The gliding experience

In the air

Winch launching is the most exhilarating way to take-off and is the only launch method routinely used at Strubby.

The glider is connected to a cable approximately three-quarters of a mile long and is pulled up into the sky much like a kite. The glider runs on its wheels along the ground, then comes a few feet off the ground while picking up speed and when flying fast enough (about 60mph) pulls up at a 45o angle to gain as much height as possible. In the two-seater training aircraft, launch heights above 1200′ are common and in the right conditions can be over 2000′. To put this in context, a launch height of 1000′ would result in a flight of 5 minutes unless rising air is found, any more height gives additional time in the air and greater opportunity to find thermals and extend the flight.

The only sounds are the air moving past the glider, or occasional noises such as car engines from the ground. The ground flattens out into a rumpled patchwork quilt, a living photograph of the landscape with familiar landmarks from a superior viewpoint. The sky seems huge and empty other than for the tantalising mounds of bubbling white cumulus clouds indicating the presence of thermals. Rising air is what prolongs the flying time, and thermals are the likely source of this at Strubby, which means that much of a good flight will be spent circling to catch the strongest lift: climbing at first in tight, then in broadening rings, with the variometer beeping its happy song of lift.

Of course, where there is lift there will also be sink somewhere nearby, and then the variometer will sound its mournful bell and in the absence of any other lift, the pilot will start to plan the route back to the airfield. In the local soaring that is the chief component of early lessons, the airfield will always be comfortably in sight provided the student looks in the right direction! The circuit plan will be decided on to bring the glider on a final approach to the airfield at a good height and headed into wind (most times the same direction as launch) and this is the time when the glider has to be encouraged to come down from the sky by using the air brakes, which increase drag and allow a steeper, shorter approach. The glider lands softly on its wheel and runs on – a long way on concrete, less far on grass – and eventually comes to a standstill and one wing is lowered.

On the ground

It takes a team of people to get a glider in the air, and much of the day will be spent helping get the glider out of the hanger, helping others to launch and pushing, pulling or towing the glider along the airfield to the launch point.

The club is run by members, and everyone is encouraged to play an active part in supporting the activities. The main roles are described below and people often swap between them throughout the day:

Log keeper:

Keeps track of who is in the air at any time, how long they have flown for and how much they need to pay at the end of the day. Relays signals to the winch driver when the glider is ready to launch.


Holds the wings level just prior to launch and walks or runs a few steps alongside the glider until it picks up speed.

Launch marshall:

Connects the cable to the glider and signals to the log keeper when ready and safe to launch.

Winch driver:

Drives the winch to give the best launch possible, and winds the cable back in tidily once the glider has let go.

Tractor driver:

Tows out the cables back to the launch point ready for the next take-off.

Retrieve team:

Go to meet the glider if it runs on past the launch point (very likely on the concrete runway) and push or tow it back depending on the distance.

The flying order is generally determined by order of arrival, although some negotiation can occur between members with different needs and aims for the day. The Flying Instructor or Duty Pilot will ensure that all students know where they are on the list and roughly when they can expect to fly.