The Air Cadet Organisation offers cadets opportunities to fly and glide. However, for cadets in Thames Valley Wing, the opportunities to glide are delivered by 612 VGS who fly motor-gliders. For many gliding enthusiasts, a touring motor-glider is a poor substitute for the small light and entirely silent pure gliders such as the viking. The take-off run of a vigilant is smooth and similar to the take-off run of a tutor. A winch launch is very different. When Plt Off Christlieb met a member of Bicester Gliding Club during the Blenheim Triathlon he grabbed the chance and two months later the squadron borrowed a minibus and set-off for Bicester Airfield. (Ed.)
On the cool evening of the 30th July, 150 squadron cadets arrived at squadron HQ
with high anticipation. For tonight was no ordinary night, tonight, we were going gliding! Flying is what cadets are made for, so we were all looking forward to this excellent opportunity. We piled into the minibus and car and drove to Bicester Gliding Club, where we would be taking to the skies. We got out and the first nine were picked for gliding, whilst the others went in to a hangar to have a go on the simulator they have. The simulator was amazing; it was a glider’s fuselage, with some projectors above it, which were projecting onto a large display in front of the glider. It had all the instruments too, and it was really realistic to fly. But possibly the most interesting part was a small, brown dog tethered to the glider, which all the cadets seemed to love and spend more time on than the actual glider!
Meanwhile, the other cadets were going gliding, but this was gliding with a difference. Normally, when we fly at Abingdon, the glider is a powered one, so we can take off on our own, and then turn our engine off when we are in the air. However, at Bicester Gliding Club we used the winch launch system. The front of the glider is attached to a 1500 foot cable, which is then attached to a huge winch. This winch reels you in at a terrific speed, so fast that you reach 60mph in about 4 seconds, and by the end of the winch you have taken off and got up to 1000 feet! It was a truly amazing experience. From what I’ve heard, it was also a very scary one too! Firstly, the glider is very narrow so when you get in, there is nothing either side of you but the canopy, and then air. Second of all, when the winch takes hold and begins to reel you in, the acceleration is enormous and makes your stomach lurch, so much so that Cdt Jade Perks was heard to scream all the way up until the cable let go! Then, as you lift off, it is a sharp incline of 45 degrees until you reach 1000 feet, when there is a clunk and the cable releases. The whole process is done in about 20 – 25 seconds! It is a truly unique experience, one completely different to powered gliding or flying. Unfortunately, when you are up you only get about 6 minutes flight, but it’s worth it to experience the winch launch. After the take-off, it’s a gentle glide down to the grass runway, where a slightly bumpy landing awaits. Overall, everyone had a great time and it was a brilliant way to spend our Thursday evening, as well as being a completely unique thing to do as well.