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I’ve been around aviation for most of my life and had my first taste of gliding when I was 16 at an Air Cadet training camp in Australia. A few years later I had the opportunity to do a week long gliding course arranged by the university I was attending. Having done some powered flying in between these two gliding experiences I had almost forgotten how amazing and peaceful gliding is. During the university gliding course I was fortunate to do my first solo flight and a handful more solos during the remainder of the week.
That was back in 1984 and unfortunately, the last time I was in a glider until now. Flying fixed wing aircraft in the military and then in the commercial sector; working in aviation management roles; family; and moving to different countries for work meant that gliding wasn’t on the radar.
So fast forward to 2016 where I find myself living in Holland and flying corporate aircraft. One quiet Sunday afternoon my wife asked out of the blue if I would ever like to do some gliding again. We agreed that it would be great activity to get back into and started looking into the options available. We quickly discovered that gliding at an English club would be a far better prospect than one of the local clubs here in Holland.
So I signed up for a day’s training course at the Kent Gliding Club in September and just loved it. I have to say the winch launch took me completely by surprise! Having only ever done aero tows before, I was impressed with the acceleration and steep pitch angle. The winch launch gives new meaning to ‘fly-by-wire’. It was great to get back to ‘pure’ flying; cocooned in a Perspex bubble feeling every response to air’s movement around you. I have to commend Peter Carpenter’s patience, constantly reminding me to use the rudder – something we rarely have to use in the corporate aircraft.
That day was over way too soon, so I signed up for another two days of lessons a few weeks later right at end of the summer flying programme. After spending the morning doing aero tow launches the time came to go solo. The sense of anticipation and a bit of trepidation were just as real as they were 32 years earlier after my last solo glider flight. The strong cold wind did nothing to dampen my excitement as the tug took up slack and we were away. Once I released from the tug, what struck me was the peacefulness and freedom of being up there by myself. It really felt like a first solo! The flight was over way too quickly and I couldn’t wait to get back in the air. The next morning I completed another solo off an aero tow under much calmer conditions and then spent the rest of the morning practising winch launch failure before doing my first winch solo that afternoon. I’m hooked and wonder why it’s taken me so long to get back to gliding. As I’m in England regularly I plan to do some gliding over the winter and then pick up the pace in the spring.