Gliding may look like flying, but it isn’t. It’s gliding. You’ll know the difference when you are winch-launched in the air, feel your stomach drop, and begin to float over clouds. Gliding is a recreational sport where unpowered aircrafts, gliders, are flown by using thermals and air currents to maintain flight. There’s a delicate mix of technical knowledge and experience that allows pilots to spot air patterns and seamlessly glide through them in flight.
Last year, while living in Guildford, England, my friend O., joined our university’s gliding club, and went out every weekend to learn, practice, and eventually gain certification on gliders. Luckily for all of O.’s friends, the gliding club welcomes other university students who are friends of gliders to come out for the day and get thrown up in the air.
After a few weeks of patient waiting and total envy at hearing my other friends’ gliding stories, it was my turn. Hurrah! It was a pretty chilly Saturday morning when we drove about an hour south to Alton, Hampshire, to the Lasham Gliding Society. After getting settled and signing waivers (sidenote: I love it when you have to sign a waiver to do an activity…makes me feel adventurous), we got the gliders ready for action, and established the order of the day. While waiting my turn, yet again, I started to get a teensy bit apprehensive, because watching the gliders being chucked up in the air by the winch-launcher seemed kind of crazy.
Finally, my turn. I got suited up, met my adorable older pilot friend (O. wasn’t certified to take me up there), and he explained everything to me as I got ready. Really, it was pretty simple. Sit in the seat, do this, do that, don’t touch this lever, etc. Ready? Aim. Fire! Before I knew it we were catapulted into the air, and then, I felt the winch launcher unclasp (don’t worry, it’s supposed to do that!) and we were gliding. A.ma.zing.
The air pockets weren’t fabulous that day, since the gliders thrive on warmth, and, being November, there wasn’t much warmth left in the air. This meant we were only able to stay airborne for a few minutes, whereas my friends who glided earlier in the fall were up there for about ten. Oh well. It was a pretty clear day, and I could actually almost sea to the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight!
Coming in to land was crazy. There’s a set direction and way to do it, and the pilots could probably land in their sleep. We swirled around to the end of the property, and let the air bring us down, sliding along the grass like it was a slip’n’slide. It looked daunting, but was actually relatively easy. I loved it so much, I went twice more throughout the afternoon. Being the good little student that I was, I’d brought readings with me…did I do them? No. I was too busy soaring through the air, engine-less and free.
There are gliding and soaring clubs all over the place, including in Canada, the US, and many other countries, I’m sure. If you’re travelling around and looking for something different to do, consider a guest flight at a gliding centre. Most offer them, and while they aren’t cheap and the centres are usually situated outside main cities, it could be a really fun experience for those curious about what it feels like to soar through the air. Bonus? No emissions makes this is pretty good sustainable, ecotourism activity.
PS. Here’s a video of one of my glides, if you’re interested…and yes, the landing looks really rough!