Gliding is perhaps at the more niche end of the spectrum of sports offered at Oxford but it is certainly one of the most exhilarating and challenging sports out there! Gliding entails flying unpowered aircraft in which glider pilots have to make use of lift (invisible currents of rising air) in order to stay airborne and soar to great heights and span long distances. In this sense, gliding is the purest form of flight.
There are three different types of lift: thermals which are produced from the sun heating the atmosphere and the ground, ridge or hill lift which is generated when wind blows against a ridge and pushes air upwards, and wave which occurs when currents of air rise above a mountain or hill and flow and rebound, creating a wave-like pattern. Not only must pilots be able to make use of rising air masses but they also have to navigate, adapt to changing weather conditions, and of course, fly the glider skillfully! Flying solo is seen as a glider pilot’s first milestone, and after that there are plenty of opportunities for cross-country flying, aerobatics, or flying vintage gliders.
Having always been interested in aviation, I decided to start gliding in my second year at Oxford. I made a beeline for the gliding stall at the (re)freshers’ fair and within a few weeks I found myself at Bicester Airfield taking to the skies in a glider for the very first time. After being paired up with an instructor, I got strapped into the front seat of a K13 (a wooden two-seater training glider). A cable was then hooked onto the glider and I was launched into the sky at 70mph, shown the basics, and from that moment on I was hooked; I had caught the so-called aviation ‘bug’. Six months later, having completed all the exercises on my training card, I was sent off solo for the first time!
Apart from glorious long soaring flights, I also enjoy seeing the world from unusual perspectives and at an increased amount of G – doing aerobatics in a glider is definitely something to experience!
Being part of Oxford University Gliding Club has been the highlight of my time at Oxford. I became involved with the committee, first as Alumni and Development Officer, and later as Women’s Captain. This meant that I helped to organise a series of exciting expeditions both across the country and overseas. At the end of my year abroad, I combined my love of Spanish and flying, and organised a gliding expedition to La Cerdanya, Spain. This was the first time that I got to experience the challenging conditions of flying in the mountains. We had some epic soaring flights soaring in the Pyrenees – on one of my flights I went across Spain, France, and Andorra!
Earlier this month, a group of us went on the Annual Expedition to Portmoak, Scotland. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and got to experience the most elusive form of lift: wave. We smashed new records at OUGC with some of our pilots flying above 8000 ft and one lucky member getting up to a staggering 12000 ft.
I strongly encourage anyone who’s even remotely interested in learning how to fly to get in touch with OUGC and come and spend a day at the airfield. You won’t regret it! No previous experience is needed – you will receive full training by certified instructors. Check out our website and find out more at ougc.org.