PTT, Dave Unwin
Introducing new people to gliding - but watch out for aircraft ‘trespassing’
As Pilot’s Flight Test Editor I’m very fortunate to get behind the controls of some real aeronautical exotica. Consequently I think some of the members of the Buckminster Gliding Club are surprised to see me in the back of a K-21 or Puchaz sailplane, flying trial lessons. Yes, I know they’re the aviation equivalent of a trip around the lighthouse, but I really enjoy them! It’s not just about the pleasure of introducing people to the sky, showing someone their village from the air or being an ambassador for the sport I love — it’s also really good fun.
I’ve met some fascinating people, from the 95-year-old WWII Royal Navy veteran (complete with an extensive and impressive retinue of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) who I took flying on his birthday, to the extremely excitable Spanish girl I flew last week.
Sometimes hitting a big thermal can generate quite a reaction, and while you’d expect an old sailor to possess an extensive vocabulary of cuss-words, dignified RN man Al was a model of probity. Not so Francesca! Her knowledge, and inventive use of Anglo-saxon invective was truly remarkable and a wonder to hear. “I sometimes swear when I get a bit excited,” she’d admitted when I was strapping her in — but this side of her character remained hidden until we hit a really big thermal. She shrieked out a series of… Well; use your imagination. A pause, then “oh, I am sorry!” “I should think so too,” I laughed. “I’ve never heard such effing language!” She giggled, we flew onto to another thermal and the profanity continued. I don’t think I’ve ever heard quite so much imaginative vulgarity but we certainly had a lot of fun that flight even though — at times — I could barely fly for laughing!
I also remember being enthralled by passengers from the elderly Trans Canada Airlines Captain whose career had spanned the DC-3 to the DC-8 and was particularly fond of the Viscount, to the little old lady who had never left the ground until her 80th birthday, and the surly teenage aero modeller whose demeanour changed as soon as the canopy closed and proved to be the most natural aviator I’ve ever flown with.
Staying at the gliding club (where I’ve been spending a lot of time over the summer holiday with my young sons) there is a counter side to all the good times. I’ve become more than a little concerned about the number of aircraft blithely transiting Saltby’s ‘overhead’. Last week I watched from the cockpit of a sailplane as what looked like an RV-7 went right across the middle of the airfield, on a course perpendicular to the runway at about 1,200ft. Only a few days later I was standing by the launch point when a piston twin appeared to be about to do exactly the same thing, but abruptly sheared off at the last second. Both aircraft were heading more or less south at around noon, but that’s no excuse — there are some very good landmarks in the area, such as Rutland Water (one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe) the massive runway of the former RAF Cottesmore, the East Coast mainline, Belvoir Castle and the A1. All of these are ready aids to visual navigation.
I think that part of the problem is that some GPS units don’t show gliding sites, and too many pilots are simply slavishly following the magenta line. Now, I am — and always have been — a huge fan of GPS, but as good as it is, it isn’t magic. If the unit you’re using doesn’t have gliding sites then you’re definitely exposed to error. And it’s not just Saltby where this is happening: too many other gliding clubs are reporting near-misses between the winch cable and powered traffic. Last month the UK Airprox Board categorised four such incidents as Class A — the highest, and indicative that a collision nearly occurred.
A sailplane can accelerate from stationary at the launch point to flying at sixty knots 1,000ft above the runway while trailing a long length of steel cable in about the time it has taken you to read this sentence! On a good day at Saltby with a fresh westerly, winch launches to 1,800ft (or almost 2,300 on the QNH) are not uncommon. If this doesn’t strike you as a hazard, picture all that cable as a giant cheese-cutter and your wing as a fine vintage cheddar — because the one will cut through the other in exactly the same way.
Finally, no matter where you are or what you fly, please keep a good lookout. And if you were flying a Cessna 152 on Thursday 18 August at 13.56 local and were south-west of Grantham on a south-easterly track at 2,000ft QNH, you really need to raise your game, because you simply never saw the bright red tug (complete with functioning strobes and landing light) or the great big sailplane it was towing, did you? The only reason I’m still here to write this — and I hope you’re reading it, dear Cessna pilot — is that both the sailplane pilot and I saw you. Despite having to break violently I still got your registration (yes; you were that close). Another Airprox to be filed...
It’s not just about the pleasure of introducing people to the sky... Many other clubs are reporting near misses with powered traffic
DAVE UNWIN Pilot’s Flight Test Editor operates a Jodel D.9 from a farm strip and has logged stick-time on everything from ultralights to fast jets