Why gliding makes you a better airline pilot?

Mankind has long desired the ability to fly like hawks and eagles. Soaring flight is made feasible by modern sailplanes, enabling people to glide higher, faster, and further relying solely on an invisible force of nature to maintain altitude.

A glider is a fixed-wing aircraft whose free flight is supported by the air’s dynamic reaction to its lifting surfaces rather than by an engine. Most gliders lack an engine, but some motor gliders have small ones that they can use to retain their altitude and, in some cases take off and extend their flight.

The difference between a sailplane and a normal airplane with engines is not only the lack of engines, but also the large wing span that gives the glider or sailplane a higher efficiency because of the high aspect ratio. Other differences include, for example, the cockpit instrumentation or the cables normally used for take-off.

A glider’s performance is mainly evaluated using its glide ratio. This ratio reveals how far a glider may travel horizontally in relation to the height it descends. Modern gliders can reach lift-to-drag ratios of up to 60:1. That means that if they begin their glide at a height of one mile, they can travel 60 miles forward. In comparison, a modern commercial airliner has a glide ratio of about 17:1.

Unique among sports, gliding delivers a sense of freedom. As your piloting abilities advance, you will learn to take off in a sailplane from the airport while using your own skills and judgment to assess the terrain and weather. As a gliding pilot, you are no longer restricted to the surface of the earth. Instead of merely taking in the scenery or the sky, you will actively search for lift indicators in the atmosphere, such as birds and the maturity of cumulus clouds, and you will develop an appreciation for the terrain features that can aid or impede your efforts to continue maintaining your altitude.


How do gliders stay in the air?

Utilizing Mother Nature’s assistance wherever feasible is the secret to being in the air for long periods of time. When compared to the air surrounding it, a glider will gently descend, but what if the air was rising quicker than the glider was descending? Similar to paddling a kayak upstream, you may be moving through the water at a fair speed, but you aren’t really getting much closer to the riverbank.

With gliders, the same principle applies. You are actually gaining altitude if you are descending at one meter per second while the air surrounding the plane is increasing at two meters per second.

There are three main types of rising air used by glider pilots to increase flight times

  • Thermals
  • Ridge lifts
  • Wave Lifts

Thermals are rising air columns caused by the Earth’s surface heating. The sun’s heat causes the air close to the ground to expand and rise. Pilots watch for terrain that reflects the early sun more quickly than its surroundings. Finding thermal columns is easy in places like rocky terrain, dark ploughed fields, and asphalt parking lots. Another sign of thermal activity that pilots watch for are newly developing cumulus clouds or even huge birds soaring without flapping their wings. When a pilot spots a thermal, they will circle inside it until they reach the appropriate altitude, at which point they will escape and continue flying. Within thermals, gliders all circle in the same direction to avoid misunderstanding. All subsequent gliders joining the thermal must circle in the direction chosen by the first glider to enter the thermal.

Ridge Lifts – Winds blowing against mountains, hills, or other ridges produce ridge lift. The air is deflected upward as it approaches the mountain and creates a band of lift along the slope’s windward side. Ridge lift rarely rises more than a few hundred feet above the surrounding landscape. Gliders have been known to soar for a thousand miles along mountain chains using mostly ridge lift and wave lift, making up for what ridge lift lacks in height with length.

Wave Lifts – In that wind encounters a mountain, wave lift is analogous to ridge lift in that it occurs. However, winds that pass over the mountain rather than up one side produce wave lift on the leeward side of the top. The distinctive cloud structures produced by wave lift can be used to identify it. Gliders can soar to heights of more than 35,000 feet and wave lift can reach heights of thousands of feet.

Transition from Gliders to Airlines

A wide range of flying adventures that are not typically available or affordable in powered aircraft are offered by gliding. Gliding gives the safest foundation for all types of flight, including power flying, making it the ideal approach to start learning to fly. Because of this, prior gliding expertise is highly respected when choosing pilots by both the airlines and the Military. Many commercial and military pilots learned to fly in gliders, and they can speak to the advantages of doing so. Some of those pilots still glide during their free time.

Airline Perspective

A minimum of 250–500 hours of prior flying experience is often required of candidates for airline pilot positions. Any authorized aircraft type, including gliders, can be used to obtain a sizable percentage of this experience.

More important than the quantity of flying experience may be the type of experience. The airlines do not necessarily believe that previous General Aviation experience is the greatest preparation for subsequent flying in the multi crew environment of big aircraft. Experience with gliding is given more weight.

On this subject, the 2013 Royal Aeronautical Society Conference on International Flight Crew Training was organized.

The consensus among most speakers and attendees during the conference was that airline pilots’ manual flying skills have deteriorated over the past 15 years. A new generation of pilots’ fundamental flying abilities have been deteriorating due to increased cockpit automation, strict standard operating procedures, more usage of flight simulators, and a smaller pool of military pilots.

At the same meeting, the following keynote queries regarding the problem of declining fundamental flying abilities in commercial pilot training were posed: Gliding might be a low-cost training option for maintaining the manual flying skills of airline pilots.

