What is gliding?

Being flung into the sky in a light plane with no engine, in a nutshell.

It sounds a little bit freaky, but it's surprisingly logical once you're up in the air.

When I rang Jim Bicknell, the president of Wairarapa Gliding to talk about the club's future developments, he said if I was going to write about it, I'd have to give it a go.


Not one to miss an opportunity, I said sure, hung up the phone and thought "what the hell did I just agree to?"

Member and instructor David Hirst takes me up for the flight, he's been gliding for 10 years - he was hooked since his first flight, a present from his wife. "For the next two weeks I had a grin on my face."

The club uses a winch with a four-and-a-half litre V8 engine pulling a Kevlar cable to launch the aircraft.

The ascent is so fast, I barely register it, we are suddenly 2200 feet high, calmly soaring above the farmlands, orchards and rivers. There's no noise except for the low hum of rushing air, which I thought would be alarming but it's calming.

"If you're up here flying, you don't have time for anything else, it's a wonderful stress reliever," says David.

I am allowed to take some of the controls and I gingerly push forward, which means we go faster but descend at the same time.

We fly over some dark patches of land looking for "thermals" - columns of rising air formed from warm surfaces - David says you can often feel them.

"We use them like stepping stones," he says.


Gliding is a fascinating experience, it doesn't seem to make sense we aren't dropping out of the sky. But it's much like being a bird, you have wings, which are lifted by the air passing over them.

Flying is something that has intrigued many of the club members as youngsters.

Diana Braithwaite, who came to New Zealand in the 60s from the UK, was first captured by the sight of planes during the World War II Blitz. "I thought I'd like to give that a try."

Jim, a dairy farmer, was 14 when he had his first flight in a Tiger Moth. "I could have bought one for 50 pounds at the end of the war but my father said 'where are you going to keep it?'."

Training young people has been a focus for the club.

"Gliding is a good way for a young person to learn whether they want to take up [conventional] flying."

At one stage, the club had 40 members but now has 15. They are always looking for new members.

Vomle Springford flew courtesy of Wairarapa Gliding.