What is motorgliding?

Here at MotorGlide, we’ve been busy all year long with teaching people to fly, but we’ve also had lots of people come to us for their first ever flying experience. We’re always surprised by the number of experienced pilots who don’t know much about motorgliding – let alone members of the public! So today we thought we’d go back to basics with a post on what motorgliding actually is. This post was originally published on our sister company, Air Experiences, and we’ve reposted it here for the benefit of anyone who’s wondering: just what exactly is motorgliding?

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. It’s also a lot cheaper than flying a light aircraft, and you get longer flights for your money than you would in a typical gliding training flight, making it an affordable and cost-effective way to experience flying or even learn to fly.

Stan and Wilhelm air-to-air

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

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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 was still used by the RAF until this summer.

Dimona

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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 historically has been 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. MotorGlide is one of the country’s only dedicated motorgliding flying clubs, 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

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 flying a light aircraft, especially if you come back to fly regularly for lessons.
  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, email lee@motorglide.co.uk or call 07976 985 689 to arrange a flying lesson at our base at Long Marston Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon.