My route from flying powered aircraft to Gliding

I began my flying career fresh out of Uni and for the next 24 years I spent my time flying A-6’s and F/A-18’s from aircraft carriers, accumulating several thousand hours and over a thousand carrier arrested landings.

After my first retirement, I moved on to fly cargo aircraft flying everything from the B727, various Airbus jets up to the MD-10/11.  I finished that career in only Feb of 2017 flying as a Captain on the B-757/767.

I honestly had never thought about gliding since I had never been near a facility or any gliding activity or anyone who flew gliders.  Call me naive but, I was fully engaged in a fairly active power flying career.  During a layover in Birmingham, England, one of our company engineers and I were chatting and he mentioned that I must love flying at Black Mountains Gliding Club (BMGC).  I admitted I had no idea what he was talking about and decided to investigate.

So with nearly 10,000 hours in my log-book, my wife and I were driving around the Brecon Beacons and came upon the BMGC where one of the club instructors (Gordon Denis) gave me a thorough tour and talk about gliding and I returned the next day for my first flight with Bo Nilson, our Kiwi instructor at the club.

That was really all it took to get hooked.  I was already passionate about flying and with only a few months remaining in my professional aviation career, I knew I had found a way to pass my time in retirement.  And, it is so vastly affordable compared to many hobbies, certainly power aviation.

I personally found the transition to flying without a motor to be very straight forward.  Okay, I had to take a different view; yes, altitude or lift (ridge of thermal) was the fuel tank and engine, and since many fields are acceptable landing zones, diversion took on whole new meaning.

For me, the joy of flight, of being even only 10 feet off the ground is amazing.  For me, a successful flight could be only moments long with a successful landing.  To get airborne, flying behind the tug and then use mother nature to remain airborne for what could be hours is stimulating in ways I can’t fully describe.  And flying in the Brecon Beacons and South Wales is just so beautiful.  Gliding is so peaceful and even if you don’t set high goals, the pleasure from a lengthy flight, using all your skills to remain airborne and in a seemingly lifeless sky is rewarding.

Though I have only been gliding for just nearly three years and, have just under 200 hours PIC, I have achieved the Bronze C ratings and I’m 2/3rds of the way to Silver, not great achievements by some measure but, very pleasing. I will admit that, to the consternation of many of my fellow club members, I don’t feel the need to “compete” in flying competitions or doing long cross countries.  I just love being airborne and watching the world go by.  To sneak up on a Kite or Buzzard, to drift around the clouds and look down on magnificent scenery is enough for me.  

After flying so long, I am perfectly content to be out on a local flight over the breathtaking Beacons.  The joy of leaving the bonds of earth behind, successfully remaining airborne for some period of time and then having a successful landing with the wheels beneath me is enough.

Jeff Stillwagon