Derek Piggott gliding

Derek Piggott MBE (born 27 December 1922) is one of Britain's best known glider pilots and instructors. He has over 5,000 hours on over 153 types of powered aircraft and over 5,000 hours on over 184 types of glider. He has been honoured for his work on the instruction and safety of glider pilots. In 1961 he became the first person to make an officially authenticated take-off and flight in the first man powered aircraft. He has also worked as a stunt pilot in several feature films.

Derek has written the article below on the pleasures of gliding and encourages others to try's never too late..

An great day out if you want exercise with new things to do.  

 You may not have heard much about gliding and the sport of soaring, but on most sunny days gliders are flying all over the UK.  They are silent and, unless you know where to look, you will never see them.  

Many will be making flights of hundreds of miles making use of the rising air in thermals like the birds.  They are launched by a winch (like a kite) or towed by a small plane to about 2000 feet after which, how long they stay up depends on the skill of the glider pilot and the weather conditions.  Record flights in the U.K. are over a thousand kilometres (600 miles!) with most flights returning to their home base.   

 You don't have to fly to have fun.

Even if you dislike flying, but are interested in aircraft, you can have fun meeting the club members and helping them fly.  Social memberships enable older people and their families and friends to become involved in launching and ground handling, which can be an enjoyable way to spend a day out in the countryside amongst congenial company.  

Most small clubs mainly operate at weekends in any fine weather. This is not just a man’s world, there are many ladies flying gliders and entering and winning National and International competitions.  As a Social Member, if you wish you can have occasional flights with an opportunity to handle the controls and learn more about gliding.   

You can find out from the British Gliding Association’s web site where all the U.K. gliding clubs are located.  If you are fit to drive a car you are most likely to be able to learn to fly gliders if you decide you want to try it.  

A good safety record.

Gliders have a good safety record as they are much stronger than most powered aircraft to allow for flying in turbulent clouds.  Modern high performance gliders (known also as sailplanes) are made of Carbon fibre and are stressed for aerobatics, so it is extremely rare for them to have any structural problems.  Training is in dual control, two seaters flown by qualified instructors.  Parachutes are only worn because of the risk of collision.   

Of course, the instruction includes dealing with launch failures and most other possible causes of mishaps. 

Hang gliding and paragliding are very risky unless you are young and athletic, but with modern gliders, unlike powered aircraft there is no risk of fire and with landing speeds of only about 35-45 m.p.h., if they are unable to find lift to climb, they can land safely in many farm fields. (Even training gliders will glide about 4 miles per thousand feet loss of height, so there is always a good choice of fields to land in.)     

 Be prepared.

When visiting a gliding club, make sure you have really warm clothes, preferably not your best ones.   The club house may just be a hut or caravan at a small club, or a building with catering and accommodation for members.  As a visitor you should sign an indemnity before going out on to the airfield.  Ask for a member or better still, an instructor to take you out to the launch point and explain everything.  

 Mind how you go.

There are a number of potential hazards on a gliding field, some are obvious, like looking carefully for tow-planes and gliders landing.  Launching cables can also be dangerous and standing close to a cable lying on the ground, there is always a risk that it may move suddenly and take you with it!  

You must be a member before driving any club vehicle, but you can go as a passenger to see how things are done. Club members may assume you are a member, but don’t ever try to help without being briefed properly on what to do.  

A common cause of delays to the launching is someone trying to be helpful.   Driving the  vehicle towing out the launching cables, or pulling a glider back to the launch point requires experience and ‘know how’ to do safely.  You must know where to go and what to do if the cable breaks!

 Don’t attempt to drive across the airfield to the launch point unless you have a member with you.

To help, you will need a careful briefing on what to do.  How and where you can lift and pull on gliders safely as gliders can be damaged by pushing or handling in the wrong places.  Ask for an instructor to explain how you can help.

Why not visit your nearest club.

Derek Piggott, Lasham

Author of the following books:

If you enjoyed gliding then you might enjoy join a classic car club.

Return to Pastimes and Pleasures