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Learning to Become a Glider Pilot

Over the summer of 2015 I had the opportunity to learn how to glide, to literally soar with the birds. 

I am an air cadet in the Pate’s CCF RAF section.  Air experience flying with them inspired me to explore opportunities for flying as more than a passenger.  The CCF website advertised a gliding scholarship for which I met the ideal target age and experience (ie, very little). 

Having applied for a scholarship with the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, I was selected for interview at their headquarters in central London; this was a daunting prospect, but on the bright side, I did get a day off school.  A panel of three; a civil aviation pilot, a former scholarship winner and a representative of the Company, interviewed me.  A few weeks later I learnt the exciting news that I had been awarded a scholarship.

plane

The Company provided a bursary for me to fly at the local Bristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club.  This club is located at Nympsfield, positioned on the high set of Cotswold ridges running parallel to the River Severn, allowing the use of a lift technique called ridge soaring, as well as thermalling.  My first flight was in the ASK21 from a winch launch.  I will never forget it.  Although I had heard about winches and their high-speed acceleration, nothing prepared me for the experience.  The weight increases on you as the glider rapidly moves from 0 to 65 knots, forcing you back into the seat.  At the top of the winch launch there is the sharp sensation of weightlessness as you arc over nose down when the cable releases (these sensations make every flight a rollercoaster experience).  Once in the air I was met with an amazing view of the River Severn and the Cotswolds stretching out around me.  My instructor covered the basic controls of the aircraft, which though largely familiar, introduced me to a glider significant factor called adverse yaw, differentiating the glider from other aircraft by the need for far greater use of rudder in turns.

The training I received encompassed a vast number of drills and skills, designed so that you can adapt quickly to any circumstance that may occur when gliding solo.  Stalls, spinning and spiral dives were some of the manoeuvres I had to learn how to perform and, most importantly, how to recover from and return to stable flight.  I also had to learn to safely launch from a winch, complete a circuit and land; sometimes with a bit of ridge soaring or thermalling in between.  This involved learning about airmanship; the rules of the air, and how to operate safely around other aircraft. 

Gliding Douglas Wescott Y12 Copy

 

 

As part of my training I also had to learn how to assist in the running of the airfield.  This involved understanding the characteristics of each glider and how to carry out daily inspections of the aircraft.  I learnt how to be safe on the airfield by constantly watching the skies for incoming aircraft.  When I was not flying I was assisting in launching, either as ‘wingman’, or operating a set of lights that tell the winch controller when to carry out each stage of the launch.  I also had to retrieve the aircraft by towing them back to the launch point using a small powered vehicle (requiring me to learn how to drive too!).  Occasionally, I helped with the repairs to gliders in the workshop; this gave me a greater knowledge of their inner workings. 

 

Controls

Since the end of the scholarship I have continued training to go solo.  I flew 2 flights in the ASK21 two-seater, before converting to a single seater.  My training really kicked in when I had a cable failure on my first flight in the single seater.  After landing straight ahead I successfully went up again, thermalling nearby before an uneventful approach and safe landing back at the airfield. 

I have enjoyed gliding at Nympsfield and will continue training with my next aim being a bronze endorsement before working towards further advanced qualifications.  I would thoroughly recommend and encourage others to explore the amazing flying opportunities out there!

Douglas Wescott (Y12)