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Glider Thrill Rides

Think about this if you decide to visit a gliding club one day. Will you settle for a sedate float around the sky in a sailplane, or would you be happy to experience a little more? Print off this article and take it with you next time you go for a passenger flight at a gliding club! Use one of the suggestions to spice up the flight for you or one of your family members!

Here is a round-up of all the more exciting things you can ask for when going for a passenger ride in a glider. These ideas for thrill rides have been dredged up from many memories of my years as a gliding instructor. I realized my passengers and students had experienced a range of interesting little escapades. Particularly teenager passengers, they are usually game for a thrill ride of some kind!

Now I guess most of you reading this article have not actually taken a ride in a glider, or sailplane as they are sometimes called. These are the full-size planes I'm talking about, not hang-gliders! Gliding clubs are dotted across many countries, particularly in Europe, the U.S., Australia and South Africa. It's easy to contact a club and simply turn up on the weekend for a passenger flight. I won't go into prices since this varies a lot from country to country and even club to club. But the cost is very reasonable in most cases, for a 10 or 20 minute flight. Longer flights are possible if weather conditions are suitable.

Winch Launches

If you can, try to get a flight at a gliding club which uses winch-launching. Yes, gliders are actually winched into the sky on the end of a long cable. The winch is powered by a powerful motor, often a V8, and it pulls the glider up like a giant kite. Sometimes the cable breaks, but this is quite routine and simply results in a short flight and a bit of inconvenience for the ground crew! Come to think of it, this situation could be considered a thrill ride for an unsuspecting passenger! Firstly, the jolt when the wire snaps. Secondly, the fairly sudden nose-down movement of the glider as the pilot makes sure the airspeed stays up. Sudden but smooth.

Now, why are even normal winch launches thrilling? Because you go up like a fighter jet, that's why. The nose of the glider points skywards at an angle of 45 degrees or so, and you reach release altitude in less than 30 seconds. Even an experienced glider pilot tends to enjoy it time after time! I certainly did.

An even more thrilling form of launch is rarely done now-a-days. It was called a reflex launch. The tow rope, yes a rope not a wire or cable, had a bit of stretch in it. It was attached to the glider's release point at one end, and the other end was attached to a powerful car. A loop was laid out to set a certain amount of slack in the rope, before the car went charging off down the airstrip. TWANG. I remember seeing a Blanik L13 with 2 people on board lunge off the ground in maybe 3 meters (10 feet) and commence climbing like a home-sick angel. Ah those were the days.

Pushing The Envelope

By 'pushing the envelope' I mean flying an aircraft a little closer to its limits than usual!

Something to try that isn't too extreme, but still suitably thrilling for say, your mother or grandmother, is to ask for the pilot to throw in a few really steep turns. Gliders often need to do this anyway, to stay within the confines of narrow patches of rising air called thermals. OK, how steep? Try 60 or 70 degrees. That's pretty steep, it will seem like the glider is right over on its side. What's more, mild G-forces will start to tug at Granny's face while the glider is held in the turn, and the horizon spins past.

Now it's Dad's turn. Let's rough him up a little more than Granny! Ask the pilot to throw in a couple of stalls and spins. Here's what happens in a deliberate stall. The pilot slows the glider down by aiming the nose high and holding it there with back pressure on the joystick. But with no engine, the glider can't climb like this for very long. After a little while, everything goes deathly quiet as the airspeed drops below the stall-speed of the glider. Suddenly, the nose pitches down and Dad finds himself staring at the ground way below, and seemingly diving straight at it! The glider builds up speed again, very quickly, then the pilot carefully returns it to level flight again. Dad was taken by surprise, but thinks he might just enjoy the next one!

Next, the pilot performs a spin. Everything is the same as for the stall. EXCEPT, just before the nose drops this time, the pilot kicks in full rudder. The joystick is held right back against the stops. The poor glider just refuses to fly now. A wing drops, the nose drops, the ground is right there in front of Dad, spinning around and around and around. The altimeter winds down, Mum on the ground wonders what it will be like raising the kids on her own... But no problem. The pilot deftly stops the spinning and gently pulls the glider out of the resulting dive.

Now it's The Kid's turn. He's got a wide grin on his face. Give me everything Granny and Dad had, plus more please! The Kid is game for anything, so the instructor decides to go through as much of the basic aerobatic repertoire as altitude allows. Steep turns, stalls, spins, then wing-overs, loops, a slow roll, a stall turn. A bit more tame than what you might see a Pitts Special doing at an air-show, but The Kid loves every second of it.

A Few Odd Things

I just can't resist throwing in a couple of odd-ball things that I remember doing. Firstly, the fun exercise of tossing a complete toilet roll out the clear-vision panel of the glider. Then turning back to spot the unraveling streamer floating down through the air. What's the point? To chop it into bits of course, with the wing of the glider! Yes, such fun to fly back and forth, swooping through the streamer again and again until it's time to think about landing. I can imagine some passengers would see some fun in it too. Perhaps.

A little trick I used to demonstrate to my passengers from time to time was inspired by astronaut-training. Yes, really! The 2-seater glider used to have a microphone on a curly cord, plugged into the instrument panel. The passenger would be asked to extend their hand, with the mic resting on their palm. Then, after stoking the glider up to near it's maximum speed, I would suddenly pull up into a climb. What followed next was a demonstration of zero-G. That is, weightlessness. By easing the joystick forward in just the right way, I could get the microphone to rise up off the passenger's hand and hover there, weightless, for a few seconds! If it wasn't for the harnesses, the passenger and I would have floated around the cockpit too!

See if your friendly local gliding instructor would like to do something similar to these last two!


Everything described from here on is very safe when done with an experienced pilot. In fact, some things like steep turns and stalls form part of the standard training for glider pilots. So be game, and have a great time!

About the Author: Tim Parish is a motorless flight enthusiast, the webmaster of Paragliding Tales and Reviews, a site which will introduce you to many aspects of paragliding, with a sprinkling of humor. Tim has had the pleasure of soaring in sailplanes, hang-gliders and paragliders in the past, both real and simulated. His enthusiasm for these activities is evident in his writing, which he hopes will inspire others.

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