PTT, Dave Unwin
A glorious gliding day engages new student recruits
The briefing room is as packed as I’ve ever seen it, while the disproportionate amount of young faces means it must be Freshers’ Week at Loughborough University, and the Loughborough Students’ Union Gliding Club is out in force. Club stalwarts Ben, Lucy and Emma have clearly done an excellent sell and there’s been a gratifyingly large uptake of students eager to sample soaring flight.
New CFI Lyn is keen to put as many aircraft on the launch point as possible, so to increase the number of two-seaters available I’m manning the privatelyowned K-7, which owner Les kindly allows me to fly. This gives us four two-seat sailplanes and two motor gliders, and as the fleet is arrayed on the runway it’s good to see such a full flightline so early on an autumn morning. Most of the students have eager, excited expressions (mixed with a little trepidation) so I shrug on a parachute and get flying.
The launchpoint is bustling but well organised by the experienced students, and the launch rate is slick. By mid-afternoon I’ve flown more than a few winch launches and aerotows, and although not tired could do with a break. However, the poor old tuggy has been busy too and, as my old granny often used to say, ‘a change is as good as a rest’ so I hand the K-7 over to Les, jump in the Eurofox and fly a few tows, until everyone who wanted to fly has flown.
It’s been a long, tiring but fun day (even the weather cooperated), and all the freshers have experienced a winch launch, an aerotow, and a flight in a motor glider. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, but the high aerotows have granted the students a splendid vista across Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, while the winch launches got their full attention. Indeed, with an acceleration of around two seconds from nought to sixty, and climb rates over 2,000fpm it still excites me!
The weather next day is significantly less benign. There’s a considerable crosswind on the main runway and heavy showers forecast. The K-7 isn’t mine, is tricky in a crosswind and I don’t want to get it wet, so with regret I tell the students it’s not a K-7 day. “No problem Dave” says manager Roy, “we need a driver for the T-61.” This proves to be the catalyst for another fun day and, as the T-61 Venture (British Motor Falke) is self-supporting, I can take a bit more time with each student.
My first customer is Elaina and just like all the students she is smart, perceptive and engaging. With its fabric covering, big monowheel and spindly outriggers the T-61 looks−and is−quite an elderly design, and if I’m honest ‘Foxtrot Romeo’ is a little tatty, but if Elaina has any reservations she hides them well. We’re soon rolling down the runway and one of the great advantages of the motor glider manifests itself. There’s a big blue hole just downwind of the Belvoir ridge and, while I wouldn’t fancy it in the K-7, the assurance and assistance of the engine allows me to exploit the weak wave that’s forming the hole and climb above the clouds. It’s quite gloomy low down but it’s a different world up high, very pretty and extremely smooth. Elaina seems to enjoy the experience and quickly picks up controlling the aircraft in pitch and roll.
Each student is limited to thirty minutes in the motor glider so we head back to Saltby for my next customer. Randa is waiting, and while strapping in excitedly reveals she’s never flown, not even in an airliner. Whenever someone says they’ve never left the ground I always want to make their first-ever flight unforgettable, and we’re quickly motoring confidently back towards the wave gap. The weak but steady lift is still there and soon we’re soaring above a flawless white cloudscape illuminated by the golden glowing orb of the autumn sun, which is set like a yellow topaz in a brilliant sapphire sky. It looks amazing, and as we sail serenely along the face of the cloud with the engine barely ticking over I suddenly spot one of the best ‘glories’ I’ve ever seen and hurriedly point it out to Randa, who is enchanted by the shadow of the T-61 seemingly surrounded by a seamless circular rainbow.
It really does look fantastic, but glories are by their nature transitory and it soon fades. I reef the motor glider round in a fast (for a T-61!) 180 to port, followed by a swift reversal to starboard but it’s gone. Because a glory is always centred on the antisolar point (which is, by definition, diametrically opposed to the sun’s position in the sky) and below the observer’s horizon, they’re often a short-lived spectacle. It sure was a good one though, and along with the stunning cloudscape has made this a memorable flight for me, as well as Randa! I fly some more students, but an approaching cold front has made the weak wave system collapse and the drizzle turns slowly but inexorably to rain, wetting wings and misting canopies.
We decide that prudence is better than precipitation and pack up. But what a fab couple of days! The club has made some money, but much more importantly all the students flew, and several have said they’ll be back. And me? Flying above the clouds with Elaina and Randa really was special, and I just hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.
I suddenly spot one of the best 'glories' I've ever seen