Four Counties
Gliding Club

A Member of the Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Association

RAF Wittering

The Basics...

What is Gliding?

Gliding is one of the purest forms of aviation, using nothing but air currents to allow the pilot to stay aloft for hours at a time, travel huge distances, or just enjoy the view of the English Countryside from above. These pages are not intended to tell you how to fly a glider; the club has fully qualified Instructors for that. They are simply intended to give you basic information and a first impression about Gliding, what it is, and what it has to offer you.

How Do Gliders Stay Up?

The basic principles of Glider flight are not difficult to grasp and there is no need to learn any technical theory. Simply put, when launched to a given height, in still air, the glider will move forwards relatively rapidly, and slowly descend, much like a paper aeroplane. The aircraft can be turned and its course changed, but the overall path of the flight is downwards. But the air is rarely still and often the pilot can extend their flight and actually gain height, if they find air that is rising faster than the aircraft is descending. The concept is much the same as trying to walk down an up going escalator. If the escalator is travelling fast enough, then despite your moving downwards, you will be carried to the top. This rising air is called a Thermal and it is this type of lift that is most common. Pilots use this rising air to gain height, some solely to extend the flight, but many others use it to travel great distances cross country, and every Summer there are many competitions held where pilots compete against each other over long distance courses.

How Are Gliders Controlled?

Glider Axis of Movements The Three Control Axes

The glider uses various control surfaces to direct its flight. Each of these is connected by rods to the pilot’s controls in the cockpit. The controls used in a glider are the same as those used in any other aircraft, from huge passenger aircraft, to tiny Cessna aircraft. The only exceptions are weight-shift microlights and hang and para gliders. But in most cases you will find the following basic controls:

Control Column (or Stick) – This controls the roll and pitch of the glider, and is positioned centrally between the legs. It is held with the right hand, leaving the left hand free for using the other controls. Moving the stick forward or backwards controls the pitch of the aircraft, the angle of its flight through the air, and so the speed at which it flies. Moving the stick to the left or right will create roll, which turns the glider as one wing rises and the other lowers. The stick allows movement to all four corners, thus allowing you to combine roll and pitch.

Rudder - The rudder is controlled by the Rudder pedals, which are moved either left or right using your feet to create Yaw in that direction. Yaw is used to balance and coordinate a turn, but is not wholly responsible for the turning of the aircraft.

Airbrakes - Airbrakes do pretty much what it says on the tin, brakes used in the air to stop flight. Although the actual effect is not quite that dramatic. The Airbrakes are controlled by a lever, and when operated they extend out from the wing into the airflow. This spoils the airflow, reducing lift, increasing drag and thereby increasing the rate of descent of the aircraft. Due to the high performance of modern gliders, without airbrakes they could glide for miles before touching down so airbrakes are used to control approach and allow landings to be precise.

How Are Gliders Launched?

A Winch Launch A Winch Launch

The primary launch method at Four Counties is Winch Launching. A winch is basically a large diesel or LPG engine (both types are available at Wittering), which rotates one of two drums at a time, reeling in a length of steel cable laid out from one end of the airfield, to the launchpoint at the other. When the pilot is ready, the glider is attached to this cable, which is reeled in at high speed. The forward movement and airflow over the wings produces lift and allows the aircraft to become airborne. When they are happy with the flying speed, the pilot will ease into the main part of the climb. The full climb takes up to 30 seconds, and regularly reaches between 1500 and 2000 feet above the airfield. Heights in excess of 2000 feet are often achieved.

An Aerotow Launch An Aerotow Launch

The other method of launching at Wittering is the Aerotow. Here the glider is towed into the air by a tug aircraft. Our Rotax motorfalke doubles as our tug, and provides a gentler (and more expensive!) climb to any height required by the pilot, allowing much greater flexibility than the winch. It can also tow the glider to a predetermined location (providing it is not too far away!) meaning that the pilot can go directly to the lift, rather than having to use height and energy to reach it from the top of the winch launch.

Winching, however, is the quickest and most cost effective method of getting airborne, and is likely to be the predominate launch method for any pilot.

Going Solo...

The first and greatest challenge in Gliding is going solo. If you regularly come flying, you could be solo within 50 launches. Everyone is different and it may take a greater or fewer number of launches. What matters is that your instructor is satisfied that you are capable of handling the aircraft safely in all situations, including emergencies.

Once you have gone solo there are many options open to you to advance your gliding. Following the FAI Badge system allows you you to progress your flying and cross country skills, perhaps to the point of competing in one of the many competitions held nationwide every summer. Or you could choose to follow aerobatics, again leading to a healthy competition scene. After gaining the right experience, many pilots choose to give something back to the club and the sport by becoming instructors, coaching new pilots.

