We grow older, but a part of us never grows up. I had a brilliant time yesterday gliding with a friend above the Barossa Valley.
It is many years since I last went up in a glider. That was a very brief flight in Oxfordshire, and I just sat there. This time, we were up for an hour and a half, and could easily have passed the regulation-imposed 10,000 feet limit imposed in Australia (it is 14,00 feet elsewhere, apparently. The air starts to get a bit thin up there).
I flew the plane for about half the time, but not of course when we did the loop-the-loop or the stall-and-dive aerobatic stuff – that was my very competent pilot Simon Holding. It is however a source a continuing and burning pride that I was able without Simon’s intervention to gain about 1,000 feet in a single thermal. It might not seem that hard – you just flight around and around in tight circles while the rising air takes you up, but it trickier than you might think. You have to keep the airspeed at around 50 knots, maintaining a constant bank using stick and rudder.
The way it works is simple. You get a tug – i.e. a powered plane – to take you up to around 2,500 feet, then you let go of the tow line. You then look around for thermals. Yesterday, we were finding thermals that were giving us around 15 knots of lift and sometimes more. That’s right, folks. It is going up with a vertical component of speed of a sprinter running horizontally on the ground.
Then you keep finding thermals every once in a while, gain some height, and then fly on. Then, when it is time for tea or you cannot find any more thermals, you glide back to the airfield and land.
Unlike powered planes, the view around is unobstructed. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the front seat, surrounded by a clear plastic bubble.
The ground is a bit of an anticlimax. Up in the air, there is no, “Tally ho, Red Leader” or “Bandits 1 o’clock”. But the quiet exchange of, “Your aircraft”, “My aircraft” as one is given control of such a fabulous beast is captivating music.