soaring UK

Gliding is the ultimate free flying experience. It is a truly diverse sport that can be enjoyed at all levels: from the thriving club scene, to aerobatics, to the international racing competitions, currently dominated by British pilots (with five World Champions).

The gliders you can fly soar using the same air currents that birds use to fly, but have also been designed with the kind of aerodynamic efficiency that enables top speeds of up to 170 mph. Distances of over 600 miles have been covered in one day in the UK and heights of almost 40,000 feet have been achieved. Gliding gives you the freedom to explore the world from a unique birds eye view and discover the many moods of the sky.

Gliding is also a sport for all ages - from those who go solo on their 16th birthday through their club cadet schemes; there is no upper age limit.

Gliding is many different things to many different people. For some, it is just a casual hobby, and a way to meet new people. For others, it is an inexpensive way to get airborne. For many, it is even the cutting edge sport of either racing or aerobatics.

For all, though, it is a silent and graceful way of flying without an engine. Of course, without an engine, you may wonder how you get airborne, and how you stay up.

In the UK, the sport of gliding is administered by the British Gliding Association


Gliders come in many shapes and sizes. They can also be cheap or expensive! Fortunately, you don't need to buy your own glider - clubs will generally all have two-seaters for instructional purposes, and most also have single-seaters which you move onto once you are sent solo. If you do buy your own glider, you can keep the cost down by joining a syndicate.


In order to launch, you do need a little assistance. There are several ways of doing this. The aerotow launch is very docile, and involves being pulled up by a light aircraft with a strong rope in between. When the glider gets to the required height, the glider releases the cable, and the glider is free! Winch launching is probably the most common. This involves being attached to a winch with a long reel of wire. When the wire gets pulled in, the glider gets the speed to fly into the air like a kite. When you are almost overhead the winch, again you can release the cable. Bungy launching is not very common these days. For this, you need a hill with a strong wind blowing against it. The glider will be attached to the bungy, and held back by several people. Some more people will pull on the other end of the bungy, and walk down the hill to stretch the bungy. Once tight enough, the glider is released, and quickly becomes airborne and you can stay aloft using the "hill lift".

Staying Up

Once you are airborne, how do you stay up? Well, this depends on finding air that is rising. There are three forms of this "lift" that help us stay up - thermals, ridge (or hill) lift and wave. For more information, have a look at the Soaring section.

Going Places

Now you know you can stay up (given the right conditions!), you can use this to go places or go "cross-country". Normally, this involves using one, or even all three forms of lift to get height, and then using this height to go forward to the next point on our task (or to the next area of lift). A typical task may be a 300 kilometre triangle, with the aim to get back to where you started. It is in this way that you can race - very simply, a task is set and the fastest person round it is the winner!


We've all seen powered aircraft do aerobatics, but how does a glider do them? Well, very simply, in very much the same way. Gliders are just as strong and just as manoeuvrable as most powered aircraft, but with one difference - no engine! This means that an aerobatic flight normally involves taking a high aerotow and then using the height energy to perform the moves. To get the speed to perform these aerial feats, rather than using power, you turn your height into speed. Gliders may be slightly limited in what they can perform without an engine, but the gap is small, and they are silent and graceful in the execution.

Just Gliding!

Of course, if you take up gliding, you don't have to become a racing or an aerobatic pilot. Many people just enjoy seeing the world from a different viewpoint, or even enjoy the thrill of trying to perfect their basic flying skills. A large number of glider pilots also carry on to become instructors (most instructors are unpaid, but professional nonetheless!) so that they can pass on the skills they have learned.

landing away

Soaring qualifications

'A' Badge  (BGA)
Must be over 16 years old.
20 flights with an instructor.
1 successful solo flight.
Show reasonable knowledge of the rules of the air.
20 flight minimum may be waived if a Private or Commercial Pilot's Licence is held or if you are a qualified services pilot.

