This is probably the most common method of launch in the UK today. Cheap and efficient winch launching is particularly suited to pre-solo training. Winches comprise of anywhere between one and six drums holding several thousand yards of multi-strand cable. The cables are towed using a tractor, off-road vehicle or dedicated retrieve winch, to the waiting gliders at the launch point. A cable is then attached, via a weak link, onto the glider's belly-hook and after the appropriate commands the winch driver will slowly take up any slack in the cable before initiating the launch.

The glider rapidly accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about three seconds, and lifts off after a short ground-run. The pilot will maintain a shallow climb until a safe height is reached before rotating into the full climb of about 30 - 45 degrees. The height gained from the launch depends on the glider, wind speed and the length of the cable run but is typically about 1,000 - 1,700 feet (heights in excess of 2,000 feet can be reached under the right circumstances). The whole launch takes less than a minute and is generally considered to be one of the most entertaining launch methods; particularly when the cable breaks!


While more sedate than the winch launch, it is much more expensive due to running costs on the tug aircraft. The tug, such as a Pawnee or Chipmunk, is attached to the glider by a 100-foot length of rope. The glider is towed along the ground until it has enough speed to lift off. At this stage the tug will still be on the ground, so the glider pilot must fly behind the tug maintaining just a few feet of altitude until the tug is airborne and begins the climb-out. The glider and tug maintain formation until the glider releases in an area of lift or reaches release altitude (normally 2,000 - 3,000 feet).

Aerotows have the significant advantage of allowing one to release further from the airfield, allowing experienced tug pilots to drop the glider in an area of lift. The extra height is also useful on non-soarable days for early instructional flights due to the increased flight length and for those aerobatic 'hooligan' flights.


This rare launch method is cheaper then aerotow but more expensive then winching. It is used as an alternative to winching when launching from tarmac runways. Normal winch cable can chafe on tarmac, so a single strand cable is run along the length of the runway around a pulley and is hooked onto a powerful pickup truck. Autotows are very similar to winch launches but due to the slower acceleration the ground-run is longer and a greater length of runway is required for a high launch.


Once quite common, this method of launch is now only available at the Midland Gliding Club by request. It is also necessary for the local ridge lift conditions to be right, as the glider is simply hurled down the hill by a rubber bungee, much akin to a child's catapult. The glider obtains just enough speed to get airborne and dives down the ridge, accelerating to a safe speed before turning to soar the ridge and hopefully climbing back up to height of the landing area. Of course, if it all goes wrong, there are normally a few landable fields at the bottom of the ridge!

Self-launching gliders


Motor-gliders, essentially light aircraft with soaring abilities, can use their engine to launch themselves. While they are useful for navigation and field landing training, they are much more expensive then conventional gliders and require a special license to fly. Some motor gliders are fitted with a retractable engine, mounted in the fuselage behind the cockpit.

These self-launching gliders are again expensive, but can take off like regular aircraft, climb to a safe height and then stow the engine and soar like a regular glider. The engine also provides a handy safety-net in case the glider doesn't maintain enough height to return home to the airfield. Considered cheating by the purist, the self-launching glider has many obvious advantages for those who can afford them.