Learning to fly

Motorgliders give you the best of both worlds

You’ve heard of light aircraft, and you’ve almost certainly heard of gliding. But what about motorgliding? Not many people are aware that motorgliders offer the best of both worlds, so if you’re struggling to choose between flying a light aircraft and flying a glider, motorgliding could be for you. In this post, we’re going to introduce you to motorgliding and explain what’s so great about it.

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What is a motorglider?

The short answer is: exactly what it says on the tin! It’s a glider with a motor. This means that it has long wings like a glider, but it has an engine, so it can get off the ground of its own accord, without the need for a winch or aerotow. Because it has long wings, you can turn the engine off in flight and use it as a glider. Not only does this mean you can enjoy a quieter flight, but it also saves lots of money on fuel! Because of the extra weight of having an engine on board, it probably won’t fly as far as a glider, so you’d need a nice thermic day to enjoy soaring in a motorglider.

Types of motorglider

Motorgliders come in many shapes and sizes. Some are really just gliders with a small propeller that pops out of the back to get them airborne, and once airborne the pilot retracts the propeller and uses the aircraft as a normal glider. These could be described as ‘self-launching motorgliders’ (SLMG). Other motorgliders – ‘touring motorgliders’ – are basically just light aircraft but with longer wings, and can be used for long-distance journeys, with the engine remaining switched on the whole time, just like any other light aircraft. Unlike gliders, they can be used to get to places because they’re able to take off under their own steam. Here are some of the most common motorglider types in the UK.

Slingsby T61 Venture

Motorgliding

First flown in 1971, these basic motorgliders – also known as Falkes or Ventures – were used by the RAF to train new pilots. With a cruise speed of around 60kts, they’re on the slow side, but they make great training aircraft as they’re quite tricky to fly.

Scheibe SF25

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The SF25 is similar to the Venture – it’s the earlier German version, first flown in 1963, upon which the Venture was based – but in many ways it’s better. The SF25 comes in several versions, with single, double or tricycle undercarriage and different sizes of engine. They have a cruise speed of 70-80kts, so they’re a bit quicker than the Venture.

Grob 109

Image from Wikipedia

The Grob 109 is very popular in both civilian and military flying schools, and replaced the T61 Venture as RAF cadet training aircraft (it’s known by the RAF as the Vigilant T1). The Grob 109 had its first flight in 1980 and is still used by the RAF today.

Dimona

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Diamond Super Dimona, parked next to a T61 Venture, with a Grob 109 behind

The Dimona is a contemporary of the Grob 109, designed by Wolff Hoffman and manufactured by Diamond aircraft. This fibreglass aircraft comes in ‘taildragging’ (with a tailwheel) and tricycle undercarriage versions. The so-called ‘Super Dimona’ is the same aircraft with a few small differences, the main one being that it has a more powerful engine. With a cruise speed of around 90 to 100kts, these are somewhat speedier than the Venture and SF25, and they have feathering propellers, designed to make them more aerodynamic when soaring with the engine off.

What are motorgliders used for?

The most common use for motorgliders in the UK is as RAF Air Cadet training aircraft and in gliding clubs. Many gliding clubs have a motorglider as part of their fleet as a means of carrying out additional training for glider pilots. They are a convenient way of making the transition from gliding to powered aircraft, and they can also be used for gliding exercises and tests. There are very few flying clubs dedicated solely to motorgliding; our sister company MotorGlide is one, and it comes under the umbrella of the British Gliding Association.

Switching the engine off: should I be scared?

We’ve found that some of our passengers are alarmed at the prospect of switching the engine off in flight. While it does feel counterintuitive to switch off the engine in flight, there really is nothing to be worried about! With those long wings, a motorglider is designed to be flown with the engine off and will go a lot further than a normal light aircraft would without an engine. What’s more, the engine can simply be switched back on when you’re ready to land or if you’re getting too low. In the meantime, your instructor will be looking for thermals, which are rising columns of air that allow the aircraft to gain altitude and therefore time in the air, just like a glider.

