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About Gliding

Gliding is the ultimate adventure sport, a sport that requires the pilot to harness the power of nature to stay airborne whether they’re flying locally to their club, flying long distances cross country or soaring at high altitude.

Exhilarating, affordable and inclusive, gliding is enjoyed by people of all ages, physical abilities and backgrounds. It can be as exciting and challenging as you want it to be, and there are many diverse aspects to discover. No two flights are the same with the pilot continually attempting to make the best possible use of the conditions on the day. From flying close to the local airfield to cross country, long distance and mountain wave flying to competitions, aerobatics and vintage aircraft there really is something for everyone.

What is gliding?

Gliding involves flying unpowered aircraft using the same naturally occurring currents of air that birds use to fly. Using these invisible currents of air, known as ‘lift’, you can soar to great heights and travel great distances around the country at average speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Typical cross country flight distances are around 300km, but flights in excess of 1,000km and altitudes of over 30,000 feet have been achieved in the UK with even greater heights and distances achieved in the mountainous regions of the world.

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Glider pilots use three main types of rising air to stay airborne:

  • Thermals – columns of rising air produced when the sun heats the atmosphere
  • Ridge or hill lift – air pushed upwards when it blows against the edge of a slope
  • Mountain wave – currents of air that rise to get over the top of hills or mountains and then flow and rebound, creating a wave-like motion that can continue for hundreds of miles

What does it cost?

Gliding is an affordable way to take to the skies, especially when you consider that powered aircraft hire can cost around £150 per hour. At most clubs, you can expect to pay around £20 per hour to hire a glider, around £30 for an aerotow launch and around £8 for a winch launch.

Gliding instruction is provided free of charge at most clubs. It takes place under the supervision of highly qualified BGA instructors who are subject to regular competency checks. The average club membership cost is around £350 per year, which compares favourably to annual fees for other leisure activities such as golf or tennis. To help you budget, a number of clubs offer an all-in fixed price to solo package.

These fees are  often reduced for students and junior members, with gliding for under-25s subsidised by the BGA and by individual clubs which run their own schemes for juniors.

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When can you glide?

Most long thermal cross-country flights, particularly in England are done throughout the warmer summer months. However, clubs in hillier regions of the UK – most of Scotland, Wales and the Pennines – often encounter some of their best soaring conditions during the autumn and spring.

In the main though, the optimal weather conditions for gliding are sunny and not too windy.

Clubs run training and fly throughout the year weather permitting with the main cross country gliding season running from May to mid-September. Although not always the best for cross-country flights, the period from September to March can be a great time to learn to fly. Clubs are less busy, allowing you to make rapid progress to solo standard.

Generally speaking, the only things that will stop you flying are persistent rain, low cloud and gusts of wind over 30 mph!

Where can you glide?

With around 85 sites throughout the UK stretching from the Highlands of Scotland to the south west tip of England, wherever you live you’ll never be far from a gliding club.

All clubs welcome visitors, so please go along and find out at first hand what the sport is about. Find your nearest club using our interactive map or visit our club pages section for links to individual club websites.

Clubs vary in size, in facilities offered and, because they are situated in different parts of the country with different geographies, a variety of flying conditions. Pilots enjoy visiting other clubs for the different flying possibilities available. Many combine gliding with overseas holidays to experience the particular thrills of flying in the French Alps, the lakes and mountains of New Zealand, the plains of Australia and South Africa, and other gliding destinations.

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Who Can Glide?

  • Alex Harris

    When he soloed in 2012, aged 15, Alex was the first UK pilot to take advantage of the new rules which had reduced the earliest solo age from 16 to 14.  Since then, his flying has come on in leaps and bounds and he has already qualified as a BGA-rated instructor. He loves flying cross-country and glider aerobatics. In 2014 he won the British Aerobatic Championship at Sports level and is looking forward to competing in the 2015 World Championships. He says, “I love flying for the sense of freedom it gives; there’s nobody looking over your shoulder – it’s just you and hundreds of miles of horizon. I learnt to fly at the Essex Gliding Club, and I thank all the lovely members and tremendous instructors for having me! I would encourage all young people to go along to one of the junior events – they’re a great bunch of guys and girls and there’s lots of great flying to be done!”

  • Sarah Kelman

    Airline captain, Sarah, took up gliding as a cheap way to get into powered flying but now her power flying pays for her gliding and she just can’t stay on the ground. During summer, she flies cross country in her ASW28 “standard class” glider, covering distances of over 300 miles with top speeds of over 160mph. In winter, she instructs at her local club near Cambridge. Sarah won the Women’s European Championship at her first attempt then went on to be Women’s World Champion twice. She was also the first woman to fly 750km in the UK and one of the first of either gender to do so in a standard class glider.  Apart from her championship wins, she has had many great gliding moments. While racing in Chile, she was privileged enough to share the sky with a family of immense Andean Condors who flew close to her wingtip, eyeing her carefully. She also cherishes the memory of the view on the day she flew to 34,000 feet over Aboyne in Scotland when she could see the entire coast outlined from Edinburgh up to the Black Isle and across to the Outer Hebrides. She never gets bored with gliding, saying “Every flight in a glider is different as you pit your wits and experience against the air currents to achieve the best flight you can. I just love the sense of freedom and the pure pleasure of manoeuvring a high performance sailplane among the clouds.”