B Badge (BGA)
Completed 'A' Badge requirements.
Soaring flight of at least 5 minutes at or above previous low point after release.
Successful landing.
Show knowledge of rules of the air, including rules appertaining to airspace

Bronze C (BGA)
50 solo flights or 20 solo flights and 10 solo hours P1 (a 2000 foot aerotow DOES NOT count as 3 winch flights anymore - The new bronze endorsement application form does not have the old rule).
A PPL or similar Service or Foreign equivalent requires 25 solo flights or 10 solo flights and 5 hours P1.
Two soaring flight of 30 minutes each (if launched by winch, car or bungy) or 60 minutes each (if from an aerotow not exceeding 2000 feet).
At least 3 check flights in a dual-control glider with a Full rated instructor.
Field Landings: Two field landings into a field, or if a suitable field is not available adjacent to the club site, into a marked areas of the airfield; the altimeter should be covered or the millibar scale offset for this practice. If a marked area of the airfield is used it must be so chosen that there is little or no undershoot and that the circuit and approach does not coincide with the normal circuit and approach to the airfield. Where a suitable two-seater is not available, the field landings may be flown solo.
Pass multiple choice written Air Law and General papers (on airmanship, meteorology, principles of flight, radiotelephony, navigation).
Flying and ground tests must be completed within the 12 months before the application.

UK Cross-Country Endorsement (BGA)
Soaring: Two soaring flights one of at least an hour duration and one of at least two hours duration after release under the supervision and certification of a BGA instructor or Official Observer.
Field Selection: The ability to select and reject fields for their suitability for landing. This exercise must be undertaken from the air, but can be flown in a glider, motor glider or light aircraft.
Field Landings: A minimum of two successful approaches into fields, selected by him/herself in a motor glider, with the altimeter covered or the millibar scale offset. The landings/approaches must be flown without any assistance or prompting from the instructor and must show adequate judgement and skill.
Navigation: Plan a triangular task of at least 100Km giving due consideration to any airspace requirements and aspects of airmanship. Demonstrate the ability to understand an aeronautical chart, correlating features on the map as they appear from the air, and orientation of the map with respect to ground features. Can be flown in a glider, motor glider or light aircraft. All must be completed within 12 months of the second soaring flight.
With the Bronze Badge, allows you to fly cross-country, and also allows you to apply for the Glider pilot's licence (not essential).
All must be completed within 12 months of the second soaring flight.

Glider Pilot's License
The requirements of the A/B/C/Bronze badges vary in each country and are set by local governing bodies.In the U.K. the CAA delegated the management of gliding to the BGA. However, the requirements for the Silver badge (and above) are set by the FIA and apply worldwide. To bridge this gap and seek worldwide standardisation of pilot certification, the ICAO defined a minimum set of requirements for a Glider Pilot's License. In the U.K. the Bronze C plus Cross-Country Endorsement exceed the ICAO requirements and entitle the holder to a U.K. Glider Pilot's License. The license is valid for life provided the holder achieves at least 5 hours solo per year or has a revalidation by an instructor.

Silver C (FAI)
Height - a gain of height of 1000 metres (3281 feet) or more.
Distance - a flight on a straight course of 50km or more.
Duration - a flight of 5 hours or more
Bronze Badge and Cross-Country Endorsement are needed before attempting the distance component.
Minimum requirement to fly in a competition (for which an FAI sporting licence is needed).

UK 100km Diploma (BGA or FAI)
Part 1: A pre-declared 100km triangle or out-and-return flight.
Part 2: Same as part 1, but with a handicapped speed of 65kph.
Bronze Badge and Cross-Country Endorsement are needed first.

Gold C (FAI)
Height - a gain of height of 3000 metres (9843 feet) or more.
Distance - a flight of 300km or more.
Duration - a flight of 5 hours or more.
Bronze Badge is needed for the distance component
The flight for Silver duration can count for Gold.

Diamond (FAI)
Height - a gain of height of 5000 metres (16,405 feet)
Goal - a goal flight of 300km (186 miles) or more over an out-and-return or triangular course
Distance - a flight of at least 500km (311 miles)
Bronze Badge is needed for the distance component.
It is considered a big achievement to gain "All Three Diamonds"

U.K. 750Km and 750Km 2-Seater Diplomas (BGA)
A distance of at least 750Km starting in the U.K. flown either solo or with two pilots.
Requirements as for Gold distance.

1,000Km and 2,000Km Badges (FAI)
The FAI awards these badges.
Requirements as for Gold distance.