Sailplane Manufacturers

The sport of gliding started in Germany, and as a percentage of the population, there are more glider pilots in Germany than in any other country except perhaps near Tamworth. So it is understandable that the well-known glider manufacturers are based there. The Eastern block countries have always made gliders and still do but apart from that, there are few other countries with any long-term history of making gliders.

The first gliders were made from fabric covered wood and this was the way it remained for a long time until companies with metal experience started making gliders from aluminium however there was no great advantage over either method other than that timber gliders may last longer. When glass fibre (composite) sailplanes appeared in the late '50s, the writing was on the wall for wood and alloy manufacturers.

It was rapidly apparent that composite gliders had huge advantages. Apart from the obvious performance improvements, maintenance was much lower. As composite glider design advanced, the style of gliders changed. Quite apart from the appearance, the biggest change was in the weight or wing loading. Gliders were designed to carry more and more water ballast… from a few litres of water with the first glass production gliders to hundreds of litres which modern gliders can carry.

Along with increased weight came higher landing speeds and this in turn led to a fork in the road. It is now possible to buy two distinct groups of gliders… traditional certified gliders or ultralight, 'uncertified' gliders from newer manufacturers. 

The German manufacturers may claim to have the best quality, standards and testing, but they are burdened by EASA certification, having to work under strict EU legislation and needing to support historical gliders going back half a century.  A large number of new gliders are "ultralight". That's really a class or a category rather than an all-up weight since many of these new UL gliders don't weigh any less than the last wooden gliders and have they similar performance.

A big problem with UL gliders is that they don't always mix well with traditional gliding organisations and club operations for reasons as varied as national administrative difficulties and the problems of mixing heavy and light gliders on a winch or aerotow launch. In fact, they may mix better with the vintage gliding movement because their performance envelope is similar.

Many of the new companies have a strong tradition of composite aircraft building and make more than just sailplanes, many being involved in building Light Sport Aircraft. In some cases, components such as fuselages are made in one country, and joined with wings from another.

Most modern gliders, both conventional and ultralight are available with auxiliary motors of some form, whether installed when delivered or as a retrofit. The motor may have enough power to be usable for self launching or only as a get-you-home-if-there's-not-too-much-sink sustainer. (To self launch, the glider must meet performance specifications in terms of climb rate and runway length.) There are several types of motors available including electric, jet and internal combustion.

Many of the early self launchers and sustainer powered gliders were distinctly less than satisfactory. Yes, the customers demanded some type of motorisation but what was delivered was often less than wonderful. Watching a 'heritage' glider attempting to self-launch can be a terrifying experience.

No current motor installation can be considered to be a perfect solution and the reliability or perhaps the unreliability is far higher than would be tolerated from a car engine. On the other hand, the cost of the motor is similar to that of a small car. That being said the convenience of motors seems to outweigh the disadvantages.

The new manufacturers are also pushing the envelope. They were the first to market some interesting innovations such as electric and jet powered self launching gliders. Electric power is a very attractive option in some countries such as Switzerland where aircraft engine noise is a big environmental issue, somehow affecting sailplanes, cows, cheese, Heidi, yodelling and chocolate manufacture.

The electric motors are normally highly efficient microprocessor controlled three phase motors similar to those used in everything from solar powered racers, military drones and model aircraft. Very small, very light and very powerful. You can buy an off the shelf motor developing over 11 Kw which weighs barely 4 kgs. The batteries are often LiPoly or lithium polymer. Again, very light and powerful with a power density four times that of NiCad batteries… but difficult to charge. Remember the exploding computer batteries a while back?

While it is easy enough to make one of these electric motors, it is considerably harder to build reliable electronics and batteries to control the power. Not everyone wants 240 volts and inflammable LiPoly batteries in their glider, but is it any worse than a two stroke and petrol? And as Lillienthal said, "Sacrifices must be made." Hopefully by others.

Antares 18P

It's not certain if the Antares 18P falls into that category, it just might. The gurt big tube sticking out from the top is a pulse jet. As in V1 rocket or Doodlebug. Not too quiet then… hope the fin can stand the heat! (Check the link though… it may have been posted on April 1st.)

Traditionally, in many countries, gliders were owned by clubs and hired by the minute or hour to members. This meant that gliding was an affordable alternative to power flying… at least until the club glider was wrecked when many clubs folded. Increasingly pilots are buying their own gliders, either keeping them in trailers or hangaring them at their home club. Compared with small boat ownership, buying and maintaining a glider is quite cheap and gliders hold their value much better than boats do.

Most unpowered gliders can be bought and sold for around the same cost as when they were new. There's an active market for good types of gliders, even ones over 40 years old and active competitions all over the world. There's more of a risk when buying a less popular type but that should be reflected in the purchase price.

One issue when buying second hand is that of refinishing. Eventually, the gelcoat covering of the wings degrades, mainly due to UV damage, and the wings need refinishing. The problem is that the cost of refinishing may be more than the cost of the glider and this dictates the commercial life of the airframe more than factors like fatigue. In fact, some major German manufacturers have a reputation for not putting much effort into finishing brand new wings and refinishing may be required within a few years, in this case mainly due to resin shrinkage rather than UV degradation. 

