Taking my First Glider Lesson

Last weekend, I took my first glider lesson. I’ve wanted to try glider aircraft! Since moving to California, it’s been hard to get back into general aviation. Not because of the pandemic, but because of moving as well as fire season. Now that we’ve found our groove, more hobbies can come back.

First, what is a glider?

A glider is a fixed-wing aircraft supported in flight by the air’s dynamic reaction against its lifting surfaces. Unlike an airplane, a glider aircraft does not rely on an engine, and in fact, most gliders do not have an engine.

The most basic type of glider is a “paper airplane,” but gliders go hundreds of miles.

Taking my First Glider Lesson

What are the Types of Gliders?

Type of Glider: Paraglider Hang glider Glider
Pilot position sitting in harness usually lying prone in a cocoon-like harness suspended from the wing; sitting in a seat with a harness, surrounded by a crass resistant structure or “cockpit.”
Typical Speed: Slower: typically 25 to 60km/h for recreational gliders 20-80 mph The maximum speed of about 170 mph, with a stall speed of 40mph. Also able to fly in windier conditions
Maximum Glide Ratio: about 10 about 17 Typically around 60:1
Pilot position: Sitting in harness Typically lying down Sitting in a crash-resistant “cockpit”
Cost: $2000+ $5000 $300,000

Taking my First Glider Lesson

My experience with a glider lesson:

First, I had no experience with glider aircraft. I’ve never even been in one. A few months ago, I watched my spouse fly a glider.

Going up:

Most gliders need a tow plane. You attach a rope from the tow plane to the glider. The tow plane pulls the glider and tows it while airborne. Think of a trailer towing another vehicle. Once you are airborne and wherever you want to go, you release the rope, and it’s just you.

Taking my First Glider Lesson

Gliders are much quieter than airplanes, which is due to the lack of an engine. The loudest part is when you are towed, and once you are released, it’s tranquil.

How do Gliders Work?

Before my glider lesson, I had a basic idea of how a glider worked (I imagined a giant paper airplane). Paper airplanes are the basic form of gliders. I had no idea gliders could travel hundreds of miles-with no engine. With the right conditions, the capabilities of a glider are almost endless.

Taking my First Glider Lesson

So How do Gliders Aircraft Work?

For a glider to get airborne, it must generate lift to oppose its weight. To generate the lift, a glider must move through the air. The motion of a glider through the air also generates drag. With powered aircraft (such as an airplane), the engine’s thrust opposes drag, but a glider has no engine, so it cannot generate this thrust.

Gliders are designed to be extremely efficient and designed to descend very slowly. The glider’s pilot is also constantly looking for pockets of air that is rising faster than the glider is descending. These pockets of air give the glider the capability to gain potential energy and actually gain altitude. So with the right amount of “good air,” glider’s capabilities are endless.

These rising air pockets are called: updrafts and usually found when wind blowing at a hill or mountain has to rise to climb over it. They can also be found over dark land masses that absorb heat from the sun. The heat on the ground warms the surrounding air which causes it to rise. Rising hot air is called a “thermal.”

Glide Ratio:

One of the best measures of performance is the “glide ratio.”

A glide ratio of 30:1 means that a glider can travel forward 30 meters while losing only 1 meter of altitude in smooth air. Putting that into context, they travel thousands of miles.


The glide slope is the distance traveled for each unit of height lost.

Taking my First Glider Lesson

My Experience with the Glider Lesson:

I took my lesson at Williams Soaring Center in Williams, CA (just north of Sacramento). My instructor, Ted, was great (I would recommend it to anyone). First, I got a tour of their entire facility. Williams Soaring Center is one of the distributors for some of the best-made gliders. Some of the instructors even participate in glider races (also known as sailplane races).

Taking my First Glider Lesson
They even fix and repair gliders at Williams Soaring Center.

Once there was a glider available, he taught me all about the glider. I knew nothing about it, so it felt slightly overwhelming. Think of getting into a car for the first time, and then you will drive it. With glider lessons (and really any general aviation lessons), there is a full set of controls for the instructor. So if we are nose down heading towards the ground or in an emergency, the instructor can take over.

Taking my First Glider Lesson

Once we were set, the tow plane came, and we were off. I was slightly nervous. An aircraft without an engine is daunting. It took about 5 minutes of towing; it was my time to release the tow.

Once released, we cruised around Williams for about 30 minutes. One thing I like about gliders is how quiet they are. Without the engine, a glider aircraft is almost completely peaceful while on its own. (Most people don’t realize how loud general aviation is).

Taking my First Glider Lesson

Would I take another glider lesson?

I enjoyed my glider lesson and had a great time. I would definitely be interested in doing it again. Williams Soaring Center is great, and I had a positive experience.

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Flying to Essex County
Flying to Bridgeport, CT
Flying through the Hudson Exclusion and NYC
Flying to North Jersey
Private Flying to Aeroflex-Andover Airport

Questions for you:

Would you take a glider lesson?

What is something you’ve done outside of your comfort zone?