I was lucky enough to receive the gift of “an Experience” recently and used this to have a taster session gliding. I have never been in a glider in my life. I have experienced a short flight in a two-seater plane, which I remember as being very exhilarating, and it was based on that memory that I thought that this would be a fun thing to do.
In many ways this makes no sense at all. I really hate heights. I have to brace myself even to get up the ladder into the loft. Going on the London Eye many years ago was a huge challenge. I had to sit in the middle of the pod and resolutely look at the horizon, while my sons hooted with laughter and jumped up and down on the transparent floors. So why on earth did I think that gliding would be good and enjoyable? Well, there is a weird logic to it. A glider is made to fly. It wants to fly, and this makes it a safe place to be up in.
So, I was very excited about my flight. Given the time of year, it was not easy to get a day when flying could take place. Bookings were postponed twice due to adverse weather; gales and rain are not conducive. But the third time proved lucky. A mild day, sunny periods and just overcast between and light winds, so off I went for my appointment at Lasham.
Lasham Gliding Society is one of the oldest and largest gliding clubs in the country and is conveniently close to my home. It has a welcoming club house, which is where you go to sign in and meet your instructor. I was taken up by Lee, and wonderfully enthusiastic young man who started gliding at 14 and earns his living as a commercial pilot but would rather be gliding and seems to use all his free time doing so.
Lee took me out to the run way in a buggy. He explained on the way that we would be in a two seater glider and would be towed into the air by a small plane, as this made for a gentler launch than the alternative winch (where the glider is hooked by a very long cable to a large winch which is pulled in so quickly that the glider gets airborne, at rather a steep angle).
The glider looked quite small, well it is. Lee got me strapped into a very compact parachute, the harness of which was integral to the seat straps in the glider. To get in you just clamber over the side and slip into the confines of the cockpit. I had the front seat and Lee had the one behind. There were controls with both seats, and I was taken through what the instruments and controls ahead of me to show what they do, event though Lee would be firmly in control of this flight. All explained and strapped in, we were ready for off.
The take off was remarkably quick. We were attached, by a very long line, to a small yellow plane. Off it went on a signal from Lee and within seconds I could feel the glider lifting off the ground, before event the tug plane had taken off. We were towed to 2000 meters and then with a loud clunk the tow line was released, the tug plane pealed away to the side and the glider was serenely flying ahead, in beautiful quiet.
The feel of flying was wonderful. If you have sailed in a large ferry or similar passenger ship and also in a small dingy, you will know how different the experience of being on the water is between these two. Well, gliding was rather like being in a small dingy in the air. You feel the element through with you are travelling and the glider is a quick and responsive vessel riding on it, through it. After Lee took us through some basic turns and manoeuvres, he gave me a turn at the controls. Totally thrilling. The glider responded to the slightest touch.
The view from the cock pit was beautiful. To the south the sun was catching the Solent, making it a bright shining strip, with the Isle of Wight showing as a grey mass behind. Basingstoke, with it towers and buildings catching the rays, stood out to the West of us, but the rest looked largely agricultural, with the occasionally solar panel field interspersed between the winter greens and brown. There are also a remarkable amount of wooded areas, which I had never appreciated from the ground.
All too soon the flight had to end. Lee brought us round to line up with the airfield and then down we went to land on the grass. I thought that would be alarming but as with the rest of the flight it was not. Then it was a matter of getting out, helping to push the glider to her next take off place and back to the club house for a very welcome cup of tea. I can’t thank Lee, or Jim who gave me the experience, enough for a wonderful time.
So why am I writing about this on my l art website? Well, it is partly to encourage everyone to try something different. It doesn’t have to be gliding of course. Doing something outside of your comfort zone is an invigorating experience. I will keep with me the thrill of that flight, how it felt, and also the different perspective it gave me on the world. We live in a three-dimensional world, but you see these dimensions, feel them, differently when flying; they somehow feel more three dimensional than when you are walking along. As one of my interests in my work is exploring layers and textures, this experience can only add to what I do. Quite how yet is to be explored. I hope to bring the explorations to this blog in the future.