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What is a Glider?

A Duo Discus glider of the Melbourne Gliding Club

A glider is a type of aircraft that does not have an engine and relies on the natural forces of lift and gravity to stay aloft. It is designed to glide through the air, making use of thermals and updrafts to gain altitude and maintain its flight. Popular gliding competitions are various types of cross-country flying.

Gliders are usually made of lightweight materials such as composite materials or aluminum alloys, which allow them to fly with little resistance. They have long, slender wings with a high aspect ratio, which means they have a high wingspan compared to their chord. This design helps them to stay aloft and achieve high glide ratios, which is the distance they can travel forward for every unit of altitude lost.

The view of a tow plane from a glider cockpit
Flying with the Gliding Federation of Australia and the Melbourne Gliding Club

Gliders are launched into the air by a tow plane or winch, which provides the initial lift needed to get the glider off the ground. A winch launch is a very cheap and exhilarating way to get to flying altitude, which is usually about 1,000 feet. Once in the air, the pilot uses their knowledge of the air currents to maintain altitude and navigate through the sky.

Gliders are popular for recreational and competitive flying, as they offer a unique and exhilarating experience of soaring silently through the air. They are also used for scientific research and military purposes, such as reconnaissance and training.

A common question people ask, ‘What do you do in an emergency?’. Easy, what kind of emergency can you have? There’s no engine in it, so there’s no risk of engine failure. If you can’t find any thermals (up-drafts) to help keep you aloft, you do an “out landing”. Which means, you choose an empty field and land in it. You radio or call friends back at the club to come with the trailer to pick you up. You remove the wings and pack it up. That night you buy everyone a round of beers.

Gliding is an exhilarating and rewarding aerial sport
Flying with the Gliding Federation of Australia and the Melbourne Gliding Club