Give nine 16- to 18-year-olds intense gliding tuition for two weeks and see how many can get to solo standard by the end
For the past four years, Boeing and The Air League (supported by British Airways and law firm Linklaters) have sponsored scholarships giving inner-london school students aged sixteen to eighteen the chance to learn to glide – and hopefully go solo – in an intensive two-week programme at the London Gliding Club. It’s aimed at students who would not normally consider aviation as a career or get the chance to fly. This year’s nine successful students – three each from John Roan School (Greenwich), Skinners’ Academy (Hackney) and Kingsdale Foundation School (Dulwich) – earned their places in a competitive selection process.
Following presentations at each school, the whole class enjoyed a taster day at the gliding club, and interested students applied for the course. Based on that application, forty were chosen to attend an assessment day at BA’S headquarters in late May. The day is in two parts. First, students have an interview with Boeing and BA personnel including competency-based questions. Then there’s a group challenge to see how well they can work with others, presentations from Boeing, and a questionnaire about aviation. Up to nine students are then chosen for the course, based on their motivation, effort and commitment.
Boeing UK Communications Manager, Katerina Giannini said: “We call them 21st century skills — they don’t fit into particular subjects but are vital to their future, for example critical thinking and problem solving, communications and presentation skills. Even students not selected gain relevant skills to put on their CV.”
The youngsters live together on the airfield, learning flying theory and taking to the air every flyable day with instructors. They also check correct control movements for colleagues about to go flying (which are difficult to see once seated in the glider), as well as driving the buggies to retrieve and re-position the gliders – often the first time they have driven any vehicle! In past years, students have also enjoyed a visit to Luton’s ATC to see how a large airport operates.
Pilot visited the students on their third day. Said Emmanuel Siwoku, 17, from Kingsdale, “I’ve had three flights today and have done seven so far. I’m really enjoying it. I’m sharing a room with a school mate.” Kelell DavisonThomas from Skinners’ added, “It’s been really cool so far and it’s good fun. We’re all getting on together and I’m learning a lot.”
Club instructors, most of them volunteers, teach students the effects of controls, general handling, how to turn and bank, how to read clouds and find lift — and eventually how to land. The aim is to get them ready to go solo within the two-week course, as several have done in previous years. Air League trustee and gliding instructor, Andy Perkins, whose day job is as a BA Boeing 777 senior first officer, is passionate about giving young people the opportunity to learn to fly. “One of The Air League’s aims is to excite young people’s interest in aviation and aerospace,” he said. “As well as these scholarships, we offer around 200 school students gliding taster days with the opportunity to join the Air Cadets.”
This year’s intake is all boys but the first year was all girls and other years a mixture. The club has learned a lot over four years and instructors enjoy taking students from zero to solo in just ten days. Says instructor Alan Harrison, “We’ve had the privilege of working with some fine young people from a diverse inner-city area. To watch them grow in self-confidence and respond positively to being given real responsibility is enough to make any instructor proud!”
Jeavon Moo-young, Kingsdale learning mentor, summed up the relevance of the experiences to the students and to the school, “This is the peak of their extra curricular experiences. The instructors even write references for them for university. It helps them understand that there are things beyond what you can see.”
Above: Emmanuel Siwoku prepares for takeoff (top) and Instructor Alan Harrison briefs Michael Odetola