A sailplane is normally launched by a power plane (aerotow) or by winch (a wire attached to a powerful engine).


  • Motorless flying by Cayley (UK, 1853), Montgomery (USA, 1883), Lilienthal (Germany, 1893)
  • Wright Brothers learn control by soaring amidst Wind and Sand: Flight of 1:00 min on 10/21/03
  • First glider contest: Intercollegiate meet hosted by Harvard College, 5/28-30/11. Won by Tufts, MIT
  • First well-known soaring record: 9:45 min duration by Orville Wright, Kitty Hawk NC, 10/24/11.
  • Soaring becomes organized sport at Wasserkuppe, Germany, 1920 (Versailles treaty outlaws power)
  • USA Glider clubs proliferate with air-minded youth, 1928. National Glider Association founded
  • First USA National Glider Contest, Elmira NY, 1930. All pre-WWII Nationals held at Elmira
  • Soaring Society of America founded May, 1932, to hold the 3rd National Glider Contest
  • Development phase: 1920-1940 (towing, 20:1 sailplanes, 3 forms of lift, distances to 500 km)
  • Expansion phase: 1960-1980 (SSA goes from 1,000 to 16,000 members, from 1 to 5 Nationals)

Soaring History (see "Wings like Eagles", P.A. Schweizer, Smithsonian Press)

  • Any FAA License may carry a Glider Rating. Endorsements are Aero-tow, Ground-tow, Motor-launch
  • To go solo: [Student Pilot Certificate, starting from scratch. 1 week-2 months. $400-$1,000]
    • Age 14, speak English, state no medical defects on application, obtain blank Student Certificate
    • Plan on a roughly 25 flight (aero-tow) or 40-flight (ground-tow) training sequence in a two-seater
    • Pass a pre-solo written test on FAA regs, flight characteristics, operational limitations
    • Receive instruction from a CFI-G in all areas listed in FAR 61.87 and be endorsed ready for solo
  • To fly passengers: [Private Pilot Certificate, starting from solo. 1 week-2 months. $400-$1,000]
    • Age 16, speak English, state no medical defects on application
    • Log 20 flights (10 solo) and 10 hours (2 solo) in gliders, instruction per FAR 61.107 and 61.39
    • Pass the standard FAA Private Pilot--Glider Knowledge Test on topics in FAR 61.105
    • Pass a Practical Test (oral and flight) with an FAA Designated Examiner
  • Licensed Airplane pilots often solo after 10 flights, add the Rating after 10 solos, 3 hr, and a Practical Test
  • To become a soaring pilot, follow SSA's ABC program: (Charles & Anne Lindbergh were C #9,10)
    • A Badge: go solo. B Badge: soar 1/2 hour. C Badge: soar 1 hour, spot-land, soaring instruction
    • Bronze Badge: soar 2 hours, simulate off-field landings, pass exam on Cross-Country techniques

Training (see FAA Regulations, SSA "Soaring Flight Manual". No 'power' experience needed)

  • FAI-IGC estimates over 150,000 active soaring pilots worldwide, with 80% in Europe
  • FAA records suggest approximately 38,000 glider-rated pilots in USA. SSA has 14,000 members
  • USA has 180 soaring Clubs (125 SSA Chapters), 150 Commercial Operators and soaring businesses
  • Every State in the Union has soaring activity, including AK and HI, 1-2 hours from any big city
  • Most active USA operation: USAF Academy. 800 solos/year, up to 100 flights/day
  • Typical USA soaring club will have 50 members, 3 gliders, 1 towplane, and make 2,000 flights/year
  • Adult Costs at typical club: $300 initiation, $30/mo. dues, $15/aerotow, $5/groundtow, $5/flight
  • FAA registry shows about 5,000 sailplanes in USA (1,000 trainers, 2,000 contest ships)
  • New two-seat training sailplanes cost about $30,000 (Metal, E Europe) to $80,000 (Fiberglass, Germany)
  • New single-seat contest sailplanes range from $20,000 (World Class) to $120,000 (Open Class)
  • USA has 4 domestic manufacturers, all offering composite kits, none offering two-seaters
  • Used sailplanes retain value ($8,000 1967 Libelle is $16,000 today), can be had for under $10,000

The coordinator for new members is Lyle HatridgeLyle

You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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