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Sky pilot for real

11 October 2013

By Vic Van Den Bergh

GLIDING is perhaps one of the most misunderstood pastimes there are. The reason for this is that, like the Titanic, it has a romantic image for many people. They imagine someone in a sailplane (that's what we call gliders) effortlessly soaring silently up there with the birds among the clouds.

Now, although I have experienced that - and there is nothing to take away the thrill of circling in a thermal, a mass of rising air, with a buzzard or other bird of prey - there is more too it than that.

The first thing you will notice on your first sailplane flight is that it is noisy: none of the silence you might have expected. Nevertheless, it is quieter than flying in a powered aircraft. The second thing is that it is a bumpy ride at the beginning and end; for most flights involve grass runways.

Next comes the realisation that not having an engine means that getting the aircraft and the runway to meet in the same place is always a challenge. When flying powered aircraft, I can go round again should my circuit planning go awry; this is not the case in the wonderful world of gliding.

Another excellent aspect of being a glider pilot is the fact that it is a whole-day job, and, for me, this usually meanss that I arrive at the gliding field in time for the 8-a.m. draw, where we all take a number, and the person with number one flies first, and so on.

What this means is that, until your number on the flight line is reached, you are engaged in the other tasks that get the aircraft launched and recovered (brought back to the launch point after landing). This is great, because you are on an airfield, and the fun is various and exciting; it might mean keeping the log (which records minutes aloft), launching (getting the craft in the right place, and then supporting the wing as it begins the takeoff run), recovering (which can mean dragging a craft back from where it has ended up), signalling (telling the person on the winch to draw the cable in), or driving the winch.

Gliding is an addictive pastime, and I would encourage everyone to have at least one go at it. Trial flights are simple to arrange: just visit the British Gliding Association's (BGA's) website, www.gliding.co.uk, and select the "Find a club" option.

The nice thing about gliding is the people you meet, and the flying you do; and you do not need your own bird, because the club usually has enough to keep you aloft. The price? Not as much as you might think. The trial will cost you about £50, but if you sign up, then the membership fees are about £300 p.a.; you will pay about £5 for a winch launch; about £25 for being towed by a powered aircraft to 2000 feet; and something like 40p a minute after the first five minutes.

For some, the clubhouse events are often as big a draw as the flying, and there is always something on the social front when it comes to aviation.

Good company, aviation, exercise, and flying - who could ask for more?

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