With the greatest of ease

Peace and quiet at 4,000 feet. The Gliding Club have a unique way to escape from it all.

Gliding club

Words: Sarah Woodward / Photograph: Hannah Maule-ffinch / Diagram: Ian Dutnall

If gliding looks the epitome ofpeacefulness from the air, the reality is somewhat more hairy, admits Gliding Club secretary Amy Whistlecroft. “I couldn’t help screaming the first time I went up,” she says – a fact helpfully recorded in the log book by her instructor. “So now everyone knows about it. I just didn’t realise how steep or how fast the launch would be. With a winch launch, you go from 0 to 60 mph in a few seconds. And from the canopy it looks like you are going straight up into the air.”

Amy had always wanted to learn to fly and joined the club in her second year. It’s the UK’s oldest university gliding club, founded in 1930 in rather ignominious circumstances when the club’s first glider – hand-built by Imperial students – blew over and was destroyed. They quickly decided to buy one instead, and today the club has three modern gliders of its own.

Club captain, Thomas Pleece, had already tried motor-gliding as a member of the Air Cadets at school before he signed up for the gliding club in his first term as a student of aeronautical engineering. His engineering skills came in useful recently when he punctured a tail wheel on landing. “We didn’t have any tools with us to change the wheel so we got some knives and forks from the canteen and used those instead.”

Whistlecroft, a third year biologist, has just got a Saturday job as Aircraft Workshop Assistant at Lasham Airfield in Hampshire, where the club does most of its flying. “I love tinkering with the planes but I became secretary for the social side of the club. We have 118 members, including eight alumni, and I organise who goes up each weekend, so I get to know everyone. It can be quite dangerous on the ground. But I’ve gone up to 4,500 feet and I just love it. It’s so quiet. Unless, of course, you scream.

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