The Wayland News Page 13



here can be few people in Watton who haven’t heard
slightly discordant musical whistles above them,
looked and have seen a white and orange glider
passing overhead. Have you ever wondered who was
in it? Would it surprise you to learn that the lone pilot could well
be a 16 year old girl or boy?
Despite that young age, you certainly don’t need to worry; the
pilot has been trained by the staff at one of Watton’s best kept
secrets, 611 Volunteer Gliding Squadron based on the airfield at
RAF Watton.
Cadets from all the Air Training Corps Squadrons in the Norfolk
and Suffolk Wing and some from the Bedfordshire and
Cambridgeshire Wing, as well as School Combined Cadet Force
Units come to Watton on Gliding Scholarships, to attend 611
VGS as a part of their activities with their cadet unit.
To gain an understanding of their work, I joined 611 for a week
as they trained a group of cadets on Gliding Scholarships, to
become pilots able to take off, fly and land a glider with
sufficient skill to be safely sent solo.

I chatted with Sgt. Ollie Moate, pictured below with
Instructor Aimee Petch, a Cadet with 864 (Watton) Squadron
for 3 years, a couple of days into the course to find out how
he came to be here and how he was getting on.

The history of 611 Volunteer Gliding Squadron goes back a long way, in fact 611 are
celebrating their 65th Anniversary this month.
E102 Gliding School, as 611 VGS was known in the beginning, was formed at Hethersett
Racecourse, 6 miles south of Norwich in October of 1944. Their first machines were two
Kirby Cadet Mk1’s and a Dagling Primary glider. Surprisingly perhaps, these were single
seat machines with no opportunity for the budding pilot to be taken aloft and have the
principles of flight demonstrated to them as is done today!
The school moved to RAF Horsham St. Faith (now Norwich International Airport) in
June 1945. In 1955 reorganisation within RAF Reserve Command led to the school
being absorbed into No. 61 Group and was renamed No.611 Gliding School. The
unit remained at Horsham St Faith for eight years until, in June 1953; it was
relocated to RAF Swanton Morley where it remained for the next 42 years. In July
1978 the school became one of the first 10 units to be re-equipped with the
Venture T Mk2 Self-Launching Gliders. The school was awarded the Slingsby
Trophy for the best Venture unit in both 1983 and 1985.
Conventional winch launch gliders returned to the unit in March 1987 when 5
Viking TX1’s replaced the Ventures. When Swanton Morley closed in 1995 the
school temporarily relocated to RAF Marham while a new hanger and
accommodation was being built at the old RAF Watton airfield.
In October 1996 the aircraft were flown from Marham to Watton which is
where of course the Squadron still operates today.
611 won the Racal Trophy in 2005/2006 and the Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy
for the best Viking unit in 2007/2008. That year all VGS were renamed
Volunteer Gliding Squadrons.

