Learning to Glide!

The sport of gliding is an exhilarating, spectacular yet serene flying experience. Gliders take to the air like birds with wings outstretched, soaring on rising air currents, immersed in three dimensional space and flying silently with an eagle’s view of the world.

Gliding is for all ages, men and women of all ages fly gliders. In Australia you can fly solo from the age of 15 and some pilots continue gliding into their eighties. It is never too late to learn to glide and many pilots take up the sport in their 40s 50s or even 70s. 

But be warned. Whether you have your first flight when you are young or old, you may be so moved by the experience that you are quickly taken by the gliding bug and find yourself forever looking skyward in anticipation of your next flight.

Gliders, sail planes, they’re wonderful flying machines. It’s the closest you can come to being a bird. Neil Armstrong – The first Moon walker

How long will it take me to go solo? That depends on a number of things which influence how rapidly a student pilot can progress through the pre solo components of the syllabus (see below for some Glider Pilot Certificate Syllabus examples). Personal aptitude, personal commitment, how often you participate, your age, the availability of suitable training weather, the type of gliding, all influence your rate of progress towards solo. Attending weekend training a student pilot can typically achieve solo in around 30 flights. Each training flight may be 20-30 mins in length.

But is this the wrong question? Achieving solo is a major milestone in learning to glide and every pilot can ardently recall the events of that special day and flight. If you have a driver’s, motorcycle rider’s or machinery operator licence, consider when most of the learning and skill development took place. That’s right….it was only after you were let loose by yourself.

And so it is with gliding. Even glider pilots with decades of experience comment that they are still learning on every flight! As an adventure sport, this is one of the most appealing aspects of gliding. Anything that’s easy to achieve can begin to lose its appeal and become boring quite quickly. There is always another personal challenge available in gliding and its you the pilot who gets to choose which one to pursue next.

Club-based community

Gliding can be enjoyed at your own pace to suit your lifestyle, budget and the amount of time that you have available. As a glider pilot you will be part of an Australian and worldwide club-based community which offers support, advice and training. There are gliding clubs around the country from coastal fringes to the Alps and the Great Dividing Range, as well as the magnificent inland plains of Australia.

Along the way you are sure to make new friends who share your new found passion for silent flight and the unique experience of flying in graceful and sophisticated aircraft. 

Once you have learned the basics of soaring and have the skill to safely fly a glider, your instructor will send you solo. Then after gaining a little more experience, you can relax on a quiet local flight, on your own or in a two-seater glider with another glider pilot or even a family member or friend a little later.


All gliding training in Australia follows the national syllabus and is carried out under the auspices of the Gliding Federation of Australia.
The GFA is a self administering body originally established in the late 1940s and is responsible to CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) for the conduct of safe gliding operations in Australia. This includes the setting and maintenance of flying standards and in particular training standards.

  • There is a national scaffold listing the skills and understandings that you will develop to fly well, enjoyably and safely on your path to becoming a gilder pilot. The sequential skill set for learning to glide is outlined in the GFA GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE outline.
  • The specific competencies for each skill set are described in the GFA GLIDER PILOT TRAINING RECORD.
  • Your PILOT LOGBOOK is an ongoing record of your personal training progress.
  • The primary reference for gliding training for student pilots is AUSTRALIAN GLIDING KNOWLEDGE.


 Gliding skills and Understandings: Here are some samples from the Glider Pilot Certificate Outline for before going solo:

  • 1. Lookout Awareness
  • 3, Orientation, sailplane stability
  • 4. Pre-take-off checks
  • 5. Primary effects, further effects of bank
  • 7. Sustained turns, all controls
  • 11. Slow flight, stalling
  • 18. Soaring with other gliders
  • 24. Rules of the Air
  • 26. Human Factors
  • 28. First solo

Some samples for after going solo:

  • 30. Steep turns
  • 31 Thermal sources and selection
  • 34. Soaring instruments and flight computers
  • 35. Meteorology and flight planning
  • 36. Navigation and Airspace
  • 37. Cruising, height to fly and height bands
  • 38. Demonstrated cross country flying ability
  • 39. A, B and C Certificates (C Certificate – Having achieved 20 ‘in command’ flights, privileged to fly cross country and to take passengers.
  • 40. Daily Inspector’s Certificate (rated to carry out daily airworthiness inspection).

