HANG GLIDING DAYS
The hang gliding story started while I was a mature student at Loughborough.
A group of students in my class had organised some places on a beginner’s course with the Dunstable School of Hang Gliding. [ I was not invited initially – too old and heavy ] but when someone dropped out I took up their offer of the place. What happened that weekend changed my life radically for the next ten years.
The first time I got my feet off the ground and wobbled down the slope under some sort of control I was hooked. I was transformed instantly in to a total air time junkie; a fully paid up member of the “ higher further faster club”
As quickly as possible I got my basic P1 qualification bought a S/H Flexiform Spirit glider and set about learning all I could about flight. In 1981 the early pioneer days of jumping off cliffs and seeing what happened had gone, the risks were mostly known and safety procedures were in place to make the risks acceptable. In fact when I queried it with my life insurance company I found that there was no difference to my premium providing I was an amateur pilot. I cashed in my life insurance and used the money to buy an emergency parachute and a better glider. This was triggered by my first encounter with a really powerful thermal and a big height gain. I can still remember the feeling of terror as it seemed that a giant dog had got hold of the glider and was shaking it violently. This was accompanied by the ground getting very small very quickly and everything getting misty as I was sucked into the cloud.
My La Mouette Atlas 18m2 took me to my P2 and into the British Hang gliding league and cross country flying in Europe. The next years were spent eating sleeping and breathing flying. I was a fanatic. I changed jobs to get the holidays that went with teaching in FE, sold my beloved black Mini Cooper S replacing it with a Sherpa van kitted out as a camper and flying in the UK when ever I could winter spring and autumn. In summer on the last day of term at Loughborough the glider was on the roof, the ferry booked and I would be flying somewhere in the Alps next day.
With friends like John Pendry, Judy Leden, Mike De Glandville, Richard Newton, Jenny Ganderton and many others the routes into and around the Alps and Pyranees were explored. By this time I was sponsored by Hiway and flying my signature colour scheme of yellow and black. I wanted to be very visible in the air after a close encounter with a US airforce A10 in the Dales. It was many years later before I found out that it was possible/propable that I was serving as a practice target for this tank buster.
Sisteron, Cederon, Semmnoz, The Col De Forclaz, La Chens, St Andre les Alpes and Ager were my playgrounds with the goal to go as far as possible, get as high as possible and stay up for as long as possible each day.
I thourghly enjoyed flying with the British League but was frustrated by the task setting which at times seemed to prefer “micky mouse spot landing tasks” and miss good cross country flying opportunities.
I was honored to be asked to work with the British Hang Gliding Leagues management committee, the infamous ‘comps committee’ . I took over from Derek Evans who was a hard act to follow and this started some of the busiest and hardest days in my life working with Joan the essential scorer. I ran the league competitions and managed some of the overseas teams. My employer, Loughborough College, was very flexible about my need for time off to do this and I found myself in Australia, France and Italy throwing peoplke off the tops of mountains.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the committee that took the league abroad and remember the days at St Andre Les Alpes and the mass race starts followed by the ‘there I was’ stories in the landing field as pilots came back from a great days flying retracing some of the routes I had enjoyed flying out there.
But there were great days in Britain too. A 50 km triangle race was set from the Blorange amid cries of “impossible”. The course went up to Hay Bluff round the Sugar loaf and back to the usual field at the bottom of the Blorange. It was a good light wind day with a good base and it was not long before pilots were climbing out crossing on to the ridge at Pandy and heading North and out of sight. Conditions were clearly good around the course and the radio chatter suggested that someone might just make the apparently impossible actually happen and make it in. I remember being on the edge of the Blorange with Joan watching through binoculars as the first speck appeared and then the returning gliders racing in at full speed bar to the knees as they burnt in to the goal field where the atmoshere was absolutely electric. I can not remember how many people made it around but I do know that it was a POB for most.
Due to a damaged knee I was flying fairly infrequently by the year 2003 and decided that although I was OK after the first wobbly 5 minutes that initial pass along the edge in a borrowed glider was an unacceptable risk so I cut up my harness and hung up my boots for good.
I must give thanks to Howard Edwards and Bob Harrison who taught me to fly, Mike de Glandville who showed me around La Chens, St Andre and the Cheval Blanc, Steve Hunt from HiWay and Richard Bach who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, my inspiration when things were going badly. I remember with particular fondness the anonymous truck driver who delivered me to Horseshoe launch on a “ Big Air day in late August in Owens with the immortal line “ It’s a good day to die in the Whites”.
Looking through my log as I write this I am filled with memories of Glory Days [ The Boss ],the first high flight at Dunstable off the downs at 6 am in the morning, soaring for the first time at Rhossili, first big thermal, first cross country from Bryncaws, flying the S’Eleve overlooking Geneva and watching airliners passing below, the uncanny smoothness of my first contact with wave, the sere desert of the High Atlas in Morocco and best of all the friends I made around the world in this incredible sport.