Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a “glider” and a “sailplane” ?
These are two names for the same thing. “Sailplane” refers to high performance “glider”, designed for soaring longer distances.
How much control do you have flying a sailplane?
Gliders have conventional flying controls, which allow full control in the same manner as conventional powered aircraft.
What flying controls do sailplanes have?
A “joystick”, rudder pedals and airbrake lever are the basic flying controls. Basic instruments are altimeter, airspeed indicator, variometer (climb/descent) and compass.
What would happen if you took your hands and feet off the controls while flying?
The sailplane would continue much as before as they are designed to be sable in flight. Controls are surprisingly light and are quite “natural” in their manner of operation.
How are sailplanes constructed?
Almost all are factory built, those in NZ being mainly of European origin. Older types are of wood, metal or combination of these. Modern materials of glass-reinforced plastics (GRP) and carbon fibre continue to advance the strength, quality and performance of gliders.
What is the “tow?
To be launched in to the air the glider must be towed using a long rope or wire cable. Our club has its own towplane which can climb with a glider in tow to 2500 feet in about 4 minutes. Most clubs use a tow aircraft for getting the gliders airborne.
How do you release the rope?
The pilot of the glider can pull a release knob in the cockpit when ready to come off tow.
Once the glider is up what keeps it up?
The airflow over the wings produces lift that maintains the glider in flight. Rising air currents are used to remain airborne for extended periods and to climb higher.
How high can you go?
Climbs in warm air currents called thermals up to about 5000 feet are possible in summer in the Manawatu. The mountain ranges provide “ridge lift” on the windward side, up to twice the height of the ridge, e.g. Up to 6000 feet over the Ruahines. Pilots can also ride “mountain waves” (on the lee side) to heights in excess of 20,000 feet. However considerable experience is required to fly safely at such heights.
How far will a sailplane fly on thermals?
This depends on the strength and number of thermals and on the glide performance of the sailplane. On a good day flights lasting several hours may cover several hundred kilometres.
How long can you stay up?
Once again this depends on the weather conditions. On a good thermal day flights may last up to several hours.
How do you get started?
Just start! Either a flight with a friend or a trial flight with a club instructor is how most begin. By coming out to the airfield regularly someone new to gliding can progressively pick up the basics of flying, how the club operates and get to know other members and the instructors, who started out in much the same way themselves.
What does it cost to start?
Our club offers several introductory packages. The standard entry is via a “trial membership” which includes an instructional flight and two months membership. From there on you pay as you go at club rates, for tows (ca $45) and glider hire ($60/hr). Flying instruction is free and costs are kept to that which is needed to keep the club viable. A typical lesson is about $70 for ca 25 minutes.
Is a licence required?

There is no formal licence as required in flying powered aircraft. However, a “Qualified Glider Pilot” receives a certificate, internationally recognised, equivalent to a private pilot licence.

A rating system is used to qualify pilots at further levels of experience, such as different glider types, cross-country, flying with passengers.

How long will it take to get to "Qualified Glider Pilot"?
This varies with the individual. Typically, 10-20 hours/25-50 flights will be required to go solo and approximately the same again to become a Qualified Glider Pilot. This can be spread over an unlimited time, but learning at too slow a rate can be counterproductive. Around 12-18 months is a good timeframe.
Will power flying experience help?
Yes. Any form of flying helps, particularly at the earlier stages. Experience has also shown the reverse – gliding experience is very beneficial to power flying.
How do you navigate a sailplane?
Basic navigational principles and techniques of using a compass and aerial maps are learned as part of training. Gliding is normally conducted in fine weather so visibility is good. GPS units are becoming commonplace as positioning aids, but are not the prime navaid – familiarity with the country being flown over is more important and is gained with experience.
Can you always reach your destination?
This ultimately depends on weather conditions. The challenge and fun in cross-country soaring is that by a combination of skill, knowledge, judgement (and often a bit of luck) you will reach your goal, but you must be prepared to make an enroute landing (called an outlanding) anytime if conditions cease to be favourable.
Where do you land if you can't reach an airport?
Sailplanes are capable of outlanding in relatively small areas such as farm paddocks. A cross-country rated pilot knows how to judge a suitable landing area from the air. In the Manawatu there are plenty of good paddocks and topdressing strips that may be used. (Outlandings rarely occur on training flights as they remain within a few km of the airfield.)
What does the farmer say about that?
Most farmers are fascinated to see a glider land on their farm and are usually helpful in assisting the pilot with phone calls back to base, etc.
What happens if there is no place to land?
Flying over spectacular but inhospitable terrain is not unusual but the pilot must ensure that landable areas are within gliding distance, although this can be kilometres away if the sailplane is high. Having to make an outlanding on rough ground could damage the glider but this is a rare occurrence.
Does a pilot carry insurance?
Yes. All club gliders as required by Gliding New Zealand carry third party insurance.
If you land in a farmer's field how do retrieve the glider?
Two or three club members would have agreed before take-off to come to assist if needed. After getting directions by phone, they set off with the glider trailer to find you and bring the glider back by road.
Is that a big job?
Usually not. Dismantling the glider is straightforward and requires three or four people. The wings, tailplane and fuselage are stacked in the purpose-built trailer for the journey home. As with many things, being organised before the flight can make a big difference if you are forced to land well away from home base.
Do sailplanes have radios?
Yes. All gliders are radio equipped and radios are used to contact home base, other gliders and where necessary air traffic control. On cross-country flights pilots give regular updates on their progress.
How safe is gliding?
Gliding is as regulated as any other aviation activity with regard to pilot qualifications, aircraft airworthiness and operation safety. Gliders are manufactured to a greater strength than many light powered aircraft. Flying is conducted under the supervision of a Duty Instructor. Prescribed piloting standards ensure a very safe, enjoyable activity.
What sorts of people get invovled in gliding?

Glider pilots are from a wide variety of backgrounds, most of who have not been involved in any other form of flying before. Although a team effort is required to get flying, once in the air it is a very individual thing. Most pilots start as absolute beginners and under the careful instruction provided, gain the experience and confidence to do something they may have never dreamed of before getting involved.

Perhaps the appeal to the individual is the combination of gracefulness, silence and relaxation that is part of soaring but there can also be challenge, excitement, wonder and exhilaration that no other form of flying can match in quite the same way.

"Once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards: for there you have been and there you long to return." Leonardo da Vinci