North Wales Gliding Club

What happens during a flight?

This section describes the basics of a flight in a glider. It will give you an idea of what to expect when you fly for the first time. There are four sections, pre-flight, the launch, the flight and the landing.


Before the glider can get off the ground there are a number of things that need to be done. The most obvious one is to get the pilot into the aircraft. When climbing in, do not lean on the canopy for support as it will not support you! Once in the the aircraft there are a sequence of checks and operations to be completed. These are remembered by the use of the mnemonic CB-SIFT-CBE.

The launch

When the pilot gives the order to connect the cable, it is attached and the launch point marshall checks that it is safe to launch and no other aircraft are in the way or on approach. He then gives the order "Take up Slack" and the winch driver then slowly reels in the cable until there is no slack left. Then the order "All out" is given and winching begins. The glider will accelerate very quickly and within a few seconds will be airborne. It will continue to accelerate until it reaches a certain speed at which point it will be rotated into a climb. After a while the pull of the winch will reduce the angle of the climb and the cable will be released. Typically, the glider will now be at 900 - 1,500 feet (300 - 450m) above the airfield. Click here to see what a launch looks like from inside the glider

The flight

After the launch the glider is now a free aircraft and can start searching for lift. It will look for thermals, ridge lift or wave lift to increase its flying time. It is during this stage of the flight that most trainee pilots learn to start flying. The instructor will say "You have contol" and whenever you reply "I have control" he will let you fly the aircraft. This is not as dangerous as it may sound. The instructor will have "trimmed" the aircraft for proper flight and in this state it should fly normally even if no one held the controls. Furthermore, training gliders are stable, placid and very forgiving. The first thing you will learn is to fly straight and level and perhaps to do gentle turns. At some point the glider will reach a certain altitude and will have to return to the airfield. Click here to see video of a glider thermalling. (The beeping noise is one of the instruments - if it beeps faster and a higher pitch then the air around the glider is going UP, slower and lower pitch then the air is going DOWN).

The landing

Not surprisingly, there is a precise procedure for landing a glider. The aircraft will approach an area near the airfield known as the "High Key Area" at (typically) 800 feet (250m) altitude. It will then fly parallel to the landing area with the wind behind it. This is the downwind leg. When it is roughly parallel to the launch point it will turn and fly across the wind. This is called the base leg. Finally, when it is in line with the runway, it will turn into wind and start it descent on its final approach. The airbrakes will be used to contol the descent speed and angle as, unlike a powered aircraft, a glider has to "dive" toward the ground. Just above the ground the glider "rounds out" and flies just above the ground and gently looses height until the ground is touched. Click here to see a landing from the glider's point of view