Taking gliding to new heights

CAMBRIDGE Gliding Centre celebrated National Gliding Week by opening its doors to the Press to help raise awareness for one of the country s most successful sports. Despite our variable weather conditions, in the last 11 years British gliders have won 28

CAMBRIDGE Gliding Centre celebrated National Gliding Week by opening its doors to the Press to help raise awareness for one of the country's most successful sports.

Despite our variable weather conditions, in the last 11 years British gliders have won 28 international medals, most of which have been gold. In fact, Britain is seen as the number one gliding nation with a host of world champions.

Centre chairman Richard Brickwood, who organised the event, said: "People do not realise that when it comes to gliding, British gliders are the best in the world.

"We consistently win international medals both at senior and junior levels and really set the standards."

Based at Gransden Lodge airfield, the centre is committed to the continuing development of the sport, by encouraging young people to join and by keeping older members flying.

The centre was established in 1953 and is affiliated to the British Gliding Association (BGA). All CGC procedures comply with BGA standards and have association approved instructors.

Most Read

It even has former world champion Sarah Kelman in its ranks, who works at the centre as a volunteer instructor. She won gold in the 1999 and 2001 Standard Class World Championships and claimed a bronze in 2005 - three months after giving birth.

She said: "People don't necessarily know much about gliding. They think it's just a matter of going up in the sky and turning round again.

"But it's a lot more than that. It takes a great deal of skill and awareness. You have to have good judgment and a strong mentality, otherwise you'll never make it back."

Operations director John Birch said: "Gliding is such a skilful and demanding sport. Not only do you have to use a lot of skill to manoeuvre around, you also have to understand the weather and predict how it will change."

Weather plays an important part in gliding and ultimately determines how far you can travel.

Full-time instructor Robert Theil said: "Weather is the key. The trick is to find pockets of air underneath the clouds. This will allow you to glide smoothly. Your aim is to go from one cloud to another, always looking for a path in the sky. It's a bit like stepping stones."

Gransden Lodge is one of the largest gliding sites in the UK and the centre gives trial lessons seven days-a-week, and a weekend instructor is available specifically for people who want to get up and have a go for the first time.

The centre has more than 170 members and taught 25 people to glide solo last year.

You must be 16 years to fly solo in the UK, but you may start learning to fly before that although the CGC staff recommend that you start no younger than 14.

John said: "We are slightly different from most gliding clubs because we not only cater for beginners and keen gliders, but we also have top of the range gliders for high class pilots.

"We have invested in a high performance fleet, and have gliders suitable for national competition.

"It allows people who may not be able to afford to buy a glider to use the best equipment.

"Our aim is to make people stay and continue to glide."

Erik Andren, from Fowlmere, who has been a member at the centre for almost two years, said: "The facilities here are great and the instructors are exceptional. You get people of all abilities from starters to world champs.

"It's exciting when you get up in the air and the gliders are fantastic. The high-fibre aircraft's are the most efficient in the world.

"They are also the closest thing that you will get to a fighter plane, even fighter pilots agree. It is a great sensation and there's nothing like it. Once you try it you'll be hooked."

The aim for both the association and the centre is to get the national support that they deserve.

If British gliders are to continue to dominate then they must get the relevant backing otherwise their progress is in danger of stagnating.

World champion Sarah said: "Nations such as Germany and France get an awful lot of national funding. A lot of them glide full-time for 12 months - a luxury that our gliders can not afford.

"From day one we get little money and have to fund ourselves. However, we are at a high standard despite having little money."

In August, in addition to the well known annual Gransden Regional Glider Races, the centre will also be hosting the 2006 British Gliding Association Open Class National Championships, an event that Richard hopes will attract attention.

He said: "The events will be highly competitive, very visual and great fun. We are trying to make it a spectacle that people will want to come and see.

"We have to try and make it a spectator sport and by making it more visually accessible this should be achieved."

The airfield is located 12 miles west of Cambridge with the entrance signposted off the B1046 between Longstowe and Little Gransden.

- Anyone interested in booking a trial lesson or wants to know more call 0800 085 1462.