Flying is a skill that few people get to develop. Among those who fly, only a tiny fraction learn how to fly like a bird, launching from their feet, exploiting the movement of air to stay aloft, and at the end returning to earth once again on foot. The skills needed to fly the way we do are very specialized, yet essential for us to be able to fly safely.
This rating identifies a student who has demonstrated the basic ability to fly in a straight line. The beginner pilot is not yet ready to go out flying independently, but can take off, fly straight and land. She also understands the basics of glider setup and breakdown.
A novice has learned about turns, maneuvering and how to estimate where he’ll land. He has flown from higher ground under supervision and demonstrated confident handling of the glider in flight, as well as operation in stronger winds. He’s had some training about meteorology, air movement, clouds and other environmental factors, and the legal “rules of the road” that govern our flying. He may be approved to go out and fly with more experienced local pilots at easier sites, but has not yet gained the level of experience needed to operate independently.
The intermediate pilot has gained further experience and training in flight skills and decision-making. With the basic mechanics of flight fairly well worked out, an intermediate pilot’s focus is on refining her ability to make good decisions and correctly interpret the site and conditions for flying. She has received more training about weather forecasting, micrometeorology, airspace regulations and our internal rules that govern our sport. She’s now skilled enough to make her own decisions, and (we hope) wise enough to consult local pilots when venturing to a new site. Though she may be able to make independent decisions, she wisely flies with a friend for safety and greater fun.
Pilots at this level have accumulated the flying experience and judgment necessary to handle conditions at a wide range of flying sites. This doesn’t mean that they can fly every site! A part of “judgment” is knowing when a site or conditions are beyond the pilot’s ability to handle them safely. Advanced pilots know when and where to fly, as well as when and where not to fly. They often serve as mentors and role models to less-experienced fliers. At some sites, advanced pilots are empowered to close the site or limit flying if they feel conditions are unsafe for lower-rated pilots. Some may also obtain instructor training and go on to teach the next generation of new fliers.
A pilot with a Master rating has, in addition to all of the flight experience and knowledge, demonstrated outstanding skill in flying over a long period. She’s flown many different sites, in varying conditions, on a broad range of different wings. He’s practiced different launch methods (towing, for example) and has acquired specialized skill signoffs. She’s flown safely for a long time and has the endorsement of other pilots for her rating.