In an issue of Flight Magazine dated October 11th 1928 is a piece of news that reads as follows:
The Bournemouth Young Airmen's League
The above-named movement has for its aims and objects: The encouragement of young boys in
airmindedness and the necessity for aviation in the future of the British Empire.
The members are boys between the ages of 13 and 15 years, and are very keen on the work, which at
present consists of learning the elementary principles of flight and general construction of machines
from a 4-ft. span model. They are also constructing a large machine with a span of 18 ft. for
instruction in rigging and general ground work. The movement is entirely self supporting, the boys
paying a small subscription of 3d per week and 6d on enrolment.
Badges denoting rank are given as members qualify for same, and are worn on sleeve of coat, the
uniform consisting of blue double-breasted blazer with brass buttons and grey flannel shorts with
peak caps.
Disciplinary training after the manner of boy scouts is also a part of the programme. These particulars have been kindly sent to us by
Mr. Charles Longman, the secretary, The Cottage, 28, Wimborne Road, Bournemouth.
The League had been formed by an ex-RFC Flying Cadet, Charlie Longman, and ex-Air Mechanic, Bob Weller who felt there was a need to
encourage young men to become interested in aviation.
The pair later approached the Air League of the British Empire with a suggestion that a British Young Airman’s League should be formed.
It was suggested that each unit should be called a ‘squadron’ with its members being classified so that they would develop a feeling of
importance and responsibility and badges could be granted after passing certain tests. Wherever possible, gliding was also suggested as part of
the activities in which members could participate.
When Air Commodore Adrian Chamier was appointed to the post of Secretary General of the Air League of the British Empire in 1933 he
was well aware of the need to attract young men into aviation and over a period of years worked to persuade the Air League to support the
institution of an Air Cadet Corps. His work bore fruit when, in July 1938 the first squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps (ADCC) was
formed. By the end of 1940 there were over 200 squadrons in existence.
The ADCC changed when, on 10th January 1941, The Right Honourable Sir Archibald Sinclair released details of the formation of the new
Air Training Corps. He said in a radio broadcast that the organisation was being formed in order to meet the growing needs of the Royal Air
Force and Fleet Air Arm for pilots and aircrew to fly the new aircraft coming into service. He stressed that the scheme would depend on
suitable volunteers, who had previous air force or other service experience, coming forward to serve as officers and instructors within the
Corps. The scheme was to be open, mainly to boys of 16 years of age and over, although boys under that age would be allowed to participate
in training if they could be accommodated without detriment to the work of the others.
Sir Archibald said that there were two very high hurdles that had to be achieved. These were the physical and educational tests which were so
exacting as to make the Royal Air Force the ‘corps d’elite’. The headquarters of the new corps, with Air Commodore Chamier as the Chief
Commandant, was to commence operations on 11th January 1941.
When the new Air Training Corps came into existence on 5th February 1941, seven squadrons had already been established in Norfolk; five
were in Norwich, one in Great Yarmouth and one in Kings Lynn. Units were also being formed in various towns throughout Norfolk and
these became detached flights of the seven main squadrons until they had
enrolled around 50 cadets, when they became squadrons in their own right. The
Ollie joined the Air Training Corps in the summer of 2006 after learning of the activities of the ATC from a cousin who was
establishment of all units in Norfolk was controlled by the ATC committee in
a cadet with a London squadron. Ollie lives at Methwold, but after hearing from school friends that 864 (Watton) Squadron
Norwich and through this connection they all became part of Norwich Wing. In
was the best unit in Norfolk, he now makes the effort to travel here for parade every Monday and Wednesday evenings.
April 1941, Captain A A Rice, who was the prime instigator of the ATC in
For Ollie the initial attraction of the ATC was not flying but the range of activities on offer.
Norfolk, received a commission as a Flight Lieutenant and was appointed to the
“It’s great in Cadets” said Ollie, “they provide it all! Shooting, flying, adventure training and sports - the whole package of
post of Commanding Officer of the Norwich Wing.
core activities is what attracted me in the first place.”
Over the intervening years, the Air Training Corps has undergone many
Had always he wanted to fly? “Not really” he said “it was the ATC that introduced me to flying. I have now done several
changes in structure and organisation but it has always retained its core ideals.
Gliding Induction Courses and I have been able to take advantage of loads of air experience flights. I have already flown
Each year more than 60,000 cadets, volunteer staff and civilian committee
several times in a Tutor, and I have flown in a Hercules aircraft and Sea King and Griffon helicopters.”
members help engage in pursuits and rewarding opportunities such as
I asked Ollie how he had felt about spending time here in the unit’s accommodation, was he at all nervous at the prospect of
championing good causes in local communities, pursuing sporting events at a
a week away from home – I should have known better of course . . .
national level and becoming international youth ambassadors.
“Oh no! It’s great here because you feel a part of the team.” I was slightly surprised at that comment as I expected some
Air cadets aged 13 to 19 are given the chance, by the staff and volunteers of the
trepidation on his part so I asked him to expand on that.
Air Cadet Organisation, to learn to fly, develop skills to lead expeditions, tour
“Even as a cadet, you are working alongside all the staff and other cadets getting the gliders out and all the equipment ready
foreign countries, become target shooting marksmen, join a band and learn
to fly in the morning, then, all day, even when you are not flying, everyone is playing their part in getting the gliders up in
about aviation and aerospace. And this is only a small list of the many activities
the air.”
and opportunities available, all whilst making new friends.
So how was the flying so far? “It’s been really good! I had an hour and half yesterday. It was so good and we did loads of
One bit of trivia for you. There are a number of overseas ATC squadrons; for
upper air exercises and even a bit of aerobatics” he said with a grin all over his face. What was next on the course for him?
example No 1 (Overseas) Cyprus Squadron at RAF Akrotiri and No. 2
“My handling the aircraft is good now, I have done stalling, medium turns and soaring and I am just about to move on to take
(Overseas) Gibraltar Squadron. For some obscure reason the Gibraltar
offs, circuits and landings”
Squadron comes under the care of Norfolk and Suffolk Wing!
Overall all then, how did Ollie sum up his experience so far? One word, “Brilliant!”

