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Air Vice Marshal Alan Merriman spends a day with FFF
The Faulkes Flying Foundation was formed 6 years ago by Dr Martin (Dill) Faulkes. It aims to develop the character and self-determination of young people ranging in age from 10 to 25, and to interest them in aeronautics leading principally, but not exclusively, to employment in aviation. To this end, the charity operates a fleet of high performance sailplanes and powered gliders under the supervision and control of Dr Mike Woollard, a highly renowned pilot of great experience.

Mike and a small staff of dedicated aviation personnel aim to stimulate young people in science, technology engineering and maths through hands-on experience with real aircraft and flight simulation. The cost of this is subsidised by the Foundation. Small groups can spend a day or weekend at one of the three gliding sites and enjoy the thrill of flight and an aeronautical environment. I was recently able to experience this for myself at the airfield of the London Gliding Club at the foot of the Dunstable Downs. There, I learned about the routine provided for young visitors. It was a day of great excitement, even for me with my background of flying several different aircraft every day in years gone by.

The modern sailplane is one of the most advanced machines of today. It embraces the sciences of aerodynamics, materials, structures, stability and control and flight instruments. All are derived from a vast array of complex mathematical calculations. During flight, an understanding of meteorology, navigation, air traffic control and radio operation is essential. The visitor to Dunstable is surrounded by magnificent sailplanes on the ground and in the air. There is constant activity: a great thrill for the enthusiast and a motivation for the student.

Many years had passed since I last flew a glider. So I didn't expect to be given the controls on this first visit. But Mike Woollard is a highly experienced flying instructor, and in a confident sounding voice shortly after take-off in the remarkable Falkes motor glider, he spoke those magic words "You have control". As most of my flying has been on aircraft with fully powered controls the force needed to move the control column came as a bit of a shock. It was similar to driving a car without power steering after years of being used to power. Then, just as I was beginning to feel comfortable, to my horror Mike promptly switched off the engine. In most of the jets I have flown this would be courting disaster Indeed, it once caused me to eject from an aircraft. But now, gliding silently through the air, the combination of the lack of vibration and noise, no noticeable effect on the control of the machine and little change in performance, was remarkably calming.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my flight with Mike. Also, I saw what tremendous advances have been achieved in glider handling and performance over recent years, resulting from research and development in the many sciences behind the design and construction of these magnificent flying machines. This was driven home when I had the privilege during my visit to examine the sailplane with the highest performance in the world. With a glide angle of 65:1, this aircraft in still air will travel 13 miles for a height loss of only 1,000 feet. My mind went back to the days of the Hunter fighter which, without the engine, would cover 1 mile per thousand feet; and in the Harrier, about half a mile if you were lucky.

In the Foundation crew-room, teaching aids are prominent and include two stations for flight simulation and controls. Student programmes can extend to one week residential courses, which if required will qualify for the Duke of Edinburgh Residential Award. Also, school party day trips with flights can be booked, and corporate hospitality days for promoting a business or for raising money for the Foundation can be arranged. If education authorities, school governors and staffs, or business bosses are struggling to motivate young persons towards the science subjects, then the answer is to expose them to the exciting and stimulating experience of the Faulkes Flying Foundation. Indeed, the lack of interest in science and associated subjects prevalent amongst today's youth will rapidly disappear through participation in the sport of gliding. Faulkes Flying Foundation provides this opportunity and deserves strong support.

Air Vice-Marshal Alan Merriman CB CBE AFC & Bar FRAeS DL

(Retired chief test pilot RAF & past station commander of Boscombe Down) May 2006