Inevitably much of the language a glider pilot uses is taken from sailing and from the movement of birds, since, after all, it deals with the wind and the elements.
1 self-launch/motor glider (n.)
Self-launch and motor gliders are one and the same, a glider with a motor (gliders without motors have to be towed up in the air, either by a tug aircraft, a cable wound in onto a drum by a stationary engine, or a fixed length of cable attached to a vehicle). Many pilots marveled at Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s achievement in ditching his US Airways plane into the Hudson River in 2009 when its engines failed; but after learning that he had previously been a glider pilot, I was not surprised, as I could see that his instincts and ability to fly the plane the way he did were absolutely those of a glider pilot.
2 de-rigging (n.)
When you store or move a glider on the ground it usually involves removing the wings. This is called de-rigging. People lucky enough to have enough hangar space don’t have to do this.
3 rudder (n.)
Just like a ship, a glider has a rudder, and it does the same job. The rudder is controlled by the feet using rudder pedals.
4 soar (v.)
A glider pilot takes advantage of rising air to soar in much the same way that seagulls seem to hover, hardly moving, with their wings outstretched over a cliff edge, taking full advantage of the upsweep of air. Of course, with an upsweep there is also a down, and a glider pilot has to be careful of rotor, which is the corresponding downsweep of air. Uplift is the term for that upsweep of air. A glider pilot can take advantage of the uplift from a gust of wind, allowing him or her to go straight up, much in the way a Harrier jet rises or a bird is lifted vertically. Thermaling is circling and climbing in rising warm air, ideally crowned by a fluffy white cloud.
5 briefing (n.)
Pilots usually plot a route—a briefing—particularly if the flight is across country, the landing will be in a different place from where it starts, or if they’re concerned about going through any no-fly zones. All this has to be worked out before takeoff. It’s much easier to do nowadays with GPS and electronics.
6 crabbing (n.)
Crabbing is a movement much like tacking in sailing; it allows the glider to move diagonally against the wind.
7 airbrakes and ailerons (n.)
Airbrakes spoil the airflow, that is, they disturb the airflow over the wing, destroying the lift so that the aircraft loses height. Airbrakes are on the wings, further inboard than the ailerons. The little flaps on the trailing edge (the back of a plane’s wings; the front is the leading edge) are ailerons. The pilot adjusts the ailerons to maintain lateral stability (keeping level with the horizon). They are controlled by moving—waggling—the stick.
8 upslack (n.)
Called out when a pilot is ready to take off and a cable has been attached to the tug aircraft or the winch, the engine on the ground with a drum and cable that tows you until you’re launched in the air. There is always a little bit of slack in the cable, so before moving, the launching method tightens and removes the slack loop in the cable.
9 wave (n.)
Given the right conditions, when wind blows over a mountain range or hill, the air can bounce up and down in a series of waves. A glider pilot can use the rising part of the wave to climb. Part of the pilot’s skill lies in not getting caught in the down part of the wave.
10 spin and flat spin (n.)
Basically, a pilot doesn’t want to be in either spin or flat spin. They have killed thousands of pilots, so this is an essential part of training. Spin occurs where one wing is at an angle—not level with the horizon. It is therefore not producing lift, which is why the aircraft spins. Flat spin occurs when the wings are level—the spin is similar to the whirling movement a sycamore seed makes as it falls to the ground. A flat spin is very hard to get out of and much more dangerous and difficult to recover from than spin.—IAN SMITH
Ian Smith was an RAF glider pilot and gliding instructor; in his flying days, he piloted a Skylark 2. Since then, he has become an antique dealer and now divides his time between his many passions: gardening, building, milling, photography, music and the odd bit of flying.