Is sailplane ownership for me?

The Lincolnshire Gliding Club at Strubby is one of the cheapest clubs in the UK. Our full flying yearly membership is only £300, a winch launch will set you back £10 plus 50p for every minute you’re in the air. When you’re learning to glide we try to provide 3 flights, one after the other. This gives you good continuity for your learning process. If you were lucky enough to do some soaring of up to 30 minutes then your instructor might decide to finish the day’s lesson at that point even if you’ve not had your 3 flights. This is because there is a limit to the amount of information you can take in or there may be others waiting to fly. Sometimes there’s a chance to fly again if everyone has had their flights and there’s still time for more launches. Always worth getting to the airfield early so you’re near the top of the flying list. This means you’ll fly early and can put your name on the list again if you so wish. Also, sometimes the weather changes during the day which may mean not everyone will get to fly if for instance the rain starts. It’s the pilots at the bottom of the list who will miss out.

As a small club we operate two two-seater gliders. This gives us more flexibility than operating one two-seater and one single-seater. The two-seater can and often is flown solo. As pilots gain more experience by flying our two-seaters solo they soon reach the standard where they are able to progress to a single-seater. At Strubby this means considering purchasing your own glider or perhaps getting a group together to form a syndicate. This has a lot of advantages over sole ownership: reduced costs, help to rig and derig and someone to fetch you back if you land away from the airfield.

Sounds scary, owning your own aeroplane, doesn’t it? Pilots often dismiss the idea immediately thinking that it’s a lot of hassle and money. However, it doesn’t have to be and when you consider the vagaries of the English weather it makes perfect sense to have maximum availability of a sailplane. It makes even more sense when you’re climbing up to cloudbase and from your elevated privileged position all your friends who didn’t join the syndicate look like ants on the ground below.

That’s all very well but surely the cost is prohibitive? This of course depends on how much money you have to spend on such a project. People’s finances vary, as do their priorities, so it’s only you who can decide whether such an investment and ongoing running costs are worth it. If you decide that they are then the first step to take is to ask the Chief Flying Instructor for their advice and permission to operate a glider from the club. The CFI will advise on the type of gliders suitable and will make sure that you have the necessary skills to make the transition to single-seater flying. This may mean flying in a different two-seater with similar flying characteristics as the glider you wish to purchase. Whatever steps you need to take believe me when I say that your rate of flying progress will increase rapidly once you start flying your own single-seater.

But, I hear you say, it’s still going to be expensive; owning a sailplane can’t be cheap? It can be but as with anything you can go too cheap. There are gliders available for nothing, zilch, free, gratis or if it’s in Yorkshire, nowt. (Ok,  fair enough that’s unlikely to happen in Yorkshire.) Seriously though, people do give gliders away. This is most likely because the glider is old, unfashionable, heavy, awkward to rig or for any other reason. Unless you want a project and know what you’re doing then I would advise you to steer clear of these so called bargains.

If this is your first step into glider ownership then it’s likely that you’re an early solo pilot who will benefit from an easy to fly glider that will inspire confidence and won’t surprise you with strange vices. If you’ve trained on wooden two-seaters like the K13 then it makes sense to progress to a single-seater from the same stable. If on the other hand you’ve trained on fibreglass two-seaters then a suitable fibreglass single-seater would be a sensible choice. Remember you’re not going to be whizzing around the countryside just because you’ve invested in a slicker glider than the one you trained in; you now need to safely build hours, launches and experience.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty: cost of a suitable first time ownership single-seater to follow your training period in the club’s K13. Well in my opinion there are 3 suitable gliders: K6, K8 and K18. Before we go any further there’s an important thing you need to know about all the K series gliders including the K13 that you’ve been learning to fly in; they are all subject to 3 yearly glue inspections. Over the years there have been glue failures in areas, mainly the wing rib sub-assemblies, which stem from the type of glue used in the manufacture process and the conditions that the gliders have been kept in. A lot of these K series gliders were not economically viable to repair and were scrapped. The ones that remain were either manufactured using a different type of glue or were well looked after such that the problem glue was never exposed to an excessively moist environment and is consequently still perfectly sound. Others, such as the 2 K6s currently flying at Strubby, have been rebuilt using modern glue.

So which one to go for? The K18 has the best performance of the 3, has cult status and is expensive. It’s sought after and as such rarely comes up for sale. The K6 is a wonderful first single-seater that will take you to Silver C and can be purchased from £1,000 to £4,000 depending upon condition and equipment level. The K8 was designed for club use and there are still quite a few residing in club hangars across the country rarely seeing the light of day. Often because these gliders have been hangared they don’t have closed trailers and if they did then they are probably rotten having spent 30+ years sitting outside on the grass. Sometimes they are available with open trailers. Open trailers are normally German built and although probably very rusty may be brought back to roadworthy serviceability with a bit of effort. Without a good waterproof closed trailer you will need to keep your new glider in a hangar which may be tricky. A K8 can be purchased from £1,000 but finding one with a good closed trailer could be nigh on impossible.

Basically it’s a toss up between a K6 and a K8. The K8 is slightly more robust in its fuselage and canopy design than the K6 mainly because it was designed for club use. However, this will be operated as a private glider so the proud owners will be careful with their new toy, therefore I would recommend the K6. Not only that, I would recommend buying a fully equipped one, as in having a parachute, a good vario, an electric vario and Flarm, and being in a good waterproof serviceable single axle trailer. This specification could set you back approximately £2,500 – £4,000 max. Your yearly running costs are likely to be £500 for insurance, (this depends on your valuation of the glider and your flying experience), £800 for CofA and ARC, £40 for parachute repacking and £125 for the club’s Private Owners’ Facility Fee. That’s £1,465, let’s say £1,500 to make the maths easy.

If you can find a nice K6 outfit for £2,500 and want it to yourself then you’re looking at £4,000 for the first year. You could always sell shares in it if you’re lonely. If you form a 4 man syndicate and buy a really nice example at £4,000 then it’s about £1,375 each for the first year but if there’s 5 of you in the syndicate then this is reduced to £1,100. The choice is yours.

And just to prove that good K6 outfits are out there here are a couple of photos of Tom’s lovely K6 operating from Strubby.