For those who buy a new glider, the choice may be mainly based on what type of flying you want to do. If it's competition flying, then the glider type may depend not so much as the type of competition that you want to fly as the region you live and fly in, because some glider types perform better in smoother, weaker conditions than other types which excel in stronger, more turbulent conditions. Currently the South Africans have really stirred up the competition scene with the JS1 being the choice of many competitive pilots over the German ASG29 or Ventus 2 or 3 gliders.

For adventure or mountain flying, it is hard to go past gliders like the DG 808C where the factory has put a lot of effort into making the best self launching glider rather than the best competition glider… and of course nothing looks better than DG single seaters!

Two seater types fall into two categories, training aircraft or high performance gliders. The traditional training glider for many clubs has been the lovely ASK 21, but this is increasingly taking second place to more modern and higher performance gliders such as the DG 1000 or the lower cost but practical PW-6. Higher performance two seater glider classes, traditionally ruled by gliders like the ASH 25, are increasingly being dominated by newer, shorter wingspan gliders like the Arcus and the DG-1000 in a wider wingspan configuration than the club or training version. 

And if money is not a problem and you're not afraid of big technology, then the Stemme might be the best of both worlds… a competent motor glider or light aircraft which can climb high enough to cruise above a lot of the weather and with the nose-mounted propellor folded away, become a first class two seater sailplane.


Alisport An Italian manufacturer of Silent sailplanes and electric and IC powered self launching sailplanes. These are available as kits or fully built gliders. Components are built in Italy and countries such as Slovenia.
AMS Flight AMS Flight is a Slovenian manufacturer of several types of aircraft including many German models which are built under license such as the DG 505, LS 4 and LS 6. Their own-design Apis and Bee gliders have been taken over by Pipistrelle.
DG Flugzeugbau DG Flugzeugbau is one of the Grande Maisons of German glider manufacture and make the DG 1000 high performance two seater and the DG 808 self launching glider. DG were not as active in competition as other German manufacturers but now they have taken over the manufacture of the very successful LS 8 and LS 10 gliders this has changed.
Diana Sailplanes Diana Sailplanes are a Polish company who make the very successful Diana 2 sailplane. This dominated the recent World Grand Prix Gliding series in 2007 in Omarama Nez Zealand.
Alexander Schleicher Schleicher are the world's oldest sailplane manufacturer and have made over 10,000 gliders. The factory is in Poppenhausen at the base of the legendary Wasserkuppe. Schleichers manufacture a very wide range of sailplanes almost all of which have intesting sounding names such as ASW 22 Bl, ASW 22 BLE, ASW 28, ASW 28-18, ASW 28-18E and so on.
Schempp-Hirth Schempp-Hirth are another very old German manufacturer. The company was founded by Wasserkuppe pioneers Martin Schempp and Wolf Hirth and made the Minimoa, perhaps the most beautiful glider ever made. Schempp-Hirth are very focussed on competition and produce the very successful Ventus, Discus and Nimbus range of gliders.
HpH HpH is a Czech company who took over the production of the Glassflügel range of gliders. Glassflügel made the well-known Libelle, Hornet and Mosquito gliders and the Glassflügel 304 was their last type. HpH are currently concentrating production efforts on the 304C which, because of its winglets, has become known as the Shark
LAK LAK is a Lithuanian company (Lithuanian Aircraft Konstrutors) originally set up as a Soviet research facility and was privatised in 1999. Typical of the old Eastern Block companies, they have a long tradition of quality laminate and aircraft work. LAK produce a range of gliders in the 15 and 18 metre classes.
Lange Aviation Lange Aviation is a German manufacturer who is leading the way with gliders like the Antares 20E electric powered self launching sailplane. Their gliders are bristling with clever innovations, which often seem lacking in the products of more traditional manufacturers.
Pipistrelle Pipistrelle is another Solvenian aircraft manufacturer with a wide range of products from trikes (weight-shift microlights) to motorgliders and pure sailplanes often with medical sounding names such as Sinus and Virus. Their Taurus, side by side two seater self launching ultra-light glider is particularly interesting.
Stemme Stemme is another German manufacturer of high-end self launching motorgliders. The Stemme S10-VT motorglider has side by side seating and an L/D of 50:1. The engine is located around the CofG with the prop-shaft running between the pilot's seats. The propellor is a nose mounted fully faired folding device.
SZD SZD is a Polish company with a history as long as almost any German company. SZD produced many famous gliders including the Foka, Zephir and the Jantar range of gliders. The current production program includes the SZD-51-1 Junior and the SZD-50-3 Puchacz. The Junior is a lovely glider and many people's introduction to single seaters.
Superfloater The Superfloater is a modern-day take on the original Primary Glider (Zogling etc.) made from dacron and aluminium tubing. Gliders like the Superfloater combine the low cost and fresh-air experience of hang gliders with the controllability of sailplanes.
ETA ETA sailplanes have the distinction of making the largest sailplane in the world… and it's also a self launcher. The powerplant is made by Binder (see above) and the rest of the components are made by other German glider manufacturers. This project typifies the health of the German gliding scene.
Jonker Sailplanes Jonker Sailplanes was founded in 2004 by brothers Attie and Uys Jonker and Johan Bosman. They produce the JS-1 "Revelation" sailplane which has been doing very well in competition recently and is really giving the traditional German factories something to think about.