Cost and safety of sailplanes

I was wondering about sailplanes:

  1. the average cost of just going for a ride,
  2. actually getting licensed - how much and and how many ‘lesson’ flights
  3. the safety of sailplanes as opposed to planes in general
  1. Typically ranges from $50 to a bit above $100; average would be about $65. Variables include the equipment (sailplanes vary enormously in cost), how high you are towed, how long the flight lasts, and location (other things being equal, expect to pay more in Hawaii than in Ohio).

  2. It’s been a long time since I did instruction, so I’m a bit out of touch. For someone with no previous flight experience, something like 35 flights would be typical to solo (student allowed to fly without an instructor); 80 to 90 flights would be typical to obtain a private license. The cost would vary a lot - it’s often substantially cheaper with a club (where members provide much of the labor, including flying the towplane and instructing).

  3. Comparable. As in other forms of aviation, nearly all accidents are due to one or more of a limited number of common, well understood, easily avoided errors. But human nature causes them to strongly resist eradication. I’d say the serious accident rate for students under instruction is well below the average for the entire sport.

Do you get some good looks at hawks up there?

Absolutely - I’ve flown with a wide variety of hawks and eagles. Most of the time they seem quite happy to share the sky with birds 10 times their size.

Memorable moments include sharing a fall thermal with a Golden and a Bald eagle (central PA), being chased out of a thermal by a Golden eagle (Tennessee), flying with a pair of Martial eagles (S. Africa), and with hundreds of Broadwing hawks in western Virginia.

Of course, one of the most common accidents in aircraft is stalling when taking off. Usually it’s due to failure to control the situation when the engine fails. Probably less of a risk in a sailplane.

The towplane stalling on take-off can be problematic, though.

I’ve had only one flight in a sailplane. In comparison to my other aviation adventures I’d say it was safer than a number of other things I’ve done.

Obtaining a sailplane license should be cheaper under most circumstances than obtaining a powered aircraft license.

Sailplane stall-spin accidents are more common than they should be. As you’d expect, they nearly always happen during the landing pattern.

True, but this is really quite rare - probably due to the fact that nearly all towpilots have lots of flying experience.

It usually is, especially via membership in a club. You need the services of a (typically rather costly to operate) towplane for only 5 to 10 minutes per flight. OTOH, you need a second aircraft (the glider) and often the services of another well qualified pilot (your instructor).

Minor hijack: About 15 years ago I flew a paraplane (basically, a motorized hang glider) – I was allowed to fly (a predetermined oval course, with supervision from the ground) after a single lesson. It was quite an experience.

Was it like this? That would be a motorized parapente (paraglider) Which are indeed rather easy to fly.

A motorized hang glider would be something like this - not especially hard to fly, but requiring multiple hours of training.

I remember it as being like the latter, but in reality I think it must have been more like the former. The basic idea was that even if the motor cut out and the operator was non-functional, the thing would float down to the ground.