The Wayland News Page 14


Crucial to the organisation of 611 are Staff Cadets. These are young people, sometimes only just left school, who are the foot soldiers of
the operation.
Cadets apply to join 611 by writing to the CO, Squadron Leader Stedman, and they will then spend a while as a Probationary Staff Cadet
on the unit to see if they have the right stuff. Usually of course the team will already know the cadet when they have attended GIC or GS
courses and so they already have a fair idea of how they will fit in when the application is first received.
Team work and supporting each other is very clearly demonstrated in everything they do, and it is probably more appropriate to describe
611 as a family than a Squadron. But it goes much, much further than that.
Staff and cadets are not super human of course and encounter the same day to day troubles that we all do. And when a member of the 611
family has a problem, the unit closes ranks and supports each other through difficult times.
Within the organisation, there is none of the elitism you might expect; everyone mucks in, be it flying cadets or washing up, winch driving
or hangar floor sweeping, it is all the same. Everyone gets on
with a camaraderie and banter that is most impressive.
And yet, all the time, there is respectfulness of rank and
position, and when the situation demands, military discipline
kicks in and instructions are carried out with a will.

In the Squadron kitchens, I found Staff Cadets Foggy
Vincent and Liz Dodd preparing dozens of hot dogs for the
midday meal which would be taken on the airfield. Both
Foggy and Liz are staff cadets with 611, Liz is with a
Combined Cadet Force unit in Suffolk and is a G1 pilot.
Foggy is an air cadet who lives at Tibenham and is a member
of 759 (Beccles) Squadron. Foggy is building her hours
ready to become a G1. Both were there for the whole week
and were expecting to spend most of their time cooking –
though I did at one point find Foggy wearing the duty pilots
jacket at the launch point – how’s that for versatility?
They would be preparing breakfast and lunch for everyone
and evening meals for the staff; cadet’s evening meals being
taken off unit.
I asked about who did the washing up. Back came the
response in unison “If you don’t cook, you wash up!” and
they implied that most of the male staff were not as good at
cooking as they were at flying, therefore most of the washing
up was done by the males!

Cadets will come to 611 VGS from the age of 13 even though they
can’t fly solo until they are 16 but prior to that they will come to a
series of Gliding Induction Course (GIC) each of which lasts one day.
On their initial GIC (GIC 1) a cadet is introduced to gliding by being
briefed on airfield safety and is then taken aloft and is given a chance
to familiarise themselves with the local area. The effects of pitch are
demonstrated and this is followed up on GIC 2 with a recap of all that
was learned on GIC 1 and the effect on the aircraft a roll manoeuvre.
On the third GIC, there is another recap of everything learned to date
and the effect of yaw is demonstrated. A student, if comfortable, may
also experience a gentle stall.
A stall is where the aircraft speed falls below that necessary for the
aircraft to fly. Its sounds much scarier than it is, all that happens is that
the aircraft’s nose drops and it enters a gentle dive where speed builds
up and normal flight returns. During GIC flights, cadets are allowed
to handle the controls and gain experience in how the aircraft handles
in the air.
Cadets will return to further GICs from time to time during their time
with the ATC and those who demonstrate aptitude and keenness will
be given more advanced instruction.
Cadets over the age of 16 are chosen by their Squadrons to be put
forward for Gliding Scholarships (GS), the only requirement being
the age and a valid medical certificate. 611 VGS run five week long
GS courses every year as well as running them over several
All GIC and GS courses are run according to a carefully designed
syllabus of ground school and flights which introduces the cadets to
all they need to know to fly safely.
There are several grades of instructor. The Grade 1 pilots are staff
pilots with several hundred launches in their log book, they are
authorised to take up passengers and demonstrate aircraft handling
characteristics. The main task for G1s is to deliver the Gliding

