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With a student pilot certificate and an endorsement, it is legal to solo a glider at 14 years of age. When I was 14, I would have probably thought I was old enough to solo a glider, but looking back (I'm 17 now), I don't think I was mentally mature enough then. Soloing at 14 years old just doesn't seem safe to me (although maybe when I'm 20, I'll think soloing at 17 sounds like a bad idea, even though it sounds fine to me now!).

Are there any statistics available showing whether 14- and 15-year-old glider pilots are more likely to be involved in accidents than 16-year-olds with comparable experience when soloing?

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think you weren't mature enough? Who was at risk? (both are genuine questions... nothing implied) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ All the students who go solo have been signed off by a CFI, so there's that check on things. If the CFI (and, in most cases, the owner of the glider) have enough reservations about the student's maturity, they have the ability to keep it from happening (at least with their equipment or certificate on the line). $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jan 10 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for recognizing that future self will realize that past self was far less competent than current self thinks he is. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jan 10 at 19:35

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I used to teach a summer camp for teens at an old glider club. It was an intensive 2 week course where the kids were brought to license at the end of week 2 (most of them). The kids were Canadian Air Cadet members who didn't make the cut for glider pilot scholarships in the military program. Their parents paid a flat fee and the kids came and lived on site for the two weeks. As an instructor, I would do about 75-85 instructing flights during week one.

We would get around 14-16 kids, aged 16-18. There was a consistent cross section; although in general, the older the better, a few of the youngest ones were always more mature than a few of the oldest ones. A few we called "top guns" who were super fast learners. A few always had to come back to finish up a couple weeks later, and one or two would wash out as we realized they just weren't cut out for it. Outside the cadet program we did have occasional 14 or 15 year old students.

If if you took 100 14 year olds and 100 17 year olds, you'd have more 17 year olds than 14 year olds you'd be willing to trust an expensive machine with. But there will so some 14 year olds who you will assess as mature enough to be trusted with careful supervision.

Below 14, the likelihood drops off sharply. So the cut off was set at 14, because there are likely to be some kids who are mature enough, as assessed by the instructors. Below that, most kids are just finishing up emerging from childhood where their world is half fantasy, so going down to 13 or younger is pushing it a bit too much.

On the other hand, there will be some 17 year olds who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near an airplane. And the occasional 35 year old come to think of it.

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There almost certainly aren't enough statistics to say anything one way or another. As of December 31, 2021, there were only an estimated 552 people with student certificates in the below-16 age group according to the FAA, compared to 250,197 total student pilots and 25,826 certificated glider pilots. And keep in mind that just having a student pilot certificate is by no means a guarantee that you have soloed!

That said, I think it's obvious that there is nothing magical about the age 16. A pilot that turned 16 today is not significantly safer than they were yesterday. But you have to draw an arbitrary line somewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ There are plenty of stats about driving cars at young ages. Not 100% comparable, but plenty of correlation, I would expect. $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Commented Jan 11 at 10:13

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