Getting Started in Soaring

Students and Learners of all types

The season is really starting to kick into gear with warmer weather and more gliders showing up on the field. Or, if you are like me on this rainy weekend have caught up on some reading/studying.  I would just like to take the time to emphasize some things that may help you learn more and perform better, no matter what skill and knowledge level you are at. There are a lot of resources available out there, and this will direct you to some of them. Some are at no cost, while others do a have a cost, but are of high value. I would emphasize that the items of high value are definitely worth it, as it will likely reduce the amount you spend on tows and aircraft time. I.e. spending say $300 would likely save you $400 in tows and rentals. It is worth it. There is a lot here for the students just learning to fly, and a fair amount for those looking to add the glider rating. There is also material here for those that are newly rated all the way up to “been flying for years”. I will try and highlight what fits different “styles” of pilots and learners best.

Text Books

With the Franconia Soaring Foundation, we have oriented towards using materials from GliderBooks.Com. They produce a Glider Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge along with the Flight Training Manual for Gliders. These are probably the most current and comprehensive training books for gliders available today. I would strongly encourage you to get your own copies, either in the print version or the e-textbook version. They have review questions in each for each chapter. They will provide you with a significant amount of knowledge, and when doing the review questions too, get you well on your way to preparing for the FAA Knowledge test. These are also great for those that are adding on a glider rating. They do a great job of gathering the needed information from various sources and consolidating into their 2 books. The Foundation has purchased a few for the club to use in the clubhouse (I believe to stay there), specifically for reference. If you would like to study on your own, you will likely need/want a set for yourself.

They are also available at about 50% less as E-textbooks on the “Academy” webpage.

The FAA also produces the “Glider Flying Handbook” which covers the needed material, but usually not in as much depth. Also, especially if preparing for the knowledge test, you will need to read numerous other FAA publications (Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, AIM, Aviation Weather etc.). The beneficial part, is these are available for free online (or for a nominal fee from 3rd parties for printed versions). They do not contain review questions and it will be much more reading, especially for students getting a pilot certificate for the first time.

The Glider Flying Handbook and Errata Sheet

Most other FAA handbooks

“Ground School”

This is important, it will save you money in the long run!  The sooner the better too!

Being in a club environment, there is no formal training program, or “ground school” for that matter. Of course, you will gain some knowledge in talking with instructors etc, but it will be far from what is required to pass a practical test. There are locations where formal ground schools are held regularly, and even multiple choices for online ones (like Sporty’s, King, ASA) which you might consider taking. These are not oriented towards gliders, usually at all, but can work. A benefit of the well-known online programs, is they usually also include knowledge test prep materials as part of the course and may also have the glider specific questions. (I have used the Sporty’s Private Pilot Course with their “So-You Want to Fly Gliders” video for a prep with a family member.)

However, GliderBooks.Com has created an “Academy” which provides the only online program that I am aware of that is oriented towards gliders.  It now has the final portion completed.

I would also encourage this as a great review and refresher for those looking to get their Commercial  to have a complete “Private Pilot Glider Ground School”.

They have a free “Introduction to Soaring” segment that I would recommend that everyone looking to get their license or add a glider rating.

Beyond that, in addition to purchasing the entire ground school, they have various courses you can take “A la Carte” and even have bundles at a discount for the ground school. Persons trying to get their certificate should take the entire Ground School or 1,2 & 3 bundles. I have taken the free course, the first and second bundle, another segment, and both “advanced” seminars; and I have found them to be very good and I learned a few things. They do have value – you will get more out of them than you spend.

In addition, they also now have an Instructor course and advanced seminars on Thermaling and Soundings – needed information for those looking to start going cross-country. Last, but not least there is a “Flight Review Bundle” for those that have been flying for a while, which will help you knock of the “rust”.

When you sign up for a course or a segment, you will have access to it for 1-year, even after you have completed it, so you can review it multiple times.

For New Students, I would recommend starting and completing the Phase 1 Bundle immediately if you are not taking the complete course. It is less expensive and will help you get off to a good start. This will also provide you with the opportunity to see if it works for you. The Phase 2 Bundle is oriented towards completing the knowledge training you will need to solo a glider safely and consistently. Phase 3 is oriented towards what you need complete you certificate/rating.