It is possible to launch gliders in a number of ways. For example, they can be towed into the air by another aircraft, the so called aero tow,
but at 611 the gliders are launched into the air by winching them on the end of a long cable. Although the launch depends very much on the
conditions at the time and the pilot’s skill, a typical launch
is around 1,000 feet although double and occasionally more
is possible.
The winch (pictured right) at 611 VGS is a remarkable piece
of equipment and everything about it is impressive. It has
six drums each holding around 6,000 of steel hawser cable,
that’s just over a mile and each cable weighs in at well over
a ton.
The winch is powered a large diesel engine similar to that
found in a lorry. This drives a torque converter which in
turn drives one of the six drums through selectable nonslipping, dog clutches. The power is such that at launch, the
glider and the ton or more of cable laid out is accelerated to
around fifty knots in just a couple of seconds. Needless to
say, a great deal of energy is involved in achieving this and
strict safety procedures are adhered to prevent damage to
equipment or injury to staff and cadets.
For example, it would be easy to over-stress an aircraft by excessive speed at launch, but a mechanical fuse, the weak link, protects the
aircraft, and winch, from just such a problem. The links and cables are checked regularly to ensure that no damage has been sustained but
they do occasionally fail. Because the loss of power during launch can be problematic to say the least, the actions necessary in the event of
just such an emergency are routinely practiced.



Sgt. Ben Bowler is a 17 year old Cadet with No. 759 (Beccles) Squadron and
lives at Stoke Holy Cross some 26 miles from Watton. Ben so enjoyed his GIC
and GS courses with 611, he has joined the Squadron as a Probationary Staff
Cadet. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Ben’s story is that he cycles
backwards and forwards to Watton from Stoke Holy Cross every weekend on a
machine that he built himself! I asked him why he did this . . .
“I want to be a full time Staff Cadet with 611 and become a full member of the
Squadron and fly” he replied. “When you volunteer to be a Staff Cadet you undertake
to be here as often as possible and so I cycle in as it’s the only way for me to get here”
Had he always wanted to fly? “I’ve been flying since I was quite young. I enjoy it
and when I could, I joined my local flying club, helped out there and now I have
a few hours powered flying. I also joined the air cadets as it seemed the natural
thing to do. I came to Watton as a cadet on a GIC and GS and I knew then I
wanted to join 611.”
Surprisingly Ben is not considering a career in the RAF at this time. “I am
looking at a more business based career” he said “I am doing my A levels in
Business, Maths and Physics.”
Ben’s skills don’t stop there however; on his list of jobs to do at 611 is a review
and possible redesign of 611’s website!



The Wayland News Page 15

Induction Course to cadets who are attending courses and introduce
them to the thrill of flight. G1s generally progress on to become C, B
and A Category instructors. These are all highly qualified instructors
who will take the cadets through to the stage when they can be safely
sent solo, though the final decision to allow a cadet to take this major
step is restricted to the CO and his deputy.

Above: every
day starts with
a full briefing.
Right: A
broken winch
cable is joined
by means of
copper sleeves
with a closed
with a
hydraulic press