  • Steve Derwin

    Steve took up gliding in 1998 as a way of revisiting his beloved hills, after losing the use of his legs in a motor cycling accident. His disability has not proved to be a handicap to the retired youth and community officer and Steve flies his sailplane, which has been adapted for hand-only controls, at various sites around the UK and abroad, although most of his gliding is done at Portmoak in Scotland where there is a splendid ridge to soar. While he participates in all forms of gliding, including aerobatics and competitions, Steve is particularly enthusiastic about mountain flying where his achievements include a 300km flight along the spine of the Pyrenees and a 23500ft high flight over the Cairngorms. Steve enjoys gliding because of the sense of freedom it confers, while having the challenge of making decisions and judgements to ensure a safe flight – all this against a backdrop of beautiful landscape, particularly when mountain flying.

  • Tochi Marwaha

    Tochi Marwaha, 63, is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. Before getting the gliding bug he was a top level hockey player who represented Uganda, the Army and the Combined Services. He started gliding in 1986 at Wyvern Gliding Club (WGC) and went on to represent the Army for 17 years in the Inter-Services Championships (1993 – 2009), winning the Sports Class on one occasion. He holds an FAI Diamond Badge (300km goal flight) and aspires to get the height and distance diamonds. He is also an instructor and is now on his second stint as the Chief Flying Instructor of the Wyvern club.  Apart from flying and instructing he has been involved in the administration of the sport as Chairman of Wyvern Gliding Club and the Army Gliding Association.

    Whilst I fly motor gliders as an aid to instructing my best enjoyment comes from flying pure gliders, especially on cross country flights when you are one with the birds.  It is a sport where you are always learning and improving and that brings its own enjoyment.  The challenge remains to get the height and distance Diamonds and the dream to join the 750k club.

  • Claudia Hill

    Technical translator, Claudia, started gliding while at university in her native Germany.  Now flying from Oxford Gliding Club, she shares a glider with her husband, Nick. At Oxford, she caught the ‘cross-country’ bug and was talked into flying her first regional competition in 2006 and her first national championship in 2010. A string of good results culminated in her qualifying for the Women’s World Championships in France in 2013.  When not competing, Claudia is just as happy flying over the countryside in a leisurely fashion and enjoying the view!  In addition, she is a key player in Women Glide UK, an initiative aimed at getting more women into the sport. Asked what she enjoys about gliding, Claudia says: “When I fly I don’t think of anything else – all the things that I usually worry about stay firmly on the ground. I love the beauty of seeing the world from above and I like the feeling of achievement when I’ve done a fast cross-country flight and maybe even beaten some others. Another nice thing is that gliding gives you what you want to get out of it – be it cross-country flying, aerobatics, instructing, leisurely sight-seeing flights, pottering about at your gliding club, etc.”

  • John Williams

    John didn’t take up gliding until he was 40 when a job move to London meant that it became too difficult to go sailing. John now flies from Portmoak in Scotland where he is one of a small group exploring and constantly pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by flying in mountain wave. His main interest is “Trying to do things that haven’t been done before.” The first person to achieve a 1000km flight in Scotland, his love of flying anywhere that isn’t too flat has taken him to Argentina where he has made a number of 2000km+ flights and he has briefly held the world record for the fastest 1500km flight. John says that he enjoys the views of the hills, the peacefulness, the angst, the adrenaline, and the membership of a community of like minded nutters. When not flying, he is a member of the BGA Executive Committee and Chairman of the BGA Airspace Committee. In 2007, John was awarded the Royal Aero Club’s premier award, the Britannia trophy for the British aviator accomplishing the most meritorious performance in aviation during the preceding year.

  • Sarah Willocks

    Support worker, Sarah, was brought up under the flight path into Manchester Airport. She always dreamed of being a pilot but thought that the cost would make that impossible. However, she found out about gliding during a holiday in Cyprus, came home, joined her local club and is now a fully-fledged pilot about to take her first steps into cross-country flying. As well as flying as often as she can, Sarah, like many glider pilots, helps with the smooth running of her club. She is its Trial Lesson Coordinator and takes her turn driving the winch and running the launch-point. She says that she finds the social aspects of the sport almost as exhilarating as flying! As a single Mum, she depends quite heavily on her flying friends at the club to watch her daughter when she’s flying and says: “I would have never dreamed it possible for me to be out soaring around the skies most weekends. I find gliding a truly addictive hobby, where I am always pushing my boundaries to move on to the next step. For anyone wanting to get into gliding, I can only highly recommend it; regardless of your background or circumstance, you won’t be disappointed.”

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