What’s special about soaring, anyway?
Aviation is a big tent with an incredible variety of facets. 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’re also lucky enough to fly some of the most beautiful and advanced aircraft devised by humankind.
What’s a sailplane? How does it differ from a glider?
The terms sailplane and glider are almost completely interchangeable. The only minor distinctions are that the term glider is preferred in all FAA regulatory and certification documents, and that the term sailplane is generally reserved for high-performance gliders. The Space Shuttle, for example, returned to Earth as a glider, 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 they can stay up.” Not true! Many high-performance racing sailplanes carry hundreds of pounds of water ballast to improve their performance at high speeds during the strongest soaring conditions of the day. (When the conditions weaken, or for landing, the water can be jettisoned.) As for structural strength, many sailplanes are designed and approved for acrobatic flight. They can perform loops, rolls, and other 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 any other aircraft categories such as airplanes, rotorcraft, and so on. All pilot ratings, regardless of aircraft category, are on a single “airman certificate” issued by the FAA, and the FAA allows flight time in each aircraft category to be counted toward the requirements of any other category rating. 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?
Before the issuance of a pilot’s airman certificate in any aircraft category, the FAA mandates a course of study including basic aerodynamics, “rules of the road” airspace and operating regulations, meteorology, and similar topics.
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 prior experience will require about 8 hours of flight time prior to first solo.
I still have questions.
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