by Chris Emerson
So you've joined the club, trained with us, had a fantastic year with us (we hope!), and you've just gone solo. So that's the end, right?
Going solo is just the beginning in a long list of achievements you will gain while you are with the gliding club. Hopefully, this page will give you an insight into what you can expect after solo, and what you can add to that list of achievements.
New Gliders To Fly
Once you have gained a bit of experience in a 2 seat glider (10 or 20 solos usually) and proven yourself capable, you will be allowed to convert to your first single seat glider. At Cranwell, this will usually be the K18, which is a glider constructed of wood and fabric, and is effectively a single seat version of the K13. The K18 is a fantastic glider to fly, and can often be seen soaring in weak thermals when other gliders aren't able to, or on top of a thermal on a summer's day. Its performance in a straight glide is nothing to write home about, but at this stage you are interested in soaring locally, building up experience and hours, and getting the launches in.
You may also convert to another 2 seat glider, such as the K21 or Acro if you first soloed the K13, or vice versa. This will enable you to build up your experience in fibreglass constructed gliders, which handle a little differently to wooden ones, and eventually allow you to fly the Astir - your first 'racing' glider. The Astir performs much better in a straight glide than the K18, but isn't quite as good at climbing in a thermal. Nevertheless, it will very likely be the first glider you fly with a retractable undercarriage, and will get you in the habit of remembering you have to lower the undercarriage before landing! If you do forget, the Astir can take quite a lot of punishment - it is a solidly built glider that has taken more than enough 'wheels up' landings in the past, and usually just ends up being very embarrassing for the pilot in question!
As you gain more experience, you will be able to fly more advanced and high performance gliders of the type that are flown in national competitions and for long cross country flights.
The BGA Badge System
What you'll be aiming for at this stage is to build up lots of experience and hours, learning more and more as you go, so that you can start progressing through the BGA gliding badges. These represent a series of achievements which start with the 'A' badge, which you will get when you fly your first solo, and demonstrate some basic knowledge of air law.
The 'A' badge
After the 'A' badge, rather unsurprisingly, comes the 'B' badge. This one requires a bit of soaring (5 minutes or more above the same height) followed by a successful landing, and a bit more knowledge of air law, including airspace.
Historically, the badges stood for different things. Glider training used to be a lot different, and it was the case that you would start your training on a very basic single seat glider (often called a 'primary'), flying very short hops of only a few feet across the length of the airfield. As you progressed, your flights would go higher, last longer and eventually you would start learning how to turn. The 'A', 'B' and 'C' badges marked your progression along this training, with one of them just meaning you have successfully demonstrated left and right turns!
While the requirements for the badges have changed since then, the 'A', 'B' and 'C' badges are a bit of a hangover from those days, and the 'B' badge doesn't really mean a lot. Because of this, most people don't bother applying for their 'B' badge, but go straight for their Bronze badge instead.
The 'B' badge
After going solo, you will be mainly aiming towards your Bronze badge, which replaced the old 'C' badge. This requires all sorts of things, including:
- 50 solo flights or 20 solo flights + 10 hours solo.
- 2 soaring flights of 30 minutes each (if launched by Winch, Auto or Bungee) or an hour each (if launched by an Aerotow not exceeding 2,000ft).
- At least 3 flights with a Full Category rated instructor to perform an air test, looking at things like coordination, airmanship, lookout, stalls & spins.
- Multiple choice ground exam covering things like air law, airmanship, meteorology, radio use, cross country planning & navigation, principles of flight.
- Field landing checks - basically a test to make sure you can spot land in an unfamiliar field, without the use of the altimeter.
At first you will be aiming for your 2 soaring flights and 50 solo flights, with the exams and field landing checks coming later on. The main idea of the bronze badge is to prepare you to start making cross country flights, getting used to soaring and landing in unfamiliar fields, and making sure you are generally competent enough to do so!
The Bronze badge
Cross Country Endorsement
Once you have your Bronze badge, you can then aim for your cross country endorsement, which will allow you to fly out of gliding range of the airfield. The requirements are:
- A 1 hour soaring flight.
- A 2 hour soaring flight.