The duty pilot, who is responsible for the safe and smooth operation of the whole launch process, ensures that aircraft are lined up and
made ready for launch on time and in good order. The aircraft is held level by a wing tip runner while the crew go though the list of checks
and procedures carried out before every launch. When the aircraft’s crew are happy that they are ready to fly, the pilot will call for the
cable to be attached with the command to the ground crew of “cable on”. The ground crew will hold the cable ready and asks the pilot to
open the hook by calling “open”. The pilot pulls on his cable release in the cockpit and this draws back the hook which links the cable to
the aircraft. After inserting the ring on the end of the cable, the ground crew call “close” and the pilot releases his control and the security
of the attachment is then checked by pulling on the cable. If all is well, the crew man moves out of the way.
A final check that it is all clear “above and behind” is carried out the wingman who signals the result to the pilot. Only when the pilot is
completely confident that all is well will he then call “take up slack” to the wingman who repeats this command to the control caravan with
a shout and an arm signal. The crew in the caravan then signal to the winch to start taking up slack cable by a series of slow, long flashes
of the signalling lamp. Lamps are used to signal as, unlike radio, they cannot be interfered with. Just as the cable starts to pull on the
aircraft, the pilot, if still happy all is well, will call “all out”.
All around the launch area everyone has their eyes on the sky and the ground ahead and should anyone spot a hazard, the shout of “Stop,
Stop, Stop” will cause the launch to be aborted.
At the calling of “all out” the winch is signalled with a series of rapid short flashes and at the other end of the airfield, the winch operator
becomes the second most important person in the whole operation. He and the pilot form a partnership with the aim of getting the aircraft
into the air safely and to the maximum possible height.
The winch driver for much of the week was Henry 'Grandad' Restell
(pictured left). I asked him how he got the Grandad tag given that he could
be only be in his early twenties at most. “I was the oldest on my first GIC
here” he said, “Someone called me Grandad and it just stuck!”
Did he mind being on his own detached from the rest of the process?
“Absolutely not, it’s a job needs to be done.”
Where did he come from? “I travel up every weekend from Hastings, usually
leaving about 9pm on the Friday evening so as to be ready to start on the
Saturday morning”.
On seeing the “all out” signal, the Henry advances the throttle and causes the
drum in use to start to spin hauling in cable at a terrific rate. The driver
carefully monitors the progress of the aircraft during the launch by watching
the ‘bow’ in the cable, slowly reducing the power as the aircraft climbs.
If the pilot feels the aircraft is travelling too fast during the launch, he can
signal to the Henry, by moving the rudder from side to side which causes the
aircraft to ‘waggle’. On seeing this, the winch driver will decelerate the
winch further to allow the speed to reduce.
When the aircraft approaches the maximum altitude of the launch, the pilot
will dip the nose and pull the cable release which allows the cable to detach
from the aircraft. Should, for some reason, the pilot fail to pull his release, a
mechanism known as the back release, automatically detaches the cable from
the aircraft.
Once released the winch engine is accelerated and the cable is drawn in at
relatively high speed, a small drogue parachute on the end of the cable providing
some back resistance to tow in against and to keep the cable from tangling.
Extreme care is taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the
operation as a flailing cable travelling at high speed will easily cut a person
in half, and this why it is most important for anyone not involved with the
operation to stay away from the airfield at all times.
To ensure a thorough knowledge of the emergency procedures to be followed in the event of a launch failure caused by a cable breaking, practice
exercises are flown quite frequently. After demonstrating and teaching launch failures, Instructors will test cadets with an unannounced early
release. This gives the cadets the skills and confidence they need to handle difficult and potentially dangerous situations.
I asked Adam Clarke, one of the instructors, how students reacted to this exercise. “I always brief my students never to expect a thousand
feet again after their first practice launch failure and I’ve had some
very mixed responses to their first surprise failure” he said.
“They have varied from curses as they realise what has happened, to
one girl who bounced around the cockpit with joy after her first low
level practice failure. For her it was a moment of elation as, for the
first time, she was able to see the winch. Very entertaining” he said
with a grin.
Had he ever been scared as an instructor by anything a student
did? “No, not really” was his reply, “we train in stages and only
when I am confident a student is competent at any given stage do
we move on to the next one. In this way we do not stretch a
student to the point that they cant cope with an exercise so as to
maintain maximum safety.”
Pictured right: Flying Officer James Stevens (RAF) is a serving
officer at Marham, here James is maintaining the logs and is
running launch control from the caravan

The glider used today to train cadets is the Viking TX1 which is the military designation for the Grob 103 Acro. The Viking is a two seat
trainer made of glass reinforced plastic which 611 have had since 1985. It is 26 feet 10 inches long with a wingspan of a little over 57
feet and weighs 870lbs empty.
Capable of aerobatics, it is a very stable machine in flight with no nasty surprises to catch out the unwary pilot; the large wing area gives
good low speed handling, a characteristic which of course makes it an ideal tuition aircraft. Another factor in its favour is the roomy
cockpit which makes life a little easier for those without the ability of a young mountain goat, to get in and out of!
The uninitiated are often surprised to see glider pilots wearing parachutes and conclude that the sport must be so unsafe that these are needed.
That is very far from the truth. In fact, the parachutes, although worn for safety’s sake, have a much more functional purpose, which is to
provide a back cushion for the pilot who sits reclined in an unpadded seat, sometimes for hours at a time, if conditions are good.

Above: A glider just about to pitch into the full climb. At this stage the aircraft has
acquired sufficient flying speed so that even a cable break at this stage could be safely
dealt with.
Right: Flight Lieutenant Luke Waskett-Booth (RAF) is briefing Cadet Sam Long
from 216 (Swardeston) Squadron on the finer points of positioning the aircraft in the
Below: One of the things that most impressed me at 611 VGS was the unbroken good
humour. For example there are many tasks associated with operating the Squadron
that are essential but entirely unglamorous.
Being part of the retrieve team is one such job. You wait around until a glider is about
to land then it must be got off the runway quickly and safely, quite a physical activity.
I saw the recovery crew relaxing between frantic bouts of activity and said “can I take
a picture?”. In an instant and with a smile on their faces, they posed with results
below. The smiles are not false - they are genuinely having a great time!

