On Approach

With Matt Dearden


Going gliding

Something I’d only tried once before and decided that, while it was jolly good fun, I just don’t currently have the time to spend a whole day at a gliding site for one or two flights. There’s a reason you mostly see retired folk and teenagers there, which is that everyone has to help with each launch and wait their turn for a flight. That and the weather is even more of a factor than with powered aircraft. And we all know how fickle the UK weather is…

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend the day one weekend  fairly recently at Deeside Gliding Club in Aboyne. I was supposed to be landing my work’s PC-12 there, as one of the clients wanted to spend the weekend somewhere close by and didn’t fancy the drive from Aberdeen. As it happened the weather was rubbish on the Friday we arrived and so we ended up diverting to Aberdeen anyway. But with accommodation booked in Aboyne, the cheapest option was to hire a car and drive over. Which is how I found myself at Deeside one Saturday morning to see if I could blag a flight in a glider. 

Frustratingly the weather on Saturday was perfect to land a PC-12 but not so good for gliders with mid-level cloud cover and not much wind. Still, not to be put off, my colleague and I got chatting to the lovely folk at the airfield. Bob Dunthorn, the man in charge of things, very kindly paired us up with one of their instructor pilots, Tim Martin, for quick up and down flight. Induction video watched and waivers signed, we waited our turn for our flights around the valley. 

 “I was lucky enough to spend the day at Deeside Gliding Club in Aboyne”

The first time I tried gliding was on a winch, which was quite an exciting and quick way to gain altitude, so I was intrigued how an aerotow would compare, especially behind a Eurofox which I assumed would take an age to gain altitude. 

The glider we would be flying was an Allstar SZD-54 Perkoz. This thing is a serious bit of kit with tech most GA aircraft could only dream of. Fitted with a full glass cockpit, auto pitch trim and a load of other bells and whistles, I was impressed. It is also rated to +5/-2G if you fancy throwing it upside down at any point. 

Once strapped in (with parachute), my instructor Tim talked me through the take-off which he’d be doing before letting me have a go once we were safely away from the ground. Tim is one of those chaps who resonates an air of calm and just the sort of pilot I like to fly with. Confident in his own abilities and happy to let a hack like me give most of the flying a go, while talking me through it all but able to take over at any stage should I cock it up. 

The take-off was simple enough and, as you’d expect, the glider was airborne before the Eurofox, which provided a surprising amount of oomph as it towed us into the air. Once clear of the airfield, Tim gave me control and I got my first feel of the glider. Thankfully, nearly 3,000 hours in tailwheel aircraft prepared me well for what to expect when it comes to using your feet to balance out turns correctly, and I kept the little Eurofox fixed in the view ahead like we were locked in a dogfight until we released at the base of the clouds. 

The Perkoz is a delight to fly and I absolutely love the auto-trim. All you have to do is set the attitude you require for the airspeed you want and pull a little trigger on the control stick. The pitch is then trimmed for that speed. Genius! This then makes the task of finding some lift much easier and of course ensures you are always flying along at best glide speed. Unfortunately, there was pretty much no lift at all but I did get a good opportunity to have a decent play with the Perkoz. It’s a very slippery thing which accelerates with only a gentle pitch down and with a glide ratio of over 1:40, seems to hang in the air forever. GA aircraft in comparison feel like flying bricks. 

After 15 minutes or so we were getting low in the valley so turned back for the airfield. Tim very kindly let me fly the approach all the way down until the very last minute where he took control for the landing. What struck me the most was how steep the angle of descent was on the approach. If I was that high so close into the runway with my Cub, I’d have been power off and sideslipping it for all it was worth – and probably still not have got down enough to land. Those speed brakes on the Perkoz were remarkable!

All in all, I’d certainly recommend anyone to give gliding a go. It’ll teach you some stuff you didn’t know and perhaps even get you hooked. If I had the time I’d be back for some more lessons, but for now I will wait a few more years until I’m not busy thinking about building my RV-8. Many thanks to everyone at Deeside for their hospitality – and I hope to pop in again soon! 

Currently dividing his time between a Cub, a Catalina… oh, and a PC-12
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