The GREAT OUTDOORS: In the air
PUBLISHED: 11:18 22 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:30 06 February 2014
Devon Life writers throw themselves into new outdoor experiences.
SUE CADE takes a glider flight into the unknown
The Devon and Somerset Gliding Club airfield is on top of the west-facing edge of the Blackdown Hills just above Broadhembury - known as the Ridge.
On a clear day you can see the coast, and sometimes, from the top of the launch, as far as Wales, says my chaperon, Jill Harmer.
Jill has been flying for 32 years and it was through gliding that she met her husband Pete, an instructor at their previous gliding club in Farnborough. Pete is now Chief Flying Instructor at DSGC, which itself has been in existence since 1953.
The club is run entirely by volunteers. There are a few commercial gliding clubs in the UK, explains Jill, but most clubs are small, friendly operations run by people with a sheer love of gliding. Even the instructors dont get paid.
It takes at least six people to get a glider in the air, and everyone helps with the launches.
I meet club member Sir Christopher Coville, a retired RAF fast jet pilot whose impressive career includes being a display pilot for the Battle of Britain memorial flight. Sir Christopher, who rose to the rank of Air Marshal, first went gliding as an air cadet and has returned to it after 50 years.
Im a passionate aviator, now enjoying pure flying, he tells me. Sir Christopher introduced his grandson, Jack, to the joy of gliding this year through a summer course they both attended. For me it was consolidating what I knew, and for Jack, it was learning from scratch.
Other members tell me about the freedom and sense of achievement gliding gives them: The challenge is to beat the weather and make nearly a ton of glass fibre climb into the sky.
Trial lessons are usually carried out by aerotow, where a powered plane takes the glider up to 2,000 feet. Aerotow is a more sedate way of taking off than the alternative winch launch, when the glider is literally pulled up by a cable attached to a winch to around 1,200 feet.
I quip to one of the club members about needing a parachute, as one of my wittier friends has suggested I might like to try skydiving while Im aloft. But as he turns, I notice he is wearing a large pack on his back the parachute isnt a joke, its a necessary safety item.
Because the weather has changed and cloud cover is low, plans for my aerotow launch are scuppered and I steel myself for a winch launch.
Club member Tom Sides helps me strap on my parachute and I take my seat in the front of the glider. Pete Harmer is taking me up and, sensing my nervousness, speaks calmly as he explains the take-off procedure.
In the end it all happens very quickly the cable is attached, goes taut, the glider moves along the grass and we are aloft. I admit to keeping my eyes closed during this bit. Theres a slight bang as the cable is released, the glider levels out - and then I open my eyes.
We are soaring above Broadhembury in a peaceful glide, and I can clearly make out the village and church. I see a friends farm and her cows grazing in the field. The glider is so silent the herd doesnt notice us overhead. Pete points out West Hill and a glimmer along the horizon, which he says is the sea off Sidmouth. We could get there in 10 minutes if the weather was on our side.
But today its a relatively short flight. We circle around close to cloud. Theres no turbulence as we float past grey wisps.
All too soon Pete announces it is time to land, and warns me that it may get a little bumpy on the way down. The glider descends towards the airfield where we land gently and roll across the grass to a stop.
I have a real sense of achievement as I clamber out. Ive been up there, in the sky, in a plane without an engine. I now understand why the club members are so passionate about their sport. This is a flying experience that is out on its own, as far as Im concerned. When a friend asks if I would do it again, I surprise myself by replying: Yes!
Once you have qualified, you can become a private owner, with your own glider. DSGC have 25 private gliders on the airfield and most are owned by syndicates of up to four people. A modern glider costs around 60,000 for a two seater and 20,000 for a single seater. An older glider can be bought for as little as 1,000.
For information about trial lessons and gift vouchers contact:
Tel: 07849 831852