The Wayland News Page 16


By now you are probably wondering what it is like to experience a flight in a glider, and I will try and
give you a sense of what it is like from a beginner’s perspective.
After a full briefing on what the aims and objectives of the flight are, you climb into the front seat and
make yourself comfortable. The parachute on your back is your seat cushion and it is surprisingly good
at softening the hard seat. A full safety harness in fastened with the help of one of the ground crew.
Although it takes nearly a minute to be fully strapped in and to get comfortable, the entire harness can be
released and you can be free of the aircraft in less than a second by the twist of a release system. Behind
you is your instructor, Aimee, a surprisingly young looking “C Cat” instructor. She uses an aide-memoir
to go through the pre-flight checks to ensure that nothing is missed, something even the most
experienced instructors will do.
When all is ready, the wings are brought level, Aimee calls “cable on”, and the winch cable is attached to
the aircraft; after a final check is made for other machines in the circuit, the pilot calls out “take up
You sit there, waiting in almost total
silence, oblivious to all that is going on
around you, with a dry mouth and heart
pounding, looking down the grassy strip
ahead of you, watching and waiting for
the cable to start moving.
Suddenly you see it start to go taught
and the pilot calls “All out”.
For a second nothing happens as the
signal is relayed to the winch, then
suddenly, and without any further
warning, you are speeding down the
take off run being thrown around (or
rather, you would be, if you weren’t so
firmly strapped in), and it feels like the
aircraft will shake itself to pieces on the
lumps and bumps in what you
previously thought was a bowling green smooth piece of grass. In less than three seconds, and just as
suddenly, it all goes quiet and you are aware that the aircraft is airborne and flying just above the ground
and the speed is building.
A second later comes the second surprise. The pilot pulls back on her controls and the aircraft pitches
into a climb, at what seems an impossibly steep angle, and the sound of air rushing past the canopy is so
loud you can hardly hear the reassuring words of Aimee as she explains what is happening now and what
will happen next.
By this time, your shock and surprise at the speed at which events have taken place so far, starts to
subside, and you risk a look out of the canopy to the right and left, and the joy and exhilaration at what is
happening takes over.
Aimee starts to reduce the angle of climb, and slowly the aircraft levels out and then, after reminding you
that you will hear a loud thump, she dips the nose and releases the cable and you are free of any
connection with the ground. It is less than thirty seconds since you sat at the launch point and now you
are at 1,000 feet with the whole of Watton spread out in front of you in such a way that, at a glance, you
can see from one end of the town to the other and you begin to get an appreciation of what it is to fly like
the birds.
It is now so quiet in the cockpit, you can talk in a normal voice with your pilot as she points out some of
the landmarks in the local area and some further afield. The turbines at Pickenham and even Swaffham
are clearly visible as well as the water tower at Dereham which stands like a giant white mushroom in the
Then Aimee demonstrates the way in which the controls affect the aircraft. She shows how the rudder
pedals affect the yaw, or direction in which the aircraft is pointing (not travelling), and she then rolls the
aircraft by moving the control column from one side to the other. It is only by combining these two
control inputs in a coordinated manner can the aircraft can be made to turn.
“Would you like to see a stall”? She asks.
“OK” you reply, somewhat nervously,
“Well, the first thing we will do” says Aimee, “are the HASELL Checks”
“HASELL?” you ask.
“Yes, it’s a checklist of things to do before manoeuvres like this. H is height; are we high enough? A is
for Airframe, is everything correct in the aircraft for example, airbrakes locked in and locked; S is for
security, are our straps tight and no loose items in the cockpit, E is for engine – but of course we don’t
have one of those! It is a standard check for all aircraft, that’s why it is in there.”
Flying is full of mnemonics like this to remember vital actions.
“The first L is for location, are we in or will we enter cloud or are we above a built up area? And lastly
LOOKOUT. We need to be certain there is no else around so I’ll just do a 360 degree turn to make sure –
can you keep a lookout as well please? Four eyes are always better than two.” She says with a smile in
her voice.
Smoothly you go round and again Aimee checks you are happy.
“Here we go then. I’m pulling gently back on the stick and you can see the nose rising above the horizon
and if you watch the airspeed indicator you can see we start to slow down.” And indeed you do. One
thing about aircraft most people know is that they need to have a certain amount of speed in order to fly,
and you watch nervously as the pointer of the airspeed indicator starts to travel backwards.
“Here we go . . .” says Aimee, and in a most unspectacular way the nose drops below the horizon and
there is a sound of rushing air as the speed climbs again and your stomach experiences a sensation akin
to going over a hump back bridge a bit too fast. “Not too bad was it?” she asks as she brings the aircraft
back to normal attitude.
Actually no, it wasn’t and Aimee invites you to have a go. You grasp the top of the control column.
“You have control” she says
“I have control” you reply, although you very clearly don’t! But there is no need to worry, Aimee is still
there following your movements on the column and ready to retake control of the aircraft in an instant if
anything untoward happens.
“OK, pull back gently on the stick and watch to see how the nose responds.” You do as instructed and
are surprised at how little effort it takes to move the column. The speed bleeds off, and there’s that hump
back bridge again.
“Put the stick back to the middle and watch the speed build” says Aimee “then bring it back to
It is surprising how instinctive controlling an aircraft is, which seems to fly itself, such is its
stability. You don’t really need to think too hard about flying, but of course we are only starting
with the simplest of exercises. But by now we are reaching the point where Aimee must think about
landing. “I have control” she says.
“You have control” you reply and release your grasp on the column, realising it is just ever so
slightly sweaty.

