By Air League Scholarship winner Andy Fisher
Like most others in the aviation world, I have the desire to sample as many forms of flight as possible, if not all of those which are humanly possible as a regular person. I’ve sampled flight whilst an Air Cadet and civilian Instructor in the form of: rotary, both heavy lift and training, fixed wing light aircraft in the form of the Tutor (Grob 115E) and Aquila A211 (whilst on a scholarship at Tayside Aviation), and even tanker-transport in the form of the now retired Tristar. However, unlike most people, I’ve been rather unconventional in my introduction to flight and have, until now, circumvented the sport of gliding.
When the email came in from the ever-busy Emma Mistry of the Air League, advertising the upcoming Air Day at Bicester Gliding Centre, I knew it was my opportunity to finally sample some real flying without the aid of an engine. With preferential rates agreed by Adam White, who was the Leading Edge Panel Member running the day, it was clearly a ‘no-brainer’.
The event, which started at 9am, saw a good number of like-minded young members arrive from right across the UK to experience gliding by aerotow, winch launch and motorglider; with the majority of people experiencing at least two different forms of launch. Most interesting about all visits of this nature to me however is the reminder of how many people from all walks of life are brought together in mutual appreciation of aviation. With a world appearing increasingly more divided, it’s always a pleasant reminder, whether you’re at the local flying club or a national event like this, that people always have more in common than not. This particular air day brought together people from all walks of life including: a business analyst, a Southeastern train driver, a politics graduate, and a GE intern to name but a few.
I myself took the opportunity to sample an aerotow and 2 winch launches, with the aerotow being performed in G-CLPX, a rather modern Grob Twin III Acro, and the winch launches in G-CHMV, a more traditional predominantly wood and canvas composite ASK 13. Since I was late to the party having gotten over to the launch point for midday, most people had already taken to the air at least once, so it was decided I would be the first to experience the aerotow.
Settling down into the seat, having flown in Grob aircraft before everything felt quite familiar which was pleasant, although quite what I expected to be so dramatically different I do not know. Nonetheless, after all the usual before flight checks were completed we were ready for the towing machine of choice, a Robin Regent, to take up slack and take us to the skies. I must say, if you enjoy aviation as a leisure activity and the thought of being catapulted into the air doesn’t appeal to you then aerotow is definitely the way forward, with the only unnerving component being the relatively close proximity to the tug aircraft.
From above the airfield the now closed RAF Upper Heyford was clearly visible, and with my lack of geographical placement had me completely confused as to our position, until I finally gave way and was told of what it was by my instructor. However, for me the realisation of that the near-silence of not having an engine was momentarily the most anxiety inducing, followed by the pleasant realisation that not having to wear a cumbersome headache inducing headset was in fact a bonus all in itself. However, with a hunt for thermals overhead a particular farm known to the locals providing no fruit, we were quickly back to circuit height and headed back to terra firma. With a release height of 1,500 feet and the weather little more than fair we were probably airborne for approximately three minutes, but as is always the way with any form of flying it felt far shorter. My first albeit short glider flight was complete, and I had finally come to understand the potential gliding has for peaceful pure flight, once the initial regime change as a pilot is overcome.
Should of course you wish to enjoy a little thrill in your pursuit of relatively cheap flying, then a winch launch is certainly the only method for you. With an acceleration akin to that of a Formula 1 car, and a feeling of near vertical climb, if you’ve ever felt like becoming the next Tim Peake then it might just be the closest thing you’ll experience without having to talk nicely with the European Space Agency! With the weather slightly improved over my earlier aerotow we got to a similar height although perhaps just shy of it, between 1,300 and 1,400 feet before releasing the cable. This time however we did manage to find a thermal or two, and were probably airborne for nearer 6-7 minutes before again reaching circuit height and coming in to land.
With a good 15 people or more to fly multiple times throughout the day, a good sense of hands on ‘mucking in’ was definitely the order of the day, with Air League members being encouraged to help see off launches, collect the rope and assist each other as best as possible with getting in and out of the glider. Of course, as is only natural, an assortment of butties, baps, or cobs, depending on where you’re from in the UK were available for a small sum, as of course was the hot water urn for the of tea and coffee.
Plenty of time was found throughout the day for good conversation, and the day ended in good fashion with a BBQ and bar propping up exercise, allowing for discussion on the day and of course a view to future events.
A great thank you must be extended to Bicester Gliding Club for opening their doors to us for the day, and allowing us the opportunity at a reduced rate; however, the most thanks must go to Adam White from the Leading Edge Panel who organised the entire day. Without the selfless hard work from Adam and his Leading Edge colleagues these events simply would not happen. It’s important of course that events like these do take place as its activities such as this that help form and secure the next generation of aviation and aerospace professionals and enthusiasts.