One hundred years before the Wright Brothers, Sir George Cayley had developed the first proper understanding of the principles of flight. In 1853, fifty years before the first powered flight was made at Kitty Hawk, the first man-carrying glider flight was made across Brompton dale in the north of England by Cayley’s coachman.
The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of ‘three axis control’ and this was instrumental for the start of flying the first aerobatic manoeuvres.
Gliding took a giant leap forward in 1909, when the world’s first recorded soaring flight took place from atop Amberley Mount, West Sussex. The glider was designed and built by Jose Weiss, a French artist living in Amberley and flown by a local lad, 17 year-old Eric Gordon-England . Eric gained a height of 50ft and flew for 59 seconds before landing in the valley below.
Southdown Gliding Club, home to GliderFX latest aerobatic gliders, is now at Parham airfield, only a few miles away from Amberley.
There were National Aerobatic Championships in the early days, but the British interest in aerobatics all but fizzled out sometime in the 1950s or 60s.
A visiting Polish instructor, Josef Solski, sparked off the latest awareness at Lasham Gliding Centre in 1980s, and combined with the production of some very aerobatic Polish gliders in the 90s, the modern competition and airshow scene was born.
The current display team’s history goes back over 20 years. Guy Westgate first flew gliders at RAE Farnborough and learnt some basic figures with Alex Trueman in the RAE club’s IS28-B2 all metal two seat trainer in 1987. After some powered aerobatic training at British Airway’s training college in Scotland during 1992, Guy started to learn the art of competition glider aerobatics and flew in both the UK Nationals and World Aerobatic Competitions in ASK21, Lo 100 and S1 Swift gliders.
Guy flew the Austrian factory demonstrator MDM-1 Fox in 1996, and was so impressed he ordered one.
Our Glider display team first started in 1998, with an invitation by the late Peter Eager, Flying Display Director and visionary of the Shoreham Airshow. Peter was looking for a new display, and whilst waiting for his new Fox to be delivered, Guy rented the the German agent’s demonstrator Fox, D-4034.
The MDM-1 Fox is an amazing glider, copied largely from the S-1 Swift (same NACA wing section) which itself was an evolution of the 1964 designed Polish SZD-21-2B Kobuz 3. The 2-Seater ‘Fox’ is a pleasure to fly, predictable and surprisingly stable in the vertical, but with sufficiently frisky handling to enable unlimited level manoeuvres to be flown both at competition and air displays.
Our first Fox s/n224, ‘JKC’ arrived in 1999, bought by a syndicate of 10 pilots and was immediately pressed into action flying at the UK national championships and its first public display at Shoreham. The displays were flown in a competition style, featuring aerobatics from 4,000 feet, the glider starting its flight from Southdown Gliding Club, and towed towards the 10miles to the Shoreham display site.
In the following years, the display act evolved to launch from the display site, first to give the spectators a more complete understanding as to how the glider got airborne, and then manoeuvring on the aerotow to spice up the tow and provide some action even when cloudbase limited a full display.
Our first inverted aerotow, and our now trademark ‘roll on tow’ maneuver was at Shoreham Airshow in 2003 followed by several venues the following year, being towed by Super Cub from Southdown Gliding Club, RAFGSA Supermunk (Chipmunk) and Robin DR-400 from the London Gliding Club.
The Extra 300L towplane came on the scene late in 2005, with the first public displays during the 2006 season including Biggin Hill and Farnborough. The blisteringly fast roll-rate of the Extra 300L extended the possibilities to fly synchronised rolls on aerotow and more dynamic wing-overs, barrel rolls and near vertical zoom climbs, all whilst still being attached together by the rope.
2007 Saw the principle glider change from the MDM-1 Fox to the purpose built Polish S-1 Swift with the import of s/n 110 from Florida, USA, and marked the start of our links to the RAFGSA. Halton staff Ian Gallacher and Paul Moslin owned a rare Vogt Lo100 aerobatic glider based at the RAFGSA centre. The tiny wooden glider, designed in 1952 was the perfect formation partner to celebrate the history of aerobatics.
2008 was a year of innovation and change. Just as the union of aerobatic towplane and glider become more harmonized, tragically we lost the Extra 300L in a cross-country accident. The owners have since replaced the Extra, but regrettably the new airframe does not have a tow hook.
In aviation, as in life, when one door closes, many others open and we met Peter Wells the same year. Peter flies the stunning little retractable gear SA180 Silence Twister, and we embarked on probably the most successful chapter of the teams history.
The Swift Aerobatic Display Team was formed to promote a new integrated display, showcasing the best elements of the glider’s presentation combined with Pete’s solo twister display in one package.
The combination worked well, and 2009 was our busiest year to date, with the Team flying over 60 public displays at venues as diverse as Al Ain in UAE and Dala Jarna in Sweden. We also flew several sea side displays, with the glider never releasing from the tow rope.
2010 was another busy year and saw the start of our brightest project, the twilight pyro show, first featured at Odyssey 2010 in West Sussex. Not only did the Swift Team enjoy another busy season, but Pete Wells rolled out his second Silence Twister and formed the Twister Duo, quickly establishing itself on the display circuit and performing over 50 displays in its inaugural year. As our confidence grew we started to extend our range and aerotowed the Swift as far as Scotland, Cornwall and Germany during the season.
