Ok, so you have decided to learn to soar - good. Now, what?
This page contains a brief summary of most of the information you will need to know: How to find a glider site and instructor, what the requirements are both to solo and to obtain your private glider pilots license (which, among other things, will allow you to take a friend for a ride), how long will it take and how much will it cost?
Finding a Glider Site and an Instructor
Since you are reading this page hopefully you are already thinking about coming to Valley Soaring. If you don't live near us, then the SSA (Soaring Society of America) web-site (www.ssa.org) contains an almost complete list of glider sites in the US and you can even browse by state to find the closest locations to you Just click on "Where to Fly".
There are two distinct types of glider operations in the US - Commerical operations and Clubs. Commericial operations are run as a business and usually have higher rates than a club, but they normally operate 7 days a week and you can schedule your lessons for a specific time. The staff are paid employees. Clubs on the other hand are generally non-profit organizations, the 'staff ' are the club members, none of whom are paid, and they usually just operate on weekends. As a member you are normally expected to help out with 'work duties' and are rewarded by lower rates than you would get at a commercial site. Instruction at clubs is generally on a first-come-first-served basis - you show up in the moring and put your name on the list and when your turn rolls around - off you go.
If you are looking to do this in a hurry and can afford it, a commerical operation may be the way to go. If you are on a budget or looking for more of a club atmosphere then seek out a club (you will probably end up joining one eventually once you have your licence).
Now that you have found a glider site, you need an instructor. Everyone has slightly different personality and teaching method so try to find one compatible with you.
Valley Soaring Club, like most US sites uses the Schweizer 2-33. These have for many years been the standard trainer in the US. They are very basic, low performance but very forgiving. Great for primary instruction. Another common trainer is the Blanik L-13. Some commerical operations use newer fiberglassships such as the Grob 103 and ASK-21. These are definately sexier looking and have a higher glide performace, but cost a lot more and therefore are more expensive to rent which can obvously result in a higher cost to obtain your license (there will be plenty of time to enjoy these toys after you have learned to fly).
The FAA does not specify a minimum number of hours or flights to allow a solo. Your training curriculum will consist of many specific tasks (tow, rope breaks, shallow turns, steep turns, stall recovery, patterns and landings etc.) which your instructor will first demonstrate, you will then try and eventually become proficient in.Progress on all these items will be tracked and when you have attained 'solo proficiency' in all the required items, your instructor will then endorse your student pilot certificate (see below) for solo. Typically we find it takes 30 - 40 lessons to reach solo proficiency, but it varies by individual (you don't get to go until you are ready!). Once you are close to solo, you will need to get a student pilot certificate. This is what the instructor must endorse to allow you to solo and it must be endorsed every 90 days for continued solo flight privileges.
To obtain a private glider rating, you must
(i) satisfy the minimum experience requirements required by the FAA;
(ii) pass a written knowledge exam;
(iii)pass a practical test with an FAA examiner (generally referred to as a 'check-ride' this consists of both an oral exam and a flight test;
(iv) Certify that you have "no known physical disability" that would prevent you from safely executing the tasks of flying a glider.
The FAA experience requirements can be satified in any of 3 ways:
(i) seven hours of solo flight in gliders, including 35 glider flights launched by ground tows or 20 glider flights launched by aero tows;
(ii) seventy solo glider flights, including 20 flights during which 360 degree turns were made (applies mainly to ground launched training);
(iii) forty hours of flight time in gliders and single engine airplanes including 10 solo flights during which 360 degree turns were made.
These requirements must be fulfilled before an applicant may take a private pilot flight test. At Valley Soaring this is usually satisfied by option (1) or (2) and it will generally take you 10 - 20 additional flights after you solo to satisfy these requirements.
The Written Knowledge Test
This is a multiple choice, computer based test covering aerodynamics, navigation, aviation weather, flight planning, and knowledge of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). You must pass the written before you can take the flight test. There are plenty of self study materials, computer test preparation software and ground school classes available. The written test can be taken at almost any airport where there is a computer testing facility.
The Flight Test
Conducted by an FAA Designated Examiner this exam takes several hours and includes both an oral exam, and 2 to 3 flights in which you demonstrate your piloting skills. The examiner will generally have demonstrate your ability to plan a cross-country, including map work, obtaining weather formation. The scope and content of the 'practical test' is contained in the 'Practical Test Standards' published by the FAA and available as a PDF file from their website.
The examiner charges a fee for administering the exam.
Unlike engine driven airplanes there is no medical examination required, but as stated above you must certify that you have no known disabilities that would prevent you from safely operating a glider.
What will it Cost?
Costs vary depending on the individual and whether you use a commerical operation or a club.
An example cost estimate for Valley Soaring Club is shown below:
Adult (Full) Member:
40 @ $38.00
30 @ $12.00
Tow's for solo
30 @ $25.00
Club Membership *
* Club Membership represents ($300 membership fee plus SSA membership @ $64).
This is an estimate and prices are subject to change.