Those individuals that are looking to add-on a glider rating, the best option is selecting courses
“a la carte”. You will already know, or will find out if there are areas of knowledge that you need to brush up on. However, there are courses or areas of knowledge that are specific to soaring that are likely new to you, and as a result I would recommend the following courses:


Weather for Soaring

Personal Equipment

Cross-Country flying

You may also strongly consider the following courses:

Advanced Seminar – Thermaling

Advanced Seminar – Soundings

Student Pilot Certificates

We do have some people that are learning to fly for the first times in their lives, including a few very new members. If you do not have your student pilot certificate, please talk to one of the instructors and we will work on getting it.  It is a fairly simple online process, but it will take a couple weeks for it to processed and get mailed/sent to you. You will want to do this as soon as possible. Any instructor can technically do it, but some are more comfortable with the process than others.

If you already have a pilot certificate and are adding the glider rating, you do not need a student pilot certificate. However, you will need a Flight Review or equivalent before you fly a glider solo.

Further information from the FAA

Knowledge Test Prep – FAA & Others

Before being ready to take the practical test, where you will get your Private Pilot certificate, you will need to take and pass the knowledge test. (Note: most situations for adding on the glider rating to current pilot certificate do not require a knowledge test, but there is information here that is useful.) There are programs/practice sessions integrated into online courses, like Sporty’s & soon to be, there are programs that are stand alone and there is some reference that is free from the FAA. If you have done a course that is integrated, then you likely can just scan this info, taking advantage of maybe some portion. If you have done a ground school that is not integrated you will need to use the materials listed here (or similar), otherwise it will be a long tough road.

There are various ways to prep for the knowledge test, as there is programmed learning books that will review the questions, such as Gleim & ASA.

However, since all the tests are computer based now, I would encourage you to use a computer based program. For the past 5 years+, it seems that Dauntless Aviation has been recommended by many students.

These will all some nominal cost to them. There are some free programs available online, but most are of a questionable nature or do not provide the currency and features of a pay-for program. The FAA does provide a sample test, which you can take with the provider itself, PSI, for free. Just click on the “Practice Exams”, you will not need to log-in, but it you will need to put in your email as it will send you a full report after. This is a terrific little tool for those that are doing the add-on rating to help prep. It also can be a good review for rated pilots and instructors. I did a practice exam this morning, just to remember what it was like.

Practical Test Standards

If you are adding on a rating or getting your pilot certificate, you will want to become familiar with the Practical Tests for your test (Sport, Private, and Commercial). In the glider world, these are still Practical Test Standards (PTS) and it is highly unlikely that they changed over to the new Airmen Certification Standards (ACS) before you get to your test. These provide guidance on what the knowledge and maneuver requirements are that required on the test. Those adding on a rating may not need to complete every Task and Area of Operation on the test, but need to be prepared for it. The PTS will provide you with that guidance. If you have not seen them, they are available here:

Bronze Badge

Those pilots that are looking to start stretching their legs towards cross-country, along with those adding on a rating, we have started trying the “Proving Grounds” program. Also the SSA has the badge program that the Proving Grounds was developed to help support. The SSA Bronze badge is a program involving a knowledge test and a few flights with an SSA instructor that will help you prepare for “going cross-country”. It also will be a confidence builder in your knowledge. The SSA has a practice website to prepare you for the knowledge test and it will improve your soaring knowledge. The specific areas that it covers are:

Aeromedical Factors

Aeronautical Decision Making


Field Selection

Glider Systems and Performance



You can take practice sessions, focus on specific areas etc and more. There is also information on how to take the test. To take the test, you will need to coordinate with an SSA Instructor (Currently, I believe Jim David is the only SSA instructor).

This is a terrific thing to do and will make you a more knowledgeable soaring pilot. I would strongly encourage individuals that are adding on the glider rating to work on these questions.

Proving Grounds

As has been previously noted, the Franconia Soaring Foundation had made arrangements to provide the association with the “Proving Grounds”. It is now set-up, and I would you encourage you to try it out. We now have a few that have completed a task or two. Take a look at the “Board” and the handout sheet at the club. Also, do talk to an instructor about it to review the requirements. Please do try it. The close in “Green Course” was designed to be accomplished in any aircraft in the fleet. We do know that some tweaking may be required, which we already changed the start and finish altitudes.

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