A bit of History

Gliding is one of the main non powered flying sports and flying leisure activities. Gliders, also known as sailplanes, use currents of warm air to stay aloft and to travel distances.

Otto Lillenthal in flight with one of his gliders.

During the 1880s the German inventor and aeronautic pioneer Otto Lillenthal was one of the first to preform flights with an apparatus heavier than air – gliders.

Gliding was also considered as a way of flying by Leonardo DaVinci who created sketches of gliding flying machines.

Gliding as a sport started in the 1920s and it quickly developed in post WW1 Germany. The treaty of Versailles limited Germany in the development of a motorized aviation. Therefore this resulted in a development of non-powered means of aviation and in particular gliding and gliders.

Glider sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci

Initially the main goal in gliding was to extend the maximum airtime. Very soon pilots started attempting cross – country flights to distant points away from the home airfield. The advancement in aerodynamics and the better understanding of meteorology have enabled pilots to expand their maximum flown distances and increase the average speeds flown on a task.

…in modern days

In our days gliders can fly hundreds and even thousands of kilometers. All thanks to one or a combination of a few lift sources – thermal columns, ridge soaring or atmospheric waves.

There are a few main ways to launch gliders.The most common being: towing by a motorized aircraft or with a static winch.

Static Winch

Other not so popular, but still used methods for launching include: bungee start, car towing and gravity launch

Self – launching glider

There are also modern self-launching gliders which rely on a retractable engine for the takeoff phase. The engine is retracts back in the fuselage, after some gain of height to reduce drag and improve performance. Some modern self-launchers are equipped with electric or even jet engine systems for sustaining height.

Gliders are ultralight flying apparatus. Their flight weight varies between 100 and 500 kg depending on the built material and its purpose of use (two seaters single seaters). The most common materials are wood, metal, composite.

The competition world

Currently there are two main competition disciplines in gliding: cross-country and aerobatics.

In cross-country competitions pilots aim to cover long distances or a certain distance in minimum amount of time. In aerobatics pilots preform series of aerobatic maneuvers.

Gliding is regulated globally by the International Aeronautical Federation FAI (FÉDÉRATION AÉRONAUTIQUE INTERNATIONALE). Locally it’s controlled by local aero-clubs and commissions.

Gliding is an activity suitable for a wide range of people. The age of active pilots varies between 16 and 80. Learning to fly a glider is fairly simple process in comparison to learning motorized aircraft. Getting a pilot license in gliding is more simplified process and it’s mostly regulated by local administrations in each country. Globally there are 2 internationally recognized licenses. One is issued based on recommendations by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). The other one by – EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency).

For more information on gliding and non-powered flying you can review our Q&A page.