and considerations have been developed by the Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA) over many decades. Instructor guidance through these will assist you greatly in the event of engine failure and the carrying out of the ensuing forced landing as safely as possible.

The use of motor gliders is ideal for circuit training for engine off landings. Motor gliders provide the opportunity to carry out consecutive circuits either power on or power off. With the power set to simulate the rate of descent of any glider type throughout the circuit, the throttle can then be opened on late final approach and a ‘go around’ initiated to carry out further circuits. These can be mixed with engine off circuits to develop confidence to handle engine failure competently in power aircraft.

For general enquiries or more information about how gliding can make you a a better power pilot, feel free to either email or call us ….
0439 353 966


In gliding you learn to fly far more accurately.
With an engine and propeller driving a power pilot through the air, there tends to be a partial disconnect between a pilot and their sensing of that air and of feeling their aircraft’s responses to that air. The thrust provided by the motor can mask less than efficient pilot handling. In gliding, pilot awareness of the characteristics of the air being flown through and how just accurately the aircraft is being flown through that air, is greater.

The term ‘sailplane’ is most often used to describe higher performance gliders

Drag is the resistance by the air to moving forward and is the bane of all aircraft. Think of sailing a yacht but with your anchor dragging along the bottom behind you. The elegant, slim lines of gliders are design responses to the minimising of drag through streamlining.

Note the minimalist frontal profile of modern gliders in order to reduce drag as much as possible.

Gliding hones a pilot’s ability to fly cleanly through the air in order to maximise aircraft performance. This applies to both powered and unpowered aircraft. Good coordination of rudder with aileron is essential in minimising drag and when applied in all flying results in more accurate, efficient and safer flying.


What Else Does Gliding Offer?
Gliding offers flying experiences not usually available in other forms of aviation.

As anyone who flies a power aircraft for enjoyment appreciates, eventually the novelty and excitement of local flying can wane a little over time. The sporting aspect is integral to gliding. Each and every flight offers personal challenges whether that flight is local or cross country. You are pitting yourself against nature, or more accurately, working with it to gain the most personal satisfaction out of each and every flight.

On poor soaring days you will be restricted to within glide range of the airfield, however on good days once you are competent you can attempt recognised flights of 50, 300, 500 or 1,000 km. The straight glide performance of gliders varies immensely. A modern high performance competition glider may glide 60 km for every 1km (3000′) of height in still air! A typical club glider will easily glide 25-30 km for each 1km (3000′) of height without encountering any rising air.

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On every flight there is the opportunity to fly further or higher….

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……or faster or for longer. Or not.

One area is that of aerobatics. Basic aerobatic manoeuvres like Stalls & Spins are actually taught during the pre solo part of the national gliding syllabus. Spin recovery in most modern powered training is only talked about. Glider pilots are required to demonstrate full spin recovery before being allowed to fly their first solo. Most modern gliders are designed and built to handle the high “G ” forces of aerobatics.

Familiarity with unusual flight attitudes and the recovery procedures builds pilot confidence and capability.

The following demonstration is of extreme glider aerobatics but demonstrates the capabilities of purpose built gliders. Aerobatics in gliders is most often primarily of basic aerobatics ie stalls, spins and loops, which are far less hair raising.

Glider pilots often fly in close proximity to others. There are strict protocols and separation requirements while doing so and Its common for two or three gliders to be flying together. On occasions during competitions there may be a dozen or more gliders sharing the same thermal! This close quarter flying is found in no other form of fixed wing aviation.

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Physical senses, especially that of vision or ‘lookout’, are heightened and honed, offering another exciting and truly satisfying component to flying experience.

Fly higher. On cross country glider flights in good summer soaring conditions with strong thermals pilots will often climb to over 10000′ and at times up to 15000′. Oxygen is a legal requirement over 10000′. The view at these altitudes is nothing less than spectacular. Mountain wave lift can provide height gains well over these with flights to 25000′ being common. The current Australian height record in gliding is 33000′ set at Bunyan near Canberra.

For the competitive types, there are various gliding competitions available to all levels of cross country pilots. These are essentially races….a race against your peers…. and a race against yourself. Daily task distances are a set minimum, typically 200-400km, determined on the soaring weather forecast. Where the flight is conducted to achieve this task is each pilot’s choice.

The fastest around the task with the highest average speed, typically 100-150kph, is the day winner. Handicaps are allocated (for the glider type not the pilot!) to counter variation in aircraft performance. Tasks are most often a triangle or quadrilateral shape which minimises the distance from the take off point throughout that task.

Gliding offers a whole new world to the aviator!