Monday 28 June 2010

Without a safety net.

As life grinds inexorably towards its dusty conclusion (you're particularly cheerful today - ed.) one wonders at what possibly could excite and stimulate more than the things one has already indulged (or in some cases, over-indulged) in. Yesterday's 'first ever' was a Gliding experience. A present from my wife for the significant birthday, a mixture of apprehension and procrastination pushed the event right to the wire and Sunday was the final opportunity before the voucher ran out. Providence provided the most glorious weather and an amiable and experienced instructor. Our local gliding club at Ringmer near Lewes was the location and we opted for an aerial tow whereby an aged Piper aircraft drags the glider by what looks like not much more than a piece of washing line, up to 2,500 feet. A parachute is helpfully provided accompanied by the words "bend your legs when you land"...which makes the EasyJet lifebelt instructions sound rather wimpish in comparison. After a thorough briefing we we were cocooned in our two seater tandem cockpit and airborne almost as soon as we were moving. Cast off somewhere over Firle Beacon, the flying tug veered sharply away towards Brighton whilst we banked towards Eastbourne. Silence! except for the rushing of the air around us, this was more akin to sailing...wonderfully graceful movements and changes of direction make one feel a part of the whole plane. The flat lands of Sussex lay spread out below us whilst the high Downs in their magnificence rise up against the channel beyond, a living Ordnance Survey map with all the features beautifully defined and laid out for me to spot. I felt as if I was the first person ever to have flown, so different was the sensation from that of package travel, and imagined what life must have been like for the young men stationed at the tiny Battle of Britain airfield beneath us at Ripe. Their view was much like mine but overlaid with a terrible purpose in what could at any time have become a life or death struggle. I counted my blessings. Through lack of thermal activity we swooped low over the trees and made a most dignified landing - total time in the air, just 18 minutes, and I luxuriated in every one of them. I'd definitely repeat the experience although being caught in a turbulent storm doesn't appeal much; apparently it requires a five hour solo flight before you get your 'wings' as a glider pilot - up there, alone with just your thoughts - it has an appeal...

The sepia picture is of Herr Fokker who gave several demonstrations of gliding in Sussex in the early 1920's. The Daily Mail also ran an international gliding competition at Itford Hill, close to Lewes, in 1922. Sussex can rightly be said to be the birthplace of gliding in England - hooray!