Develop your skills
You can continue to develop your skills further to experience the thrills of soaring across the countryside, or the excitement of aerobatics. For those with a competitive spirit there are many regional and international racing competitions where you will meet the top glider pilots, coaches and fellow competitors in an intense yet friendly learning experience.


A gliding competition pre start ‘grid’.

Additional Training topics samples:

  • 43. Basic and Intermediate Aerobatics
  • 46. Mountain and Ridge Flying
  • 47. Oxygen Systems Competencies & Checklist


The specific skills and competencies and general information associated with each part of gliding training are set out in the GFA Glider Pilot Training Record. Here are some samples:

The Personnel Awareness Checklist ‘IM SAFE’ …..I – Illness – Do I have symptoms of an illness or am I unwell? M – Medication – Am I taking any medication that can affect my judgement or otherwise affect my flying? Check with your doctor if unsure. S – Stress – Am I under any undue stress from any source? A – Alcohol – Do I have a blood alcohol or illicit drug level above zero? F – Fatigue – Am I tired and not adequately rested? E – Eating – Am I inadequately nourished or hydrated?

Developing a regular and thorough scanning technique and a careful lookout is essential to safe and efficient gliding. Required competencies:

Topic: Lookout Awareness Briefed Competency Achieved
Collision avoidance – see and avoid.    
Blind spots of the pilot.
Limitations of human vision,

The conscientious carrying out of flight checks is also essential to safe flying. Required competencies:

Topic: PreTake-off Checks B
Pilot pre take-off check (see Pre Take-Off Checklist). Why it is used.    
Conduct check –
ABCD – CHAOTIC. (Note: Sterile Area, no interruptions, say out aloud)
Pilot estimation of wind speed and direction.
Ensure ground crew complete Airspace Clear For Launch prior to launch (see Pre launch Actions & Checks)


Modern gliders can fly within a broad range of speeds, typically from around 40 to 140 knots (airspeed in aircraft is measured in Knots ie nautical mph. Double an airspeed in knots to get an approximate equivalent in kph). Certain stages of flight require certain speeds. Required competencies:

Topic: Straight Flight, Various Speeds, Trim
Maintaining straight and level flight.    
Drift correction.
Flight at different speeds – indications (air noise, ASI (Fig 8a below), control feel)
Typical speeds – at altitude (best L/D). Note limitations at high altitudes above 10,000ft.
Typical speeds – in thermals (min. sink/maintain control authority)
Typical speeds – safe speed near the ground (1.5 x stall speed)
Types of trim mechanisms and use.
Trim – locate-identify-operate
Use of trim, trimming to particular speeds (fast / slow).
Use of light control column grip to maximise feel/feedback.

“There is an art to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Major goals for glider pilots are to fly further, higher and faster. Experienced pilots often compete in gliding competitions which are essentially races. Any cross country flight can be a race against yourself to do better than previously, or a just a pleasant excursion over the countryside by yourself or with a friend. For higher performance, the required competencies are:

Topic: Advanced Cross-Country Flying B
Effect of water ballast on climb rate, glide ratio and speed.    
Filling and dumping water ballast.
Effect of flaps.
Use of flaps in thermals.
Use of flaps in cruising flight.
Effect of rain droplets and insect residue on wings.
Effect of icing on aircraft.
Dealing with rain droplets or icing in flight.
Competition finishes – planning, notification, options, endorsement in logbook.
Determining the active runway at an operating airfield.
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Your personal record. A Pilot Logbook is an ongoing record of your flying history. Each entry has the number of that flight, the date, aircraft type and registration number, location, type of flight (eg solo or under the supervision of an instructor), the length of the flight and provision for you or your instructor to make some comments about the flight.

The Pilot Logbook is a legal document however there is no need for it to be a dry document. Although historically any comments have been typically brief, in point form and primarily those of your instructor (eg ‘should take up sailing instead’ ), your pilot log book is a personal memento of your many and varied flying experiences over time.

Looking back through your previous flights is not only useful to plot your learning curve, but also brings back a flood of wonderful memories. So you are encouraged to include your own thoughts about each flight. Some pilots even include pics of special days or events to enjoy. Pilot Log Books may well record many years of flying, become cherished keepsakes and are sometimes even passed on to following generations.


The recently released Australian Gliding Knowledge is the main source of gliding information for student pilots.

Australian Gliding Knowledge covers just about everything including the many safety factors to consider, the different ways of launching gliders and their respective piloting techniques, the rules of the air, basic glider aerodynamics and design features, circuit planning, landing techniques, cross country navigation and gliding meteorology.

