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Students hit new heights

In preparation for the return of their course at Kuranui College, Wellington Wairarapa Gliding Club gave reporter Flynn Nicholls a sky-high lesson.

With European instructors returning after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Wairarapa students will have the opportunity to take to the skies with Wellington Wairarapa Gliding Club this year.

Their arrival will allow Kuranui College to once again offer its introduction to gliding courses at the club based in Papawai, Greytown.

Before covid closed the border, half a dozen veteran instructors from England, Denmark, and Germany travelled to Wairarapa every summer to work over the peak season.

The Kuranui course, which has been running in some form for 30 years, gives students six flights with an instructor free of charge.

A huge winch with a 2km cable, one of two in New Zealand, launches the glider more than 600m in the air, where it can soar on the wind currents for hundreds of kilometres.

Gliding club service delivery manager Brian Sharpe said the introductory six-flight course would give students an overview of the requirements for a solo licence.

The solo glider pilot qualification usually takes 40 to 50 flights to achieve.

“Very rarely do people get out of their first glide without a smile on their face. When you’re up in a glider, the sky is your engine; it’s about how you use the energy up there,” Sharpe said.

He said there were many vocational pathways from gliding, including commercial flying, the air force, engineering, or instructing.

“When we relocated the Wellington club to Wairarapa in 2016, we wanted to become New Zealand’s premier glider training facility.

This programme at Kuranui will help identify the keen students who can continue through the year working toward their solo licence,” Sharpe said.

Kuranui College and the gliding club have started a joint charitable trust to help fund the most committed students to continue with their gliding training.

While the club continued to operate through the covid years, the lack of international peak season instructors meant it could not operate a full seven-day-a-week schedule for members, schools, and Air Cadets.

Former Kuranui student Jess O’Neill went on her first flight in 2019 as a year 11 student.

“I did the six-flight programme and got hooked.

“Gliding is an amazing thing to do, it’s so fun to soar up and down Wairarapa, and it makes you grow so much as a person.

“And it’s not just the gliding. I earned NCEA credits, and learned how to drive; it really boosted my confidence and taught me to make decisions,” O’Neill said.

Kuranui principal Simon Fuller said the programme was a fantastic opportunity for students.

“Very few schools in New Zealand offer aviation, but we have a long-term relationship with the club, which has been more formalised over the past few years.

“The kids just relish it, and some get their solo before they learn to drive.

“It builds their confidence, their analytical brains; it’s just an incredible programme,” Fuller said.

He said the joint charitable trust was a new vehicle to raise funds and give scholarships so that any determined student could work toward their solo glider license.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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