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Sailplane construction and cost
Sailplanes are made of carbon composites, fiberglass, aluminum, wood, special fabric stretched over steel tubing, or any combination of these materials. Wingspans vary in size from under 40 feet to nearly 90 feet. Fuselage lengths range from 20 to 30 feet. And the empty weight of the glider may be as little as 150 pounds, or nearly 1000 pounds for a glider that can carry three people.
New, factory-built sailplanes can be purchased at prices from under $30,000 to $70,000 or more depending on performance, construction, and equipment. Excellent kits for homebuilding are on the market, enabling enthusiasts to produce a sailplane at a cost of one-third to two-thirds that of a factory built machine.
For those who can neither afford a new sailplane nor want to build a sailplane, the second-hand market of gliders provides a wide variety of relatively inexpensive alternatives. Older models of factory-built gliders, as well as used home-built gliders, are often quite economical to buy and to own. There is virtually nothing to wear out on most sailplanes, and they have proven to be excellent investments because they hold their value well and often appreciate in value.
Many pilots prefer to rent gliders from a commercial gliderport rather than buy a glider. Many other pilots enjoy relatively low-cost soaring through membership in the more than 200 soaring clubs in the United States. By joining a club, partnership, or syndicate, glider pilots can fly in sailplanes that otherwise might not be affordable. Shared expenses and greater utilization of equipment means lower costs for each member. Clubs also offer opportunities to participate in local contests, fly-ins, cross-country camps, and other enjoyable social events.
Some sailplanes have engine-drive propellers mounted in the nose or retractable mounts projecting above the fuselage. The power plants are small, lightweight, low horsepower engines mounted in the shell of the glider. Motorgliders are gaining in popularity in the United States because they offer the pilot the freedom of self-launching out of any airport.