Towards the end of the 2010, our S1 Swift was badly damaged in a landing accident at the Shoreham Airshow. The pilot Mike Newman was hurt but thankfully made a good recovery. Thanks to the generosity of John Marriot at Bicester and the Dutch Aerobatic Glider Association we were able to complete the season with John’s Pilatus B4 and the Dutch Fox, including displays in Sanicole and Barcelona.
We found a replacement Swift, s/n111 in Austin,Texas, but it was also badly damaged and so in 2011 a new glider, a 2 seat MDM-1 Fox G-IIFX, joined the team. By a pleasant coincidence, it is the very same glider that started the team’s display flying at Shoreham in 1998, and was sold by the German agent to Switzerland in 2000.
The team also changed its name to Gliderfx, a play on phonics to read glider effects.
The MDM-1 Fox allowed the team to broaden it’s appeal to display organisers not only matching the display abilities of the Swift, but also allowing us to share the thrill of gliding with the public as a training aircraft. See the “What we Offer” page for more information.
Paul Holdnall joined the team as tugpilot and we purchased our own tow plane, and embarked on another year of innovation with the addition of a banner tow hook to the PA25 Pawnee and with help from Simon Moores of Airads, we passed our training and towed 15 banners over the first year in UK, Holland and Belgium. Peter Wells’ two Twisters took on a new identity as the SWIP Team and displayed as a formation display, allowing the glider to again take centre stage.
Over the 2011 Winter we started a training program with the Fox, flying from Edgehill, Parham, North Hill and Bannerdown (Keevil) and that summer added some new display venues for the Fox, Volkel Holland, Pershore, Sywell and Dala Jarna in Sweeden.
2012 was the year of the London Olympics, and much of the year was spent building up to the pyro flight that opened the Paralympic Games. The LED and Pyro technology we used on the twin engine Tecnam was an evolution of what we had developed for the Fox and Twisters. The historic flight also started our partnership with Aerobility, a Charity based at Blackbushe, with a mission to help disabled pilots to fly.
Gliding was an Olympic sport briefly in the 1940s but ditched from the lineup after the war in Europe. We flew another Olympic tribute at Shoreham Airshow that year, a formation of two 1947 ‘Oly’ gliders.
Our display over Barcelona in 2010 sparked interest with the Spanish Gliding club in La Cerdanya, and we agreed to base our Fox there for the 2012/13 winter, completing over 100 aerobatics training flights, with some spectacular wave flying in the mountains.
The next year we flew with TV personality and Motorbike racer Guy Martin for his TV series ‘Speed’. He was learning to fly a human powered aircraft for a record attempt, but enjoyed the Fox far more than filming.
We advanced both our pyrotechnics and lighting effects to expand the appeal and flexibility of our twilight displays and experimented with some large printed sheet banners to add quality, colour and impact to our flying message.
Paramotor specialist Michel Carnet joined us to launch a new concept in flying displays.
The Fox took another winter vacation in Spain where we met with skydivers Andres Vazquez Maso and Alain Dony at La Cerdanya. Together we explored the possibility of jumping from the Fox, exits from loops, and rolls, and eventually firing the skydiver straight up at 100mph.
Back in UK, we launched into another busy display season for 2014. The glider had a complete make-over with new paint and a temperature treatment to permit coloured graphics across the wings.
We expanded the LED matrix on the Fox in partnership with Advanced LED in Derby to make every LED lens separately controlled by a computer. The result was spectacular.
We also started work with some firework companies to coordinate ground fireworks with our flying pyro.
The Fox spent a third winter in the Pyrenees, and caught some of the legendry wave for several flights above 10,000ft and we developed the skydiving concept further with Andres.
That summer we flew more training camps at Leeuwarden and Husbands Bosworth and at the end of the year packed up for our second invite to the Al Ain airshow in December 2015.
We flew our first public display of the new skydiving act in the UAE, and at the end of the show, took the Fox glider to Skydive Dubai’s desert runway to present the act to the boss, Nasser Al Neyadi. He loved it, and invited us to stay for a few weeks and fly with SkyDive Dubai.
Aerotowing to 10,000ft over Dubai was quite surreal, and we pioneered some unique flights, formation flying with wingsuits and jumping over the Palm Jumeirah.
2016 was a difficult year in UK and Europe with a number of show cancelations in the wake of the Shoreham tragedy, but shows continued, with skydiving in France, and pyro shows across UK and Europe.
The 2016 winter, we accepted an invitation to go back to Dubai with the Fox, and rolled out our latest glider, the Austin Swift that we christened the ‘Phoenix’, arisen from the wreck we found 2010.
Rob Barsby joined the team as a tug pilot and we formed a new partnership with Simon Wood and Colin Whitehead of 2429 Technologies to develop the LED and pyro firing system to take our displays to the next level.
We shipped the new Swift to New Zealand, for our first display south of the equator.
GliderFX – Up and Up!!
If the display has enthused you to try gliding, there are almost one hundred clubs across UK able to provide lessons. The coordinating body in UK is the British Gliding Association (BGA). You can find your nearest club here.
The glider aerobatic scene is overseen by the British Aerobatic Association (BAeA), who coordinate all the competitions. Aerobatic instruction is hard to find, but is coordinated here.
Finally paragliding and powered paragliding (Paramotor flying) is overseen by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA). There are training schools across the country and the website has an excellent “learning to fly” section here.