Gliders might be the answer to enhancing flight safety.

The most well-known example is actually Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, whose gliding expertise came in handy in the Hudson River in 2009 and allowed him to save all 155 passengers.

Military Perspective

The Australian Air Force Cadets program is run by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which values gliding so highly that it conducts its own gliding activities for young people.

Glider pilot and U.S. Air Force Capt. Danny Sorenson instructs in F-16s. He said, “I’m always wondering where I can land this thing as a result of my glider training.” He added that simulated flame-outs were never an issue for him throughout his F-16 training, it’s instinctive, he said. “I’d just fly my circuit and glide in.”

Does gliding training make better power pilots?

Each provides a pilot with unique experiences. Making the analogy between sailing and motorboats may be the best way to convey this. Sailing is more of a sport, and performance is intimately tied to how one interprets the weather, nature, as well as one’s own skill and experience. Although both are sailors, the power boat sailor heavily relies on their motor to combat the wind and the elements.

You learn a lot about energy management

A power plane’s engine failure turns into a serious incident for the pilot, necessitating an emergency landing. Power pilots are naturally educated to search for and evaluate good emergency landing places. However, they RARELY have the chance to either complete their forced landing and validate their assessment from the ground, or to check the chosen landing place at a very low level. Instead, the instructor opens the throttle at about 200 feet above ground level, and the aircraft climbs away.

Pilots of gliders are taught to land correctly the first time, every time, since there are obviously no “go-arounds” allowed. Landing judgment on the part of the pilot must always be precise. To prepare for the eventuality of an engine failure which almost always occurs when you least expect it, all power pilots should master this ability.

Cross-country flight is the primary objective of most glider pilots. Before returning to where you started, you’ll frequently fly over several hundred kilometres of countryside. It happens occasionally that the weather (or the pilot’s performance on the day) doesn’t allow for finishing the flight because cross-country soaring can traverse such distances and take several hours.

Quality Fly Instructor

Sergio Gomez, one of the flight instructors in Quality fly, who is also an aeronautical engineer and an airline pilot who flew for Norwegian and Ryanair stated. We at Quality Fly found there are many aspects of gliding that can be transferred into the professional studies we provide. That’s why we started this programme where our students will get to not only experience this gliding but also get some theory lessons on gliding for their training to be enhanced. There are many ways in which gliding can help commercial pilots. During his cross-country flight, it has been recorded, him being airborne for over 8 hours relying solely on thermals. He believes that with this training transitioning to powered airplanes will be seamless. We’ve never met a glider pilot who couldn’t easily transition to flying a powered airplane.

In gliding you learn to fly far more accurately

A pilot’s ability to sense the air and feel how their aircraft is responding to it tends to be only partially connected when a power pilot is being propelled through it by an engine and propeller. When the pilot is not handling the aircraft well, the motor’s thrust can conceal this. When gliding, a pilot’s awareness of the properties of the air they are flying through and how precisely they are manoeuvring their aircraft through it is increased.

Reduced Drag

All airplanes suffer from drag, which is the air’s resistance to moving forward. Consider sailing a yacht while dragging your anchor down the bottom. Glider design responds to minimizing drag through streamlining with graceful, slender forms.

To minimize drag as much as possible, new gliders have a simple frontal profile. Many gliders have a piece of yarn attached to the canopy to help pilots to stay coordinated. Uncoordinated flight means more drag, and less time in the air.

To optimize the performance of an aircraft, gliding sharpens a pilot’s skill in flying smoothly through the air. Both powered and unpowered aircraft must comply with this. Effective drag reduction requires good rudder and aileron coordination, which, when used in all flight, leads to more precise, effective, and safe flying.

Dynamic Challenges

Whether traveling locally or nationally, every flight has unique problems. To get the most out of every flight, you are competing with nature, to put it another way, you are working with it.

When conditions are favourable for soaring, you can soar for 50, 300, 500, or 1,000 km on good days after becoming proficient. On bad soaring days, you are limited to within gliding distance of the airstrip. Therefore, the intelligence of the pilot is:

  • To gather information;
  • To find out what links them to understand the situation;
  • To use it to make the best decisions.

While a glider pilot flies in an open environment where he must continually adapt, an airline pilot operates in a very closed environment with very little room for modification

Upset prevention, Recognition and Recovery Training

Aerobatics is one example. The national gliding syllabus’s pre-solo section is where fundamental aerobatic manoeuvres like stalls and spins are really taught. The majority of contemporary powered training solely discusses spin recovery. Before being given permission to fly their first solo, glider pilots must exhibit complete spin recovery. The majority of contemporary gliders are made with high “G” forces for aerobatics in mind.

Fly Higher

Cross-country glider pilots frequently reach altitudes of over 10,000 feet, and occasionally even 15,000 feet, under favourable summer soaring conditions with powerful thermals. Over 10,000 feet, oxygen is mandated by law. At these elevations, the view is just breathtaking. With frequent flights to altitudes of 25,000 feet, mountain wave lift can offer height increases considerably above this. 33000 feet, recorded at Bunyan near Canberra, is the current Australian height record for gliding.