Defying gravity

The wind rattles by and the drone of the light aircraft ahead of me fills my ears. The glider bumps and bounces along the grassy field until the moment of lift off and we’re heading skywards.

My instructor runs through a few checks, directing my attention to our direction, wind speed and the magnificent view. Nothing escapes his sharp eyes.

Ahead of us a cluster of para gliders are taking advantage of the stiff sea breeze above Mount Caburn, sending them soaring high above the Sussex Downs.

We slowly bank and turn, passing back over the airfield then head for the coast, gradually gaining height. At 3,000 feet my instructor calls to me to release the yellow toggle. The cable falls away, the single prop plane veers off and we are left alone in perfect silence, at the mercy of the wind and air currents.

Birds eye view of Sussex - East Sussex Gliding Club Ringmer

This is a birthday treat I will never forget.

Last year Rosemary bought me a rally driving experience all dirt, roaring engines and squealing brakes. This was the complete opposite – calm, quiet but equally exhilarating.

Learning to fly a glider

Aerial view of Glyndebourne - East Sussex Gliding Club Ringmer

I was taking a trial lesson with East Sussex Gliding Club based at Ringmer near Lewes – a bunch of friendly enthusiasts who welcome newbies and experienced folk alike.

It’s an ideal gift for the adventurous and not-so-adventurous. You can choose a simple winch launch that will take you up to 1,000 feet, plenty high enough for a good view on a clear day and a chance to take the controls if you want. Or you can opt, as I did, for the full aerotow launch, getting you up to 2 or 3,000 feet.

How long you stay up is entirely weather dependent. My instructor Jon Stiles had spent around 40 minutes airborne with his last trainee, catching thermals above a couple of huge cumulus clouds which had sadly decided to disperse before I got aloft.

So my flight was a lot shorter but it was the most amazing 22 minutes I have spent in a long while!

Once the tow rope fell away I was left, serene in an almost empty sky with no sound but the gently creaking wings, windrush and Jon’s voice, cool and calm, filling me with confidence. I took control, relishing the feel of the joystick in my palm gently pressing left or right.

Of course behind me Jon’s feet were controlling the rudder, making sure I didn’t over-steer and accidentally put us into a tailspin! Even on your first flight, as long as you are above 500 feet and you feel ready, you can take the controls and fly yourself. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the view.

Glider aerobatics

Preparing for takeoff - East Sussex Gliding Club Ringmer

As soon as we touched down I knew I wanted to go again, and (Rosemary heaved a sigh as she heard me put in the request) to experience aerobatics. Only a few instructors are licensed to take pupils up to loop the loop so I was lucky that Adrian was there that day, willing and able to oblige.

I made sure I was strapped in even more tightly, with camera firmly wedged against my chest.

Again the bumpy tow ride, again the magical toggle release (this time left in Adrian’s capable hands) and the silence. One slow circle sweep to check the skies were safe and then we were off into a steep nose dive before climbing up and over in the first loop swiftly followed by the marvellously named Humpty-Bump, another loop then a steep spiral dive. With forces of up to 2G these manoeuvres aren’t for everyone, and you might be in danger of losing your lunch or your dignity. But they were brilliant and I’m all admiration for Adrian’s skill and control.

So how did I do? Well according to Jon I had ‘very good control of altitude in level and turning flight’ and ‘very good lookout’.

I feel quite chuffed!

To see pictures with captions click on any one for a slideshow

More information about gliding in Sussex

East Sussex Gliding Club website

In 2017 trial lesson prices start at £45 for a single winch launch with options ranging up to the High Flyer package I took which cost £160. The gift voucher package includes 28 days membership which entitles you to return for more flights at club rates.

Spectators are welcome, but bring your own refreshments. Rosemary had a very peaceful time chatting and reading while I was airborne, though I did make her work the video camera for the parts I couldn’t film.

if you or someone you know fancies having a go at gliding Buyagift is a great place to start (affiliate link)

Up and away with East Sussex Gliding Club

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