For the first time, the University of the West of England Gliding Club attended the Inter-University Gliding Competition, held at the University’s local airfield, Aston Down, in the Cotswolds. Between 6th and 13th of August, four UWE students attended – Richard Clark, Matt Page, Alex Szymanski and Lara Small who captained the team. All the attendees had started as complete beginners at UWEGC. They competed against 60 students from across 12 universities which included Bath, Edinburgh, Warwick, Southampton, Cambridge, Nottingham, Surrey, Loughborough, Belfast and London.

The Inter-University competition comprises of three different categories: Progression, Soaring and Cross-Country. Each category has its own scoring system and prizes are awarded for the individual with the most points and the university with the most points in each category. The competition is designed for everyone to take part and to suit a wide range of experience levels. The eight days of gliding consisted of preparing the gliders for launching every morning, taking it in turns to either fly with an instructor or if you were a more experienced pilot, flying a single seat glider. Depending on the weather, it was possible to get some progression points by completing various gliding training syllabus skills, soaring points by thermalling, or consider going cross-country by leaving the airfield and flying somewhere else, using thermals to stay airborne. The students would fly all day, then pack up and begin the evening’s entertainment, either playing ‘glideopoly’ or heading off for a good pub meal.

In their first year of entry, UWEGC’s achievements were particularly impressive as Matt and Richard were able to fly their first solo (without an instructor), much to the delight of the team as they had earned 1000 points. Alex had a number of check flights before re-soloing, allowing him to fly single seat aircraft. Lara was cleared to launch using an aerotow technique, and flew in a number of wooden and glass fibre gliders for conversion points. She was also able to gain some soaring points on the sunnier days. All of these points secured secure UWE a comfortable second place in the Progression Competition, a certificate proudly displayed in the clubhouse for all to see.

On the last day of the competition we ordered a great inflatable human wrecking ball, and whilst some students persisted on the launch point, those with excess energy jumped around on the inflatable. The End of Competition Party was a great success where Dave Roberts, Chairman of the Royal Aero Club, gave out all the prizes.

The Sport of Gliding – Gliding is the skill and sport of flying gliders (aircraft without engines). The sport dates back to the 1930’s and today there are around 77,000 glider pilots in the UK alone. Gliders are launched into the air using a winch. Winch launching involves hooking the glider to a long cable; this cable is wound in by a powerful engine at the opposite end of the airfield, pulling the glider into the air. Once the glider is airborne, the cable is released allowing the glider to fly away. Once in the air the pilot can keep the glider up by riding rising currents of warm air called thermals. Finding and flying in thermals, known as soaring, requires a high degree of skill and concentration. Once the pilot has successfully entered a thermal the glider can rise steadily at speeds from 200-1000ft/min depending on the weather conditions and the skill of the pilot.

Becoming a Glider Pilot – The University of the West of England Gliding Club is open to UWE students. No prior experience of gliding is required, and beginners are welcome throughout the year. The club runs regular daytrips at weekends and Wednesdays, as well as weeklong courses during the Easter and summer holidays. Typically it takes around a year to progress from a beginner to flying solo, and a further year or two to achieve the cross-country endorsement, allowing you to fly far away from the airfield. A typical day’s gliding will cost around £20, although prices vary based on the length and number of flights. For more information visit or contact us on

The Progression Competition – The progression competition rewards pilots for making achievements in gliding. Achievements can range from minor achievements such as successfully completing a flight in a new type of glider (50 points) to performing your first solo flight without an instructor (500 points). Points are available for all skill levels allowing pilots with different levels of experience to compete against each other.


The Soaring Competition – The soaring competition rewards pilots for making long flights; one point is awarded for each minute of a flight. Additionally one point is awarded for each 50ft of height gained during the flight.

The Cross-Country Competition – The cross-country competition rewards pilots for making long distance flights across the countryside. The cross-country completion is similar to the competitions flown by experienced pilots in the national and international competitions that took place across the world this summer. Points are awarded based on the distance of the task, the speed at which it is performed, and then scaled based on the performance of the glider flown.