It does so in a very relaxed, readable and easy to grasp way in over 200 informative pages of text, pics and illustrations. Be warned however, you will find it hard to put down! It was written by John Clark in conjunction with the GFA. Australian Gliding Knowledge can be downloaded at no cost HERE: (This may take a little time to download)

Individual Gliding Milestones

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) – “World Air Sports Federation” is the world body for sporting aviation and the certification of world records. Within the FAI are several Commissions. The International Gliding Commission (IGC) is the international governing body for the sport of  gliding and is responsible for the international competitions, records and badges that apply to gliders and motor gliders.

“A” Certificate Requirements Include: Minimum age 15 years – Minimum of 5 solo flights with normal landings – Satisfactory check flight, which must include an awareness of pre-spin symptoms and a demonstration of the correct action to prevent a spin developing – An accurate circuit without reference to the altimeter – Online examination on basic theory, flight rules and procedures. Privileges May only fly solo under the direct supervision of Level 2 instructor – May carry out local soaring only.

“B” Certificate Requirements Include: A total of 15 solo flights with normal landings, including at least one soaring flight of not less than 30 minutes duration –
Completion of sections 1-29 of the Glider Pilot Certificate syllabus.
Privileges In addition to those of the A Certificate – May fly with another pilot (mutual flying) who holds at least a B Certificate.

“C” Certificate Requirements Include: A total of 20 solo or mutual flights, including two solo soaring flights of at least one hour’s duration each –
Received a “passenger awareness” briefing – Trained and checked in ability to carry out a safe out landing . Privileges In addition to those of the B Certificate –
May carry private passengers – May fly cross-country.

A ‘D’ Certificate originally followed but that was later converted to the Silver ‘C’ Badge.

The FAI Gliding Commission Badges

Badge: on a blue disc, silhouette of three white birds stacked in flight, the whole surrounded by a silver wreath

The FAI Silver Badge – Issued when a glider pilot has achieved an altitude gain of at least 1,000 m, made a five-hour duration flight, and has flown cross-country for a straight-line distance of at least 50 km.These may be achieved in separate flights.

Badge: on a blue disc, silhouette of three white birds stacked in flight, the whole surrounded by a gold wreath

The FAI Gold Badge – Issued when a glider pilot has flown 300 km, though not necessarily to a pre-defined goal, gained 3,000 m in height and has made a five-hour flight 

Badge: on a blue disc, silhouette of three white birds stacked in flight, the whole surrounded by a gold wreath surmounted with three diamonds

The FAI Diamond Badge – Issued when a glider pilot
thas achieved: flying 300 km to a pre-defined goal, going 500 km in one flight (but not necessarily to a pre-defined goal), and gaining 5,000 m in height.

The FAI also issues a Diploma for a flight of 1,000 km and further diplomas for increments of 250 km.

Personal Gliding Targets In addition to the above internationally recognised goals for pilots, there are myriad personal targets to aim for. Becoming endorsed to fly new glider types, often but not necessary of higher performance, is one. Extending personal performance to fly higher, further and faster is another and cross country coaching and competition environments offer the opportunities to do so.

Sharing the experience with a fellow pilot, friend or family member ranks high among gliding goals. Aerobatics is another. Training to become a gliding instructor or an engineer who can carry out specialised maintenance tasks (airworthiness) for those who have gained some experience. The sky really is the limit!

Sophisticated Aircraft
The first gliders were made well over 100 years ago – before the Wright Brothers pioneered powered flight – out of wood and cloth. Today gliders are manufactured with hi-tech composite materials designed using the latest aerodynamic modelling techniques. They are comfortable to sit in, easy to fly and have similar in-flight instruments to powered aircraft,

Gliders fly at speeds of up to 300kph and can cover distances of over 1,000km in a flying day. Altitudes of over 70,000ft have been achieved. On a good cross country flying day in Australia you could expect to fly a triangular course of 300 to 500km and over at a heights of 6,000 to over 10,000ft using satellite navigation (GPS) to accurately guide you on your journey and back to your home airfield for landing.

Image result for glider pics
Image result for glider pics

Explore the world from a bird’s eye view while enjoying the challenging and personally satisfying sport of gliding. Gliding remains however an adventure sport with inherent risks. Learning to manage those risks so as to maximise enjoyment while keeping others and yourself safe, is a large part of the appeal of gliding.

Acknowledgment for much of the above content to The Gliding Federation of Australia.