Getting aloft

Soaring usually starts a few hundred to a couple thousand feet above the ground.  Only then are we able to effectively able to capture the 'usable' lift that will take us higher and keep us aloft.  Getting into the lift is what all soaring pilots hope to do and several means of reaching it are available.

Aero tow

Aero tow remains the most common form of glider launching in the United States.  For many years, affordable tow planes and fuel meant that training and operating costs were within reach of most desiring to soar.  However, there is a constant upward pressure on the expense of aero towing.  Aviation fuel and equipment costs are rising more rapidly than your transportation costs.  Licensed pilots feel this pinch less than those in training .  This cost pressure is causing soaring operations to consider alternative launch methods.

Aero tow with a Piper Pawnee & some aerobatics

Pawnee aero towing, rear shots

Gliding & aero towing

Ground launch

Ground launching is akin to running with a kite.  It is one of the oldest forms of getting gliders airborne and very common in the U.S. prior to World War II.  Winches, vehicles, and vehicles with pulleys are the most common forms of ground launch.  The length of the ground launch site depends on location.  A ridge or hill site may only need a short run.  Flat sites will require more space than generally needed for aero tow.  Launch expense is much lower than aero tow, however the ultimate height of the launch is limited.  In other countries, especially Europe, ground launching is very common and the sole means at many clubs.  The U.S. sites using ground launching generally also have aero tow capacity, though a very few use ground launch only.  Bungee and gravity launches are rather rare world wide and very site specific.  

Auto tow to 2500 feet, Alvord Desert, Oregon

Winch launch at Weelde, Belgium

0-1900ft in 45 Seconds, Lasham, UK 

Winch launching at Lasham, UK, with retrieve winch recovering rope

Bungee launching a K21, Long Mynd, UK

Bungee launching a Discus, Long Mynd, UK

Slope (AKA Hill or Gravity) Launch 

ULF Horse Launch

Self launch

Self launching gliders are becoming more common.  Most designs have an engine and propeller that are stowed after launch.  Self launching adds a hefty price premium to the cost of a new sailplane.  Some systems have been maintenance intensive, others very elegant and reliable.  The engine may also be used to self-retrieve.  Several private owners have opted for this level of convenience. 

Glider self launch and retract 

Antares 20E, electric self launch demo 

Stemme S10-VT demo

Next Keeping it up


Latest update: 12/28/2009