Soar for Fun, a collection of soaring-related information

Becoming a Glider Pilot (USA)

The "Private Pilot" license is your basic license. It allows you to fly without the supervision of a flight instructor and to carry passengers. (This information is from the Greater Boston Soaring Club's website courtesy of Tony Verhulst. I've combined multiple pages into one to better fit here. Rules for glider licenses in other countries vary, but at least the UK and Germany allow you to fly G- and D- registered gliders respectively with your US glider pilot certificate as long as you have an appropriate medical.)

In a Nutshell

Club vs. Commercial Flight School

A club environment works well for most students but for some, a commercial flight school may be a better choice. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each.

Getting Started As A Student

Learning to fly gliders will likely be an exhilarating and fulfilling experience. However, learning how to fly gliders takes time, money, talent, and determination. Because each of us has a different amounts of each of these items available, each person will learn at a different pace. Some people make it to the point of solo in as few as 25 flights or as many as 110. The average is about 35 - 40 flights. Much depends on the individual and how they go about their training. As a general rule, lessons should be as often as possible.  About 2 lessons per trip to the airport is highly recommended as is flying every weekend. The longer the time span between lessons, the slower your progress will be because you tend to forget skills previously learned. 

Required Books

Please purchase the following books prior to your first lesson.

  • Glider Basics - From First Flight to Solo , by Tom Knauff.
  • It is probably a good idea to get After Solo, by Tom Knauff at the same time.
  • If you already have a power aircraft rating, substitute Tom Knauffs' Transition to Gliders for the above two books.
  • Glider Pilot Log Book (If you do not currently have a log book).
  • Additional Reading

    You can purchase these, online, from the Soaring Society of America (SSA) or from Knauff and Grove. Bob Wander's Soaring Books and Supplies is another great source. Lastly, a large number of soaring books are available from amazon.com - especially used or out of print books. If you're into books, check out the club's suggested reading list.

    If you were introduced to soaring by the Soaring Society of America FAST program, you'll have received a  text book (though not the club required Glider Basics), a log book, a hat, and a one year SSA membership (a GBSC requirement).

    Homework to do before your first lesson

    What to bring with you on each lesson

  • Your pilot log book (have it ready for your instructor when it's time for your lesson)
  • Questions that you thought of after your previous lesson and/or the reading material.
  • Flying Solo

    If you are not a licensed pilot, you must have a student pilot license before you can fly solo in a glider. Getting one is easy and free. You can pick one up one at your nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). See the FAA resources section for details.

    When your instructor has determined that you are ready to fly solo, you will be given a short (take home) Pre-Solo Written Test . After that is evaluated, he/she will then sign your student pilot license - making it valid. As a solo student pilot you may not carry passengers. You also have the following restrictions:

    If you are a licensed pilot (but not a glider pilot), your instructor needs only to make an appropriate entry in your logbook.

    As a solo student pilot, club policy is to fly with an instructor at least one flight in 5 - more often if an instructor determines that that is necessary. When flying solo, you goal is to practice and increase your proficiency so that you meet (if not exceed) the standards  required for you to pass your FAA license test.

    Private pilot license requirements

    Note that the flight hours and flight numbers are the minimums required by the FAA. Most students will have more experience by the time they are authorized to take the private pilot practical test.

    The Sport Pilot Certificate

    In 2004, the FAA established a new Sport Pilot certificate. Due to the many restrictions of this certificate, the club recommends that the typical student pilot should train to the Private Pilot standards, mentioned above.

    A Club Versus A Commercial Flight School

    There are 2 routes to earning your glider pilot license - a club or a commercial flight school. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Note that what follows are generalizations and some points may not apply to specific environments.

    club advantages

    club disadvantages

    commercial school advantages

    commercial school disadvantages

    • More expensive than a club (they are there to earn a living, after all).
    • Many commercial schools lack the cohesive social environment, typical of many clubs.
    • You typically have one instructor.
    • Lessons are often by the clock because the glider and instructor need to be back in time for the next scheduled lesson. If the soaring conditions are great, that's just too bad.

    For a list flight schools in the United States, visit the Soaring Society of America web page.

    Also understand that getting your license is just the first step in your soaring career. If you learn at a commercial school, what will you do after the license is earned? You'll likely want to fly higher performance single seat gliders instead of the trainers. Will the school have suitable equipment for you to rent?


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