Whatever you choose, the first step is flying the aircraft solo, from there, the sky is quite literally the limit!

Out on the Airfield

Things you need to have...


One of the most important things to get right on an airfield is clothing. Wittering is basically a 9000ft long open expanse, completely devoid of shelter from the elements, save the vehicles we bring with us. In the Summer it can be nice and hot, but in the Winter, with wind etc. it can become very cold, so the correct clothes for the day are essential.

For the Winter a warm, windproof coat and sensible trousers are a must have, as well as sturdy trainers or waterproof boots. Gloves, hats and scarves are also a good idea. The basic principle is keep warm, wrap up well. For the Summer light clothes and shorts are often appropriate, but we would suggest spare, warmer clothes, given how changeable British weather can be! Sunglasses are normally good all year round as even when the sun stays in, the sky can be quite bright.

An important point to note is that skirts and parachutes do not mix. If you intend to fly on your visit to the airfield, trousers or shorts are suggested.

Progress Card & Logbook

When you first start flying, you should be given an RAFGSA Progress Card. This records your progress along the syllabus, and allows the next instructor who flies with you to continue your training.

As you build up flights it is a legal requirement to record your flights and flight time, as they contribute towards your progress later on. They are also useful if you go to another site as they will judge your ability on what they see in your logbook. Logbooks can be purchased for around £1 from the club.


Cheap as it is, flying at Four Counties still costs money, and it is club policy that all fees should be paid on the day. The club accepts both cash and cheques, and flying fees are normally collected in the clubhouse after flying each day. Please ensure you have the means to pay for any flying or membership costs incurred. Depending on the amount of flying done, £15 - £30 is a good amount of cash to have. For a full list of our flying charges, see the Prices page.

You will also need small change for food and drink during the day. Our tea bus provides hot and cold drinks, and a range of sweet and savoury foods, for a small charge.


Although not an essential item, a camera is always a good thing to have as your flight may offer some spectacular photo opportunities. However, it is best to ask the instructor first, as a camera does constitute a loose article in the cockpit, and unfortunately our training aircraft do not have pockets in the front cockpit. But so long as you hold on to it very securely, there should be no reason why a camera cannot be taken on your flight.


Gliding is one of the safest forms of aviation, and the club does everything possible to ensure that operations are conducted with minimal risk to anyone. To help with this, we ask that visitors to the club and members in general follow the safety instructions below, and any instructions given while on the airfield.


Crossing the Airfield/Taxiways

To reach the launchpoint on a flying day you will have to cross a taxiway, which can sometimes be used as a secondary landing area for gliders and powered aircraft, or as the launch point for aerotows. During the day you may also require to cross the landing area to reach aircraft that have landed. In both cases extreme care should be taken when crossing to and from the launchpoint. Always maintain a look out for any aircraft that may be landing. Keep your eyes open, as you will not hear a glider approaching. If you do see an aircraft approaching while you are crossing, stop where you are. The pilot will have spotted you, but he/she does not know where you are going.

If you come across an aerotow preparing on the taxiway, ensure you walk behind the tug and glider combination and not between them. The same applies for any aircraft preparing to launch at the launchpoint. Always walk behind them, to avoid any risk of being struck if they happen to launch.


The winch used for most of the launching at Wittering involves a great length of 7mm stranded steel cable, one end of which is towed down the length of the airfield to the launchpoint. At the launchpoint end there is a parachute and a strop, which is attached to the glider. This cable can be drawn in at over 60 knots, so it is important to stay clear of it until you are properly trained in how to handle cables. There will normally be either two or four cables at the launch point. The most important time to stay clear is during launching, as while only one cable will be used at a time, there is a risk another could be come snagged and pulled in at the same speed. You don't want to be holding it at this point.

The simple rules to follow with cables are this:


For all flights, all pilots in the aircraft must wear parachutes. This is purely a safety precaution, and it is extremely rare, that one is used in Gliding. The gliders are designed to fit pilots wearing them, so they provide added comfort.

Handling of a parachute is important. It must be done correctly to prevent damage that could impede its deployment. Never place a parachute on the ground, as it may get wet or dirty. It should be placed either on the rack in the control wagon, or in the parachute room next to the hangar. When carrying the parachute, use the shoulder straps, preferably the right one, to avoid pulling the 'D-Ring', which deploys the parachute.

If you have any further questions about Gliding, please forward them to the webmaster here.

Four Counties GC
RAF Wittering