Expertly she manoeuvres the glider to a position in line with the runway and we begin our descent
towards the ground. The noise level starts to build again as speed increases and it looks as if we will
fly into the ground at a point well short of where the other gliders are lined up and you start to
wonder if everything is OK. But then, the nose lifts, and you are flying along the runway just a few
feet off the ground and the wind noise starts to die away again as the speed reduces and like
stepping off an escalator, you touch down. What an experience!
Gliding is like nothing you have ever done before and is probably as close to true flight as humans
will ever get. It has a beauty and serenity about it that is, in my opinion unparalleled in any other
activity I can imagine.

A successful unit, with the highest standards,
as demonstrated by 611 VGS, does not just
happen by itself of course. It is given life and
spirit by the person in charge, and, in this
case, the man affectionately known by
everyone as “Boss” is Squadron Leader Ken
Stedman RAF VR (T). Ken leads by
example and it is a great tribute to him that
the unit runs so smoothly.
After 30 years in the paint industry, in 1987,
he started and continues to run his own
successful industrial powder and paint
supply business in Ipswich. He attributes
much of his personal and business success to
the confidence and life skills given him by
his involvement with the Air Cadet
He joined the Air Cadets at the age of 13, in
1958, with 1331 (Stowmarket) Squadron,
and then joined 611 in 1965 at Swanton
Morley and was commissioned in 1967 and
has been there ever since.
“We could write a history of people who,
through 611, have been trained and then
gone on to achieve very high standards either
as commercial pilots or in their chosen
profession in other civilian walks of life.”
“That’s what we do; we make people believe in themselves, if you can glide and teach young
people to glide, then you can do anything.”
Quite candidly, Ken said “For me, there is nothing better than to be in the air in a glider with a
cadet, teaching them the art of gliding.”
There are four A Cat Instructors on the unit. Squadron Leader Ken Stedman RAFVR (T), as
Commanding Officer, his deputy Flight Lieutenant Phil Melia RAFVR (T), Jerry Lightowler
Civilian Gliding Instructor, an ex OC of 611 and Flight Lieutenant Steve Bell RAFVR (T) Retd, a
captain with well over 10,000 hours flying helicopters for Bristows (and he started as his flying
career with 611 as a cadet!).
The A Cat’s train the Staff Cadets to Grade 1 Standard, and they then go away to the Air Cadet
Central Gliding Squadron at RAF Syerston in Nottinghamshire for qualification as a C Cat or B
Cat. The instructors are all checked quarterly by an A Cat instructor or higher. Checks involve the
demonstration of all the flying skills needed to teach safely at the designated level and cope with
emergency situations, and in this way the very highest standards are maintained.
As Boss, Ken carries
responsibility for the
unit. I asked him about
this as I wanted to know
what it was like to make
the decision to send a
student solo; did it
weigh on him at all?
“The responsibility is
always there” said Ken,
“but we have a very
good crew here and we
fly to very strict rules
and regulations but the
responsibility never
goes away. Even if I am
not here, I am still
responsible. But I have Ken’s preferred office - in the back seat teaching young people to fly
total confidence in my
staff and the system that documents the way we fly and teach.”
I commented that everything seemed so well organised and that even when an adverse comment
needed about someone’s performance, as I had seen at the morning briefing, the point was made,
accepted and everyone moved on.
“The point is” said Ken “there is a clear chain of command in the unit. From the officers, the duty
instructors to the staff cadets, everyone knows what has to be done and gets on with it. If I, as
Gliding Squadron Duty Executive, ask my deputy to do something, it’s done. Similarly all the way
down the chain, if it’s asked for, it’s done.”
“Everything that must be done, and can’t be done is clearly documented, leaving no room for doubt.
Without it we could not function as safely or as efficiently as we do.”
I asked Ken about his personal commitment to the Squadron given that he has his business to run,
not to mention a family life away from gliding.
“We all commit to at least every other weekend through the year plus we fly several one week
courses through the year; one at Easter, a second in May, usually two August courses, an October
course and again we are here at Christmas. It is a big commitment and of course it is all unpaid.”
And what did Eileen, Ken’s wife, think? “I am incredibly fortunate” said Ken “Eileen has supported
me right through the years and she knows and understands that once you take on the responsibility
of being the Boss of a gliding school, the rest of the staff expect you to be throughout the year,
which I try so to do. But I couldn’t do any of this without her enthusiastic support.”

