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Gliding back to Greytown skies

The 2023/2024 Club Class Nationals gliding championship takes flight today at Papawai Airfield on the outskirts of Greytown.

This event is hosted by the Wellington Wairarapa Gliding Club [WWGC], sponsored by Greytown Honey, and runs to Thursday, February 15.

Grae Harrison, WWGC’s longest-serving member, is overseeing the event and hopes it will be a good one.

“It’s great to have the competition back here at Papawai,” he said.

“They relocated here from Paraparaumu airport nine years ago after the Wellington and Wairarapa gliding clubs merged.

“It was decided that Greytown would host this year because the conditions are good.

“Wairarapa has perfect thermal gliding conditions across the eastern part of the valley, anywhere between Martinborough and Tīnui.”

During the nine-day event, participating pilots will compete to clock the fastest time around a pre-plotted course.

Each day of the championship will start with a 10am meeting at which the pilots will be briefed.

“The task setters will look at the weather conditions and plot a course for the gliders to follow,” Harrison said.

“We would set a task of about 150 to 250 km, which we base on modern weather programmes.”

Once briefed the pilots will launch between 12.30pm and 2pm when the air thermals are right.

Harrison explained air thermals are “columns of hot air that move upwards, which creates lift for the glider”.

“You lift a bit with the pocket of air and then glide down before being lifted again.”

The pilots will be on the course for three to four hours, and their location, speed, and altitude are monitored by computers on the ground.

Harrison said the event should see a good number of participants, and noted that WWGC is in good health, in part because Greytown’s Kuranui College offers gliding as part of the NCEA curriculum.

“We have about 100 members, with one-third of those being under 20 in the youth category,” he said.

“We even had a 14-year-old that went solo last month.”

While the gliders don’t have any form of self-propulsion, there is a winch on the ground that launches them from zero to 2000 feet in 30 seconds.

Depending on conditions, the gliders can fly anywhere from 60-100kts, which is about 110-185kmh.

Club Class gliders range in age from 30 to 45 years, and Harrison said that to the layperson’s eye, they would look the same as ones that have recently been built.

“The gliders look the same from the outside, but the newer ones have improved aerodynamics,” he said.

Harrison is hoping for a good, incident-free championship and stressed that safety is the highest priority.

“Pilots need to adhere to the rules, and we ensure that they are confident before we let them take to the skies,” he said.

“An instructor must sign them off before they can fly.

“With that being said, it’s more dangerous to drive your car to the competition than to fly the plane.”

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