Transition to Gliders

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Reprinted with permission from Everybody’s First Gliding Book!By Bob Wander (

I’m An Airplane Pilot Will My Airplane Skills Help Me In Glider Training?

Yes, airplane skills provide a very good foundation on which to build.  But there are some things in gliding that  are quite different from their parallels in powered flight.  So, let’s take a look a similarities, and then  we’ll peek at some of the differences.  

Airplanes and gliders share a lot.  The following airplane concepts translate into gliding terms without  too much trouble:  Pitch, roll, yaw; elevator, aileron, and rudder, and the respective axis of motion of  each flight control; elevator trim; flaps, weight and balance; forward slips, side slips,  and turning slips; the Aeronautical Information Manual’ the Federal Aviation Regulations;  airspace classifications; the fundamentals of orientation and VFR navigation.

The following areas show significant differences between airplanes and gliders.   Cross-country flight; landing off-airport; the steepness of ordinary banked turns;  silence while in flight; dynamic speed range; airbrakes; negative flaps; water ballast;  adverse yaw (much more pronounced in gliders than in most airplanes); pitch sensitivity  in response to the elevator inputs (much more sensitive in gliders than in most airplanes);  takeoff emergency planning; the amount of monitoring instruments and systems on board;  the electrical system;  pressurization;  mass; taxi procedures, takeoff roll,  approach and landing (there are no go-arounds in the gliding world); aviation medical documentation;  weather concepts (airplane pilots generally study bad weather almost exclusively; glider pilots  study soaring weather almost exclusively); assembly and dis-assembly.

Hhhmmmm…  looks like a Different category has more entries in it that does the Like category!   The fact is, gliders and airplanes look a lot alike, but in many ways are operated differently  when in parallel circumstances.

So, as an airplane pilot adding glider privileges to your existing FAA pilot license, I think you  will fee safest if you study the same basic lessons that the zero-time glider pilot studies.   Certainly you will go through some of those lessons faster than a hot knife through butter,  because your up-to-date airplane flight skills will help you achieve the desired Completion  Standard in a very short time.

On the other hand, there are some areas as coordinating ailerons with rudder  (to maintain coordinated flight) that will almost certainly be very challenging for you,  in part because little in your previous airplane flying experience will prepare you for the amount  of adverse yaw that long-winged gliders develop.   You will have to experience it to believe it.   And once you believe it, you will have to over-ride the instincts that come from your previous  airplane flight training and learn the glider way of coordinating ailerons and rudder.   Another instance of where you airplane learning may interfere with your glider learning is in the  approach to landing phase of flight.  Airplane pilots are trained to reject any non-standard approach,  add lots of power, perform a go-around, and then try to fly a better landing patter the next time around.   No competent glider pilot would - or even could - do such a thing!  You will have to learn to fly a normal landing from an abnormal position in the landing approach,  because gliders cannot do go-arounds.  We don’t even have such a word in gliding!   If you make a mistake in the landing approach, then you will simply have to fix it quick.  You cannot kill off the entire approach, reject it, and go around for another try.   You get one chance.  Pay attention.  Get It Right!


Your airplane skills will give you a significant head start on learning to soar.  Nevertheless, many things in gliding are done differently than they are performed in airplanes.  Lean the difference and remember to fly the glider like a glider and fly the airplane like an airplane.