Gliding is a recreational activity and competitive sport where pilots fly with aircraft known as gliders or sailplanes. Properly, the term gliding refers to descending flight of a heavier-than-air craft, whereas soaring is the correct term to use when the craft gains altitude or speed from rising air.
While all recreational glider pilots enjoy the freedom, the scenic views and the sense of achievement, some also compete by flying as quickly as possible round a pre-defined course and back to the starting point. These competitions test the pilots` abilities to make best use of local weather conditions as well as their flying skills. All methods of launching gliders (apart from self-launching motor-gliders) require assistance from other participants and so gliding clubs have been established to share airfields and equipment, to train new pilots and to maintain high safety standards.
Most clubs offer trial lessons to people interested in learning to glide and will accept bookings by phone. The national organizations given below will give the contact details for the nearest clubs. The pupil flies with an instructor in a two-seat glider fitted with dual controls. The instructor does the first launches and landings but otherwise the pupil uses the controls. Some clubs offer courses over several days, though, with a mixture of winch and aerotow launches before they are allowed to fly solo.
If winches are used, the cost of learning to glide is much less than that of learning to fly powered aircraft. If aerotowing is the only available method of launching, costs are higher than using winches even though fewer launches might be needed, perhaps as few as 30. Simulators are also beginning to be used for training, especially during poor weather. Further training continues after the first solo until the pupil is judged capable of taking a glider cross-country. Some studying is required on topics such as the regulations, use of the radio, weather and navigation.