Course appraisal - 2018 Alan Stoneham

The scene – a retired BA training captain takes to the skies in a glider for the first time on a 5 day course at North Hill.

Day 1

I confess to a considerable degree of apprehension – just like first day at school all over again, especially when I discover my course mates are all under 10 (well, 18 actually) and have oodles of experience at this stuff!  The weather?  Thick fog!  So plenty of time to chat, introductions and some briefings concerning this unusual (to me) form of aviating without any visible means of propulsion.  (not including the winch….)  The weather cleared late morning and I was soon airborne on my very first flight in a glider with instructor Mark.  Despite witnessing many launches from the ground nothing prepares you for that first one – unforgettable – the angle of climb is simply ridiculous to this 737 pilot.  Top of launch, cable release and then relative serenity until the words “you have control” are uttered from the back seat!  Although I told my feet many times that they were needed for this particular activity they were, clearly, not listening.  How many times did I hear “stick and rudder together”?  Lost count but it did get imprinted on my brain.  Three short flights (no lift) and that was day one over.  Am I enjoying this yet? Hmmm..the jury’s out.


Day 2

The weather is still not good at the start but the low cloud clears and a beautiful day is revealed.  We get to fly the new beast, the Perkoz today, and what a beautiful piece of kit.  Even to this incompetent it feels a step up.  I get to fly the approaches, do my first two landings (well, the first was an arrival) and, best of all, we get 40 minutes of proper gliding climbing in the thermals,  The first time I have gone upwards in an aircraft with no engines!  What a thrill!  In between times Mark reminded me what it’s like to spin – the last time was back in 1975!  The Perkoz leaves you in little doubt you have (temporarily) lost control!  Glad I had a light lunch…..Am I enjoying this yet?  Well, I walked away with a big grin after that last flight


Day 3

For the 3rd day in a row the early morning weather was awful – low cloud shrouded the airfield.  A clearance was forecast but it was slow in coming and when it did it only lifted into a relatively low cloudbase.  After being checked on my knowledge of circuit flying (by Mike) and watching numerous videos much of the day was spent watching, pushing, pulling and chatting to members (Wed is a Club day).  That in itself was very enlightening to get all the various viewpoints on how to do “stuff”.
What a great bunch of people.  I’m starting to feel part of this.
Two flights late in the day, both with the aforementioned Mike, which were short but incredibly useful as we did a launch, I flew around for a bit, planned the circuit, flew it and on the second did the whole kit and caboodle down to the landing, including my own airbrake!  Yippee, another little rung up the ladder.  Tomorrow they are threatening to let me do it all from “all out” to touchdown.  Are they sane?!  Am I enjoying this yet?  Hell, yeah!


Day 4

Club day again and much busier due to the improved weather.  Three flights in the morning with Simon.  This proved to be very useful not only to consolidate what I have learned so far but to get another point of view on my (lack of) flying abilities in a glider.  Flew the launches and approaches with a couple of half decent landings!  The afternoon was very busy with the ridge looking like a scene from a Battle of Britain film.  I didn’t get to do any more flying this day but learnt a lot about what goes on in other areas – the launch vehicle/winch/glider retrieval etc – which was all good stuff and very interesting to boot.  Great all round experience today and bring on tomorrow.  Is it the last day of the course already?


Day 5

The weather looked rather “lively” first thing!  Early showers giving way to a mixture of sunshine and showers with a fairly healthy breeze from the NW.
So what better way to start the day than with a practice cable break!  This was a demo by Mark and he pulled the release at around 500’.  The nose down pitch change from climb to approach is quite something and almost as remarkable as the very first launch.   If not negative “g” probably close to zero. It was immediately apparent to even this untrained eye that we were not going to be landing straight ahead so a fairly tight circuit was called for.  Mark “pattered” it all the way and, of course, made it appear like a piece of cake.  Airborne time?  2 minutes!
The next flight was only 12 minutes but we managed to get in some useful handling consolidation and a landing.  Third flight was a cracker!  50 mins of thermal climbs, ridge soaring, stalls and another circuit and landing.  It all seemed to come together and the feet were, for the most part, doing what they should be!
One more short flight with Mike in the afternoon and, as they say, that was that!



A terrific week where I went from “hmm, not sure about the unpowered malarky” to “what a wonderful way to get my feet off the ground”!  For me it was hard work, not least getting up before 7am for 5 days on the trot – thought I had left that behind at retirement!  So much to take in and, in all honesty, I have barely scratched the surface of this amazing sport.  Relearning flying skills that I left behind over 35 years ago and learning many new ones.  While my previous flying experience held me in good stead for a small part of it for the most part it was like starting all over again, which was a very good thing, especially for the old grey matter!
I couldn’t recommend this more highly to anyone, with or without experience in flying.  The club is excellent, the instructors first class and the whole atmosphere is very supportive.  Many thanks to all who helped me during the week, not least my course mates Josh, Charlie, Reuben, Ross and Oscar, and in particular to instructors Mark, Mike and Simon.