Frequently Asked Questions
What's special about soaring, anyway?
Aviation includes an incredible variety of divisions. Soaring is unique in the emphasis it places on working with, rather than against, the environment. Successful soaring pilots learn to actively seek out clues to exactly what the atmosphere around them is doing, and to precisely and accurately maneuver their aircraft so as to best use the energy available to them. They also are lucky enough to fly some of the most beautiful and advanced aircraft ever devised by the mind of man: sailplanes.
What is a sailplane? How does it differ from a glider?
The short answer: it doesn't! The terms "sailplane" and "glider" are completely interchangeable. The only minor distinctions between the two are that "Glider" is the term preferred in all FAA regulation and certification publications, and that a sailplane is a high-performance glider. (The Space Shuttle, for example, returned to Earth as a glider, but not as a sailplane.)
Aren't sailplanes designed to be as light as possible? Are they really strong enough to be safe?
A common misconception is that sailplanes must be as light as possible "so that they can stay up." Not true! Many high-performance racing sailplanes carry hundreds of pounds of water ballast to improve their performance at the high speeds necessary to fly long distance flights completely within daylight hours. And as for structural strength, many sailplanes are designed and rated for acrobatic flight; they can perform loops, rolls, and other aerobatic maneuvers with grace and precision.
Do I need a license to fly a sailplane?
Yes, the FAA treats sailplane pilots exactly as it treats pilots of other aircraft categories such as airplanes, rotorcraft and so on. In fact, a portion of any previous flight time you may have in other aircraft can apply toward a Glider rating, and flight time in sailplanes can be applied toward the requirements for airplane or helicopter ratings or (in fact any other aircraft category ratings.) Most pilots whose training began in sailplanes believe that this foundation has provided them with a real advantage over their peers.
What will I need to learn in order to fly a sailplane as a licensed pilot?
For a pilot's certificate in any aircraft category, the FAA mandates a course of instruction covering aerodynamics, "rules of the road" airspace and operating regulations, meteorology and related topics. What makes learning to fly in sailplanes unique is the added emphasis on real-time weather analysis and the much greater importance of good decision-making skills. Glider-trained airline pilots usually report that upgrading to Captain was easier for them than for many of their classmates.
How long does it usually take to learn to fly a sailplane?
While individual students' training experiences vary widely, a typical student pilot with no previous experience will require about 8 hours of flight time prior to first solo.