The Wayland News Page 17



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‘Noted for Good Food’
Pictured from left to right and top to bottom:
Cadet Corporal Beverly Goodchild from, 188 (Ipswich) Squadron,
James Lyttle from March, Peterborough who has 12 hours
experience on light aircraft at Chatteris Airfield on a scholarship is
with his instructor, Flying Officer Mike Salter RAFVR(T),
Cadet Danny Montgomery goes through his check list with Corporal
Phil Harker (RAF).
A busy retrieve team, their task is to clear the landing area as
quickly and as safely as possible.
Left: The Wings Parade at the end of the course. Because o fthe
poor weather this week, unfortunately no one was able to go solo but
all cadets were presented with the blue wings.
Below: You can get an idea of the size of the organisation that is
611 VGS form the course shot below. The front row kneeling are the
visiting Cadets with 611 VGS Staff Behind

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There is a poem, High Flight, which has become a mantra for
pilots over the years. It was written by Pilot Officer Gillespie
Magee of No 412 squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force who
was sadly killed in a flying accident on 11th December 1941:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
I think I have a small sense of exactly what Pilot Officer Magee
was talking about.

As I reflect on the time I spent with them, I cannot help but marvel at the organisation that is 611
Volunteer Gliding Squadron. The commitment, the dedication and the professionalism
demonstrated by 611 staff and the cadets in achieving a standard that is recognised in the UK Air
Cadet organisation as one of, if not the best, Volunteer Gliding Squadrons in the country is a
great tribute to all concerned but especially the Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Ken
Stedman. Modestly he claims that the organisation is built on documented procedures, and
technically he is correct. But you cannot document spirit and enthusiasm; you can only engender
it by the very highest standards of command and leadership.
The senior staff and civilian instructors, equally but their heart and soul into the unit and as for
the Staff Cadets, all I can say is they are the best examples of this country’s youth that you will
see anywhere. I know I have used the term commitment several times, but just think about what
it takes to persuade Henry to drive up from Hastings every weekend, for Ben to cycle 25 miles to
be here, for Liz and Foggy to come and cook all week. It is without doubt something special and
is actually quite humbling to witness. The extraordinary efforts some of them make to be here
too, means for some of the young people, it is truly a case of “Per Ardua Ad Astra”
There are many, many people whom I should thank for helping prepare this feature, and it is not
possible to name them all. However I should particularly like single out Squadron Leader Ken
Stedman RAFVR, Officer Commanding 611 VGS and all his staff and cadets for treating me so
kindly on my several visits and answering my every question with enthusiasm.
I would also like to mention Flt. Lt. RE Fisher RAFVR (T) Retd. for allowing me to draw on his
extensive and invaluable knowledge on the history of the air cadet organisation and also for
allowing me free access to his archive of text and pictures.

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