Glider pilot soars to 24,000 feet over hills

Wooler from 10,000ft. Picture by Graham White.
Wooler from 10,000ft. Picture by Graham White.

A north Northumberland glider pilot is currently leading the race for a prestigious trophy after soaring to 24,000 feet.

Borders Gliding Club pilot Andy Bardgett is currently leading the race for the De Havilland Trophy, awarded by the British Gliding Association each year for the greatest height gain on any single glider flight within the UK.

Andy and his wife Gillian live in Bamburgh, but he travels to Milfield every free weekend to fly with his clubmates.

He has served the Borders Gliding Club in various roles over the years; as an instructor, as a committee member and as chairman.

And on Saturday, August 18, Andy soared in his glider to a height of 23,491ft above Wooler, after starting his climb from a low point of 1,149ft behind Milfield Hill.

This gave him a height-gain of 22,343 feet, which is the greatest in the UK this year, which places him in pole position for the De Havilland Trophy.

However, Andy pointed out that more high flights will undoubtedly be made in the UK during the coming autumn season, so the chances of him keeping his current lead are probably 50-50.

“I spent a long time soaring, low on Milfield Hill before I flew across to Akeld Bridge, where a thermal took me to cloud base at around 2,800 feet, where I made contact with the wave,” he said.

“Climbing at up to 600 feet-a-minute, I reached the high point of my climb just a mile or so West of Wooler.

“I had my oxygen mask on all the time I was above 10,000ft, and although it was minus 25 degrees C outside my cockpit, the brilliant sunshine kept me warm inside, even though I was only wearing a light polo shirt; but my feet were like blocks of ice.

“The view from 23,000ft was stunning; I could see all the way from the Tay estuary in Scotland to the North Yorkshire Moors, down near Whitby.”

Wave flight is only possible because the Cheviot Hills deflect the westerly winds upwards, creating what is called mountain lee wave that can carry gliders to heights of 30,000ft and more – though nowadays the legal limit is 24,000ft.

Fortunately, the airspace in North Northumberland is largely free of air traffic control restrictions, since no commercial airline corridors cross the main flying zones, but permission has to be sought to climb above 19,000ft.