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At the launch point about four or five years ago I was talking to a guy who was involved in sourcing young people for airline pilot training and what he had to say was very interesting.

I was already aware that high GCSE grades in English, Maths and Science were needed (plus fluent English, good health, a passport and an acceptable height) but I was not prepared for the revelation that an impressive gliding record is regarded very highly!

The earliest age at which airline pilot training begins is 18. A PPL can be obtained at 17. However, in the UK, it is possible to solo in a glider at age 14 with many hours of P2 flying before that.

Furthermore, for young minds, flying gliders can enhance discipline, prioritisation, teamwork, judgement, decision making and self-control.


So, are there any other reasons airlines attach so much importance to an applicant being a young, experienced glider pilot? Well, there are quite a few:

 No Engine - without an engine there is just the one opportunity to make a safe circuit and landing. There is no second chance.

Weather – with XC flying, or just local soaring, for a glider pilot a good understanding of the weather is all important to maximise the possibilities for gaining and maintaining height and achieving long distance flights.

 Navigation – Assuming airspace allows, to get from A to B, a power pilot can usually fly in a straight line. However, a glider pilot will undoubtedly have to zigzag to take advantage of thermals, hill lift, wave etc whilst always being aware of his/her location and the direction to head for B. GPS is a great asset until it fails! So glider pilots have unique navigation skills.

 TEM – Threat and Error Management is particularly important in gliding when the unexpected happens and having no engine to help manage and solve the threat or correct the error.

 Club Member – As an active club member you not only fly but you are also helping the club to function efficiently and safely – getting gliders out of the hangar, DIs, towing to the launch point, all ground aspects of safe launching, attending to Trial Lesson guests, airfield security etc – yes, just like the teamwork in an airline crew!

So, where is this article heading?

I guess most, if not all, of you have seen the film “Sully: Miracle on the Hudson” – if you have not, I urge you to do so as it is an excellent film which substantially sticks to the facts of the events.

In the film there is a flashback to where Sully is a youngster in Texas learning to fly in a biplane and there is a memorable piece of advice from his instructor “In an emergency, when everything else is going haywire, the most important thing is FLY THE AIRPLANE!


By Richard Bryant

Photo by By Greg L