Members Stories – Mark Wakem

03 Feb 2023

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Gliding is all about making decisions in flight: when I get them right, I can fly higher and further than with an engine.

– Mark Wakem; 1400 hours power, 770 hours gliding, long time Midland Gliding Club member

As a general aviation (GA)  pilot you will have seen gliders en-route.  Perhaps you were surprised that they were far from any gliding club on your chart, and wondered how they got there.  Midland Gliding Club member Mark Wakem has been flying GA aircraft and gliders for more than 40 years. He describes what makes gliding different:

“Power flying is about executing the plan I made on the ground;  once in the air, the aim is to stay in one dimension, meaning on track at the chosen height, deviating only if something unusual happens.  Gliding is all about making decisions every moment in flight, looking for the best way to top up on height – the ‘fuel’ for a glider.“

Glider pilots routinely complete out-and-return flights of more than 200 miles in the UK.  Like GA pilots, they ‘navigate’ and ‘communicate’, but at the same time they must read the air ahead as they fly, looking for lift, avoiding sink, and exploiting differences in the wind strength at different heights. They ‘aviate’, of course, but flying sufficiently well to quickly gain height in thermals is demanding.  GA pilots converting to gliding usually have to polish their skills so they can fly close to the stall, at high bank angles, for many minutes at a time to stay in the fastest rising air.

Mark describes the particular satisfaction he gets from gliding:

“Staying airborne for several hours in a glider requires 100% concentration, accurate flying and the flexibility to navigate in three dimensions to make the best of the conditions.  It means picking and flying through the best areas of lift (even if that means travelling a little further), deciding where and how high to climb before moving on, and how low to get before climbing again.  The workload is consistently high, but there is no better feeling than using my skills and knowledge of the air to defy gravity, and knowing that when I get it right, I can fly higher and further than with an engine.”