5 reasons to try a motorglider experience

In case you hadn’t realised, we’re big fans of motorgliding here at Air Experiences! If you needed any more persuading, here are our top five reasons for trying a motorglider experience…

  1. You’ll be able to say you’ve tried gliding AND light aircraft flights!
  2. Motorgliding is cheaper than a light aircraft flying experience, especially if you come back to fly regularly.
  3. Motorgliders offer a gentler take-off experience than the scarily steep climb you’d get in a glider on a winch launch.
  4. It’s the perfect experience for those looking for something a bit different from the ordinary.
  5. It’s nice and quiet with the engine turned off – just the sound of the wind whistling past.

If you’re interested in experiencing what it’s like to fly a motorglider, try one of our Best of Both flying experiences. We have motorgliding locations at Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon and near Oxford. If you’d like to go a step further and learn to fly one, check out our sister company, MotorGlide.

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What do you have to do to get a PPL?

tecnam2We’ve had a few people asking us recently about what they need to do to get a PPL. If you’ve already been browsing our site, you’ll know that the flying you do with Air Experiences counts towards the hours you need to get a PPL. But what else do you need to do? Read on to find out!

Hours needed for a PPL
There are currently three different PPLs you can do, and the main difference between them is the number of hours you are required to do for each of them. The LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence) and NPPL (National Private Pilot’s Licence) give you a pilot’s licence that limits you to flying in VFR conditions (that is, not relying on instruments – so when the weather is good enough) and non-complex aircraft. The full PPL enables you to fly the same aircraft, but there are more bolt-on ratings you can do, such as multi-engine and retractable undercarriage.

  • For the LAPL & NPPL, you need to do a total (minimum) of 32 hours, which includes ten hours of solo time and 22 hours of instruction.
  • For the full PPL, you complete 45 hours, including ten hours of solo time.

During your instructional hours, you’ll learn how to handle the aircraft and how to cope with various emergency situations, such as an engine failure (you’ll learn to select suitable fields to land in and do practice landings). You’ll also learn how to recover from situations like stalls and spiral dives.

tecnam1PPL Exams
As well as flying hours, there’s a fair bit of what we call “ground school” to complete, with nine exams. You can either learn this information from books, or you can pay an instructor to teach you (or both).

  • Air Law – this tests your knowledge of the rules pilots need to know – important things like how high you’re allowed to fly, and which way you should turn to avoid an air-to-air collision.
  • Operational Procedures – this covers various aspects of operating an aircraft safely, such as marshalling signals.
  • Human Performance and Limitations – this one looks at how aspects of the human body can cause accidents, such as hypoxia from a lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
  • RT (Radiotelephony)/Communications – this covers what you say on the radio to communicate with air traffic control.
  • Flight Planning and Performance – this exam tests your knowledge of how to plan a flight, including things like how to calculate how much fuel you’ll need.
  • Navigation – this one is about how to use various navigational aids, work out your estimated time of arrival and work out what headings to fly whilst accounting for the wind speed and direction.
  • Principles of Flight – this looks at how the aeroplane flies, including the forces to which it is subjected and what causes lift.
  • Meteorology – this one covers the weather, conditions that could affect your flight and how to read and interpret specialised aviation forecasts.
  • Aircraft General Knowledge – finally, this exam looks at how the aircraft is built and how it works, such as what different bits of the engine do.

Radio licence
As well as the written exam we mentioned just now, there’s also a optional (highly recommended) practical exam for radio communications. This involves flying a pretend route on a computer-based flight simulator and making appropriate radio calls, such as requesting permission to pass through military airspace, making a mayday call and asking for the weather.

PPL flying tests
There are three flying tests to pass when you’ve completed the flying hours and written exams. These are:

  • Navigation skills test – you plan a specified route and then fly it with an instructor; at some point along the route, you’re asked to divert to another airfield, so you need to know where you are at all times.
  • Solo cross country – you plan and fly a route on your own, including landing at two other airfields (one if you’re doing the LAPL).
  • General flying skills test – this tests you on things like recovering from stalls and spins, and checking that you’re going to react appropriately to emergencies like engine failures.

It sounds like an awful lot – and it is! It’s a big learning curve and it’s a lot harder than learning to drive. However, it’s incredibly rewarding – once you have your licence, you can take passengers up, fly to other airfields for lunch, and enjoy the wonderful views of the world from above.

If you enjoyed your flight with Air Experiences and you want to take your flying further, any one of our flying schools will be happy to discuss the possibility of you learning to fly with them. You can also learn to fly a motorglider with Lee with MotorGlide.

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