Soaring the Solstice

By Simon Ruppert

The Gliding Club of Victoria made the most of the shortest day of the year by hosting the first annual ‘‘Soaring the Solstice’’ event in Benalla.

With limited thermals and daylight, two things essential to unpowered flight, mid-winter is usually the time gliding enthusiasts need to find another hobby.

However, this year gliding club members were up before dawn preparing their equipment with the concept of challenging themselves to see how long they could stay in the air before being forced to land.

In all there were 51 launches during the day with the winning pilots managing to stay up for an incredible 90 minutes.

Club member David Shackleford said the idea came from the mantra of ‘‘Let’s make our own fun’’.

‘‘In mid-winter glider pilots tend to be in a bit of a slump,’’ David said.

‘‘There are no thermals around, so any flying you do involves getting towed up and basically just coming straight back down, so a lot don’t even fly in the winter.

‘‘So we came up with the concept to give the club a good social day as much as anything.

‘‘We set the challenge to see how many hours we could clock up between dawn and dusk.

‘‘I think the average flight was about 20 to 30 minutes, but we had two pilots who were outstanding.

‘‘Sonja Fabig and Ailsa McMillan were in a two seater and they were in the sky for more than an hour and a half.’’

With the first ‘‘Soaring the Solstice’’ being hailed a big success it is looking like it might well grow to include other clubs.

‘‘Next year we’ll do the same thing again and we’ll make it a bit more interesting,’’ David said.

‘‘Next year we’ll divide people into teams who will play off against each other to see who can clock up the most minutes in the air.

‘‘The other option is to challenge another club to an inter-club challenge.

‘‘I’ve spoken to Mandy Temple from the Gliding Federation of Australia and when she heard she said it was absolutely fantastic.

‘‘And what came from that conversation is that we might make it an inter-club challenge if others want to take part.’’

●For more information on the Gliding Club of Victoria, visit