Best pilots take to air for national club title

Last updated 12:00 22/02/2014
 Nelson Gliding Club instructor Frank Saxton
BLUE YONDER: Nelson Gliding Club instructor Frank Saxton will compete in the club class national gliding championship from tomorrow

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Glider pilots will be about the serious business of a national champs at Nelson Lakes over the next week.

The 2014 Alpine Lodge club class national gliding competition launches tomorrow and progresses through next week with the champion among the 12 competitors decided next Saturday.

With the reigning champion - Auckland's Steve Wallace - flying at the world champs, there will be a different name etched on the trophy in 2014 and Nelson is represented by Frank Saxton, an instructor from the hosts, Nelson Lakes Gliding Club.

Pilot Dane Dickinson is coming home from Belgium, a Kiwi who has flown in the junior wold champs. There are also two more under-25 pilots who have flown in the Australian junior nationals, coming up from Christchurch. One is Alex McCaw, whose cousin plays rugby for the All Blacks, and the other is Nick Oakley, a farmer, also from the Canterbury region.

Nelson's Michael Strathern, who came second overall last year, is the race director. He was busy writing the search and rescue procedures yesterday, and is one of the Nelson club's five instructors. "It's an amazing sport," said Strathern. " It's quiet, it's clean and you are pitching yourself against the elements.

"You race around the beauty of the national park and the mountains, and it is totally reliant on your skills."

Strathern described gliding as a very pure form of flight, and he says: "It makes a very good pilot of you.

"I mean, look at that guy who landed a plane in the Hudson River when the engines failed, he was a glider pilot and he attributes that sort of landing to his gliding."

While there are unlikely to be any pilots landing in the Buller River, many of the local pilots will be flying, but not in competition.

Only pilots who have qualified will represent their club.

Strathern, who finished second overall last year, is almost at pains when he says that he won't be flying - remembering the thrill of the flight when he completed a loop at 13,000ft over Mt Cook last year.

Launch height at the Lakes is about 2000ft, though after catching thermal updrafts they can reach heights of 15,000ft.

The cross-country racing tasks will clock around 300km. For example, a take-off from St Arnaud may have a set task to Mt Owen to Lewis Pass, Molesworth and back to St Arnaud.

They can fly at speeds up to 150 knots but they will average about 80 to 100kmh over the race with the GPS recording units by which the position and height are measured every two seconds.

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The fastest around the set task or the farthest, if no-one gets around, will win the day's racing and the national champion will be the most constant pilot through the week.

- Nelson

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