- More advanced field landings.
- Field selection - being able to choose from the air which fields are suitable for landing in and which aren't.
- Navigation exercise - using an aeronautical chart, fly around a pre determined course of at least 100km and prove you can navigate using ground features. This is normally done in a motor-glider.
The Cross Country Endorsement is applied to your Bronze badge, and is needed in order to complete your Silver badge, where one of the requirements is a cross country flight of 50km.
Once you have your Bronze badge with Cross Country Endorsement, you can apply for a glider pilot's licence from the BGA, which will enable you to train for a private pilot's licence with less training than you would ordinarily need, and is the gliding equivalent to the standard someone would be at after gaining their powered licence.
The silver badge is the first internationally recognised badge, with all the ones before it being UK specific. You can start aiming for your silver badge as soon as you start soaring on your own, since 2 of the parts can be done within gliding range of the airfield. However you need a Bronze badge with a Cross Country Endorsement in order to complete the 3rd part, which is a cross country flight of 50km. The 3 parts of the silver badge (commonly known as 'legs') are:
- A 5 hour flight
- A soaring flight with a height gain (AFTER launch) of 1,000m or more (3,281ft).
- A 50km cross country flight
In addition, the height loss between your start and finish fields on your 50km flight cannot be more than 1% of the total distance flown. This is known as 'the 1% rule'.
Once you have got your silver badge, you are considered 'self-authorising' - which means you can judge for yourself whether you should fly on a particular day or site without needing a check flight (although some sites will still require you to take one before you fly there for the first time). It also enables you to enter competitions, and apply for parts of your Diamond badge.
The Silver badge
There are plenty more badges to aim for after your Silver badge, including the Gold badge (300km flight, 5 hour duration flight, 3,000m height gain after launch), Diamond badge (500km flight, 300km pre-declared flight that you must make all the way around, 5,000m height gain after launch) and cross country 'diplomas' for 100km, 750km and 1,000km flights. Only a handful of people in the UK have flown over 1,000km though!
The Gold and Diamond badges
Other Options After Solo
When you have a bit of experience flying solo, a good option is to try flying at a different site. There are plenty of opportunities to do this in NUGC, with our expeditions to Portmoak and the inter university gliding competition (which is usually at a different site every year), and also some smaller weekends away. Flying at other sites is not only good fun, but gains you valuable experience at flying different circuits, in different conditions and getting to know the locals, and is usually also a great weekend or week away that is something a bit different.
There are several competitions organised every year at various sites, including regional & national competitions, competitions for the different classes of gliders (15m, 18m, open class, club class, standard class), competitions for the under 26's (National Juniors), competitions for 2 seat gliders only, inter club competitions, inter university competitions... the list is endless. You can find out more about competitions on the cross country page.
A few people also like to get into Aerobatics once they have a bit of experience. Aerobatics are not only great fun, but can also be a very competitive sport, with pilots striving to fly their aeroplanes as accurately as possible in order to gain the maximum points.
Once you have a Silver badge with 50 solo hours, you can train to become a Basic Instructor, which will allow you to take ab initio pilots up for their first flights and basic training. Many pilots do this, in order to give something back to the sport which gives so much to them. Of course, with even more experience, you can train to be an Assistant rated instructor or Full rated instructor, who can both teach more and take on more responsibilities than a Basic instructor.
Finally, an important part of a day at the airfield is the help we get from people to run the launch point and drive the winch. Once you are solo, you are able to be trained to drive the winch (which can be the warmest place on the airfield on a winter's day!), or volunteer as a Duty Pilot on a particular day, and help organise winch and cable retrieve drivers, find instructors for students and allocate aircraft to different people to help the Duty Instructor keep the ground operations running smoothly.
They say 'The sky's the limit', but it really is with gliding. You can opt to stay soaring locally in a wooden glider, fly hundreds of kilometres cross country in the latest racing gliders, compete in a national or regional competition, turn your world upside down with aerobatics, have great fun at a week away at a different site or even become an instructor to pass on what you have learnt to someone new to the sport. There are so many ways to enjoy it all, and going solo is just the very beginning of a whole new world of fun!