Gliding

The Booker Gliding Club had been formed at my wartime airfield a few miles away, and as my elder son, William, was learning to fly during his last years at Leighton Park I decided it was time I considered renewing my flying licence and be able to help him should he need it. After 16 years of no flying I was pretty rusty, even in a Tiger Moth, and required an hour or so of instruction before I was happy on my own. In due course I qualified as an instructor and spent the next 30 years instructing on gliders or flying their tug aircraft for them when ever I had the time. Being impatient by nature I never had any desire for cross-country flying with the risk of landing out and waiting for someone to come and fetch me with the trailer. To qualify as an instructor one had to do a solo cross-country, a flight of 5 hours and a certain minimum height gain. I chose Cambridge for my cross-country trip and with plenty of thermals on the way ended up 5000 feet higher than the start (at 2000 ft) at Booker.

As a sport I found gliding more appealing than power-flying. And in many ways the motor-glider has the best of both worlds. I bought a SPERBER RF5 with my friend Rolf Pasold of Ladybird garments fame and enjoyed many, many lovely trips with Ann, my wife. One specially I remember was when William flew the RF5 to Nitray in France for a get-together of RF aircraft at the factory where they were built and Ann and I drove there in our MG during a splendid holiday in the Loire valley. I was then able to explore the Chateaux of that lovely part of France from the air. William flew it back to Booker and Ann and I returned in our car together with a good supply of Chateau Nitray’s excellent wine.

I also taught both my other children to fly – Linden achieving her 300km flight in France and her Gold height (18,000 ft) in Scotland. James, my younger son was up to solo flying by the time he was 10, but rather than wait for the legal limit of 16 decided to take up motor cycle trials riding at which he soon became an expert, so repeating my own life but a considerably younger age.

Soon after I qualified as a gliding instructor I seemed to concentrate on the Tuesday evenings flying group until it had become “my” evening and was to remain so for the next 30 years. Gradually I moulded it to my liking – only having instructors who were able to land ‘short’ – before the launch point – and so avoid the unproductive time while gliders were retrieved from landing far down the airfield to clear the way for the next launch. This had a beneficial effect on Club funds and made it possible to get in 53 ‘air experience’ flights between 6.00pm and dusk one memorable summer evening. This was never at the expense of shortening a flight if a thermal was met – when we would limit the flight to half an hour. I also asked my instructors not to indulge in aerobatics. Here, I regret, I was not always as successful as I should like to have been. I must pay special tribute and thanks to my chief tug pilot, Shep, a vital part of a successful team.

When Norman Smith became our CFI he and I gave an exhibition of dual aerobatics during our annual show. We each flew a K13 and demonstrated dual loops, stall turns and formation flying (all without any radio contact) – then chased each other about the sky. When Norman left to take up commercial flying we lost a valuable asset.

I think it is a mistake to put highly-qualified power-pilots in charge of gliding clubs. The use of the rudder around the stall is a case in point. In a glider the rudder can be the most useful control a pilot possesses; in a powered aircraft it is little used – but it could be used, and beneficially too, if the pilots hadn’t forgotten how to use it.

In 1993 I flew, as usual, with the CFI for my annual check to see if my reactions were still OK and he passed me, but told me I must take a new set of lessons as instructional methods had changed. In future when a pupil made a faulty approach on the circuit (for example) I should say “I have control” and take over – sorting out the problem in a de-briefing afterwards. How anyone could learn to fly safely under such conditions if he is never allowed to make a mistake is beyond my comprehension. It would certainly take much longer and cost him a lot more and swell the club funds. Perhaps that was the object! But I did feel that at 84 I was, maybe, too old to be flying people who were not fully capable of coping – should something happen to me. And so, via twists and turns and many diversions I finally returned to my Steinway and produced the CDs you can find on this website!

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