Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learn more about flying airplanes by flying gliders

I'd like to convince you to take a glider ride, or better yet: glider lesson, or even better yet, a glider rating. Like your mom might say: "It's for your own good."

Learning to fly a sailplane will supercharge your flying skills and knowledge. You will learn more about flying than you might expect.

It's not just an airplane without a motor. It's a whole different category of aircraft. It operates on the micro. The smaller aircraft, micro-meteorology (don't be scared), the slow end of the speed scale, and attention to detail.

In an airplane you drill through the sky from point A to point B using as little time and fuel as possible.; the airplane's engine(s)  propelling you on your way. The weather is usually not much more than an inconvenience along the way.

In a sailplane, your knowledge of aerodynamics and the weather is your engine. Of  course, some sailplanes actually do have engines (even some with jet engines!), we refer to them with the oxymoron: motorgliders-- but they are still gliders at heart when the engine is off.  Your own skill will make the difference between a 20 minute and a 5 hour  flight. Now, that can be a great feeling!

Clouds are no longer things to just plow through or go around. You will learn what that cloud's shape is telling you. What made that cloud look like that? Is it rising or sinking air?  Mountain wave (and other gravity waves) are no longer something to be avoided, they are a free ride!

Soaring with the birds? That's not just an expression. There's nothing that can put a smile on your face like being in the same thermal as a bald eagle!

The whole point of a glider flight is to stay up as long as you can and to have a good time! It is really fun!
You'll be circling in steep tight circles just a few knots above stall speed  to ride the thermals. The circles can be small enough compared to the wing length that coordinated flight includes opposite aileron and rudder! Yes, it really is different from an airplane.

The whole point of a glider flight is to stay up as long as you can and to have a good time! It is really fun! Your skills and knowledge pay dividends with more free flight time! It's about as close to being a bird as we're allowed to get.

Your knowledge of weather will grow from abstract idea of fronts and trough lines to the micro-meteorology focus of  how the wind will flow around a ridge, cloud streets, and of course: thermals.

Do you like the simple stuff? Then a basic pitot-static instrument panel and the seat of your pants is all you need.
Do you like the high-tech stuff? How about a sleek composite fuselage with plenty of electronics from performance software and moving maps to ADS-B and traffic advisories to keep you happy. 
If you're more into going somewhere, many glider pilots regularly go on cross country flights - hundreds of miles long.

Most people know that Sully Sullenberger is a glider pilot, whose glider experience may have helped in the handling of their A320 when it became one prior to their Miracle on the Hudson landing.
Bob Pearson,  captain of the Gimli Glider (a 767 that deadsticked into Canada's former RAF Gimli from 41,000 feet) was also a glider pilot. He used his motorless experience to estimate an appropriate engine-out glide speed. When close to the landing strip, high and fast with insufficient room for a 360, Pearson decided to execute a forward slip to increase drag and lose altitude, a maneuver commonly used with gliders.

As a glider pilot, you'll also be in good company: from the Wright brothers to Neil Armstrong.  

Soaring also makes a great youth activity, as 14 is the minimum solo age. Also, no medical certificate is required. If you already have  a pilot certificate in another category (e.g., airplane), then no FAA written test is required either. Does it get better than that?  

There are glider operations all over the world. Many with clubs and instructors standing by for your call. 

Here's a couple of websites to check out that will make it easy:

Hey, it makes a great gift too, so put it on your wish list!
Fly a sailplane today
Soaring Society of America (SSA) where-to-fly map:


Karlene Petitt said...

Bill, You have convinced me! This is on the "top" of my bucket list!

Jeremy Carlisle said...

Bill, this is an excellent post. I actually think that this should be a required rating for ATPL. I definitely want to get this rating as history has proven right here over the river in my own back yard here in NYC that glider experience can save lives.

Also, it looks really fun actually! Thanks for the Twitter follow and I look forward to more posts!

Jeremy Carlisle

Bill Palmer: flybywire said...

Thanks, Jeremy,
It most certainly IS fun!
This morning I was thinking how soaring has opened my eyes to so much in flying.

It's like getting a new religion, and I'm happy to be an evangelist for it!

Be "born again" as a pilot!

Jeremy Carlisle said...

LOL, Yes, definitely a "Born Again" Pilot!