Glider Pilot Ratings
FAA minimum requirements
Glider licenses are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in that regard is similar to that issued to power pilots or balloon pilots. The FAA maintains a list of frequently asked questions for new pilots and requirements for pilot licensing are included in Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The basic requirements are as follows:
Student pilots may solo at a minimum age of 14 with a student certificate endorsed for solo flight at the discretion of a FAA-Certified Flight Instructor for Gliders (CFIG). Generally, 30 to 40 flights with a CFIG are required to solo. This is roughly equivalent to 10-12 hours of flight time and is dependent upon the progress of the student.
After solo, student pilots may qualify as a Private Pilot-Glider provided they:
- Are at least 16 years of age; and
- Have logged at least 10 hours of flight time in a glider and that flight time must include at least 20 total glider flights, and
- Have 2 hours of solo flight time in a glider, and
- Have passed the FAA written examination; and
- Have passed the flight exam with a FAA Examiner.
Commercial Pilots-Glider must be at least 18-years of age, pass a written FAA examination, hold a Private Pilot license with 25 hours of flight time in gliders and 100 glider flights as pilot-in-command, or a total of 200 hours of flight time in heavier-than-air aircraft including 20 glider flights as pilot-in-command, 3 hours or ten flights training in a glider, and five solo flights in a glider and pass a flight test.
Certified Flight Instructors-Glider
Certified Flight Instructors-Glider must hold a commercial rating, pass a written and flight test and have an endorsement from a qualified instructor of aeronautical knowledge and flight of proficiency.
Additional Pilot Rating
Holders of a valid FAA Power plane license with 40 hours as pilot-in-command need a minimum of 10 solo flights to qualify to take the glider flight test. No written exam is required to add a glider rating to a power license. In all cases, refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations for details on pilot licensing.
Recently, I was flying the Blanik L13AC on a day when the surface wind was an estimated NNE @ 10 kt. After lining the glider up for take-off on Rwy 32, I completed my checklists and gave the wingrunner a thumbs-up signal. As the last of the slack was taken out of the tow rope, I noticed the glider’s nose turning a bit to the right (remember the fully-castering tailwheel and the big vertical fin?). As the glider began to move, the wing-runner allowed the glider to continue turning. I applied full left rudder as he released the wing, but nothing happened – I was headed for the weeds and gopher holes on the right side of the runway. Just as I reached for the release handle, the rudder began to bite, and the glider straightened out. The rest of the take-off was uneventful.
Directional control on take-off can be a big problem for Blaniks and any glider using a C.G. hook, particularly in a cross-wind. The wing-runner can be a big help by paying careful attention to keeping the glider lined up with the tow rope and the wings level. As the glider starts to move, focus your attention on the glider more than on the towplane. As the glider picks up speed, let go of the wing before you become unable to maintain alignment.
Earlier this summer, I was helping to move gliders back into the hangar, at the end of a flying day. One of the other helpers noticed that the position of the Citabria propeller was going to limit how tightly we could pack the next glider. As he reached for the prop, I instinctively asked him if he had checked the magneto switches (it turned out that they had been left in the ON position). In reply to my question, I received a blank stare. Having grown up hand-propping airplanes that had no starter motors, I have first-hand knowledge of how dangerous it can be to move a prop by hand. So, I proceeded to give a short course in propeller safety. Since that incident, it has occurred to me that there is nothing in a glider pilot’s training about this issue, which is second-nature to a power-airplane pilot. So, the following is a summary of the issue, for the benfit of glider pilots.
The ignition systems of aircraft piston-engines are typically sparked by a pair of magnetos. The primary field of a magneto is generated by permanent magnets, rather than the 12-volt windings of an alternator. This arrangement provides a very reliable ignition source, which keeps the engine running in case the aircraft electrical system fails. For ground safety, each magneto is fitted with an ON/OFF switch. After shutting down an engine, the pilot is supposed to flip the switch to the OFF position, which grounds the secondary coil, preventing a spark if the prop is moved.
But doesn’t a magneto need to be spun fairly fast for a spark to be generated? The answer is yes. However, to make engine starting easier, most aircraft magnetos are connected to the engine via an ingenious mechanical device called an impulse-coupler. As the prop turns through a very small arc, a spring in the coupler is wound up until it suddenly releases, temporarily spinning the magneto to an RPM high enough to generate a strong spark. It only takes one spark to the cylinder near top-dead-center to impart lethal energy to the prop.
- Always check to make sure that the mag switches are both OFF before touching a propeller.
- Always assume that the engine will start, even if the mag switches are OFF. Never stand in the plane of the prop when moving it. Faulty magneto grounds are not unheard of, particularly on older airplanes.
- Pawnee and Citabria pilots: Kill the engine by using the mixture idle-cutoff before turning the mag switches OFF. This reduces the possiblity of enough fuel vapor in the cylinders to ignite, even if someone moves the prop with the mag switches ON.
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