Flying over gliding sites puts lives at risk
Almost all gliding sites in the UK use a winch launch, where gliders are launched with a winch and steel cable instead of being towed by an aircraft.
90% of sites winch launch to at least 2,000 ft above ground level.
So, if you see a gliding site marked on a chart or moving map it’s safe to assume cables could be overhead at any time during daylight hours.
A glider will go from ground to over 1,000 feet AGL in about 20 seconds, so a pilot won’t see the launch happening from the air.
Spotting the glider as it climbs will be too late.
The danger hasn’t passed once the glider is released either, as you won’t see the cable as it descends under a small parachute for another 20 to 30 seconds.
Flying over an active winch launch gliding site puts lives at risk.
So, what should a pilot of a powered aircraft or helicopter do?
Look for the location of gliding sites and check the altitude to which they operate when you plan your flight.
A VFR paper chart will show the site marked with a blue circle and a G, with a figure in thousands of feet AMSL telling how far the cable may extend.
For example, G/3.3 shows that the cable launch can operate to, and be released at up to, 3,300 feet above mean sea level rather than above ground level.
On most moving maps the site is shown with a glider symbol, but no maximum cable altitude is shown.
So, you may have to work through a menu to reveal the details, by selecting the ‘location and review’ tab at the side of the screen where the altitude will be listed along with waypoints and radio services.
The gliding site altitude only refers to the maximum altitude of the cable. So, you should also plan for gliders being towed or in free flight around a launch site and above the annotated altitude.
Whatever you use to plan your flight you'll find gliding site details in the UK AIP at ENR 5.5 Aerial Sporting and Recreational Activities
This includes winch heights above ground level and site elevations above mean sea level.
If you are a glider pilot or club member, it’s really important to record and report overflight occurrences to the British Gliding Association, which has an incident reporting form on its website.
Your club might have its own incident book or system to record the information they need.
If the overflying aircraft caused danger and compromised safety, you should report an Airprox.
The UK Airprox Board will accept an overflight report from a responsible ground observer, instructor or duty pilot as they understand the 'lookout limitations' of a winch launching glider pilot.
Pilots of powered aircraft and helicopters should avoid gliding sites at all times. Only ever fly over them if you have had positive confirmation from the site that they are not active.