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Something we at Redtail Telematics are proud of is working with such an interesting bunch of people, with lots of fascinating hobbies and interests.  I recently caught up with our CEO, Colin “the Dr” Smithers, to talk about his love of gliding (or his “other life” as he likes to call it).

It’s an interest that he’s very passionate about and will always be happy to talk about it with us in the office if we ask… he’s not been successful in trying to convince anyone to join him on a flight yet but I’m sure it won’t be long!

Do you ever take passengers with you?

Yes, most of the time as I normally fly a two-seater.  It’s quite sociable to fly with someone else and fun to share the experience for people who don’t have access to a two-seater.  It’s all about teaching a cross-country experience (leaving gliding range of your home site), plus there are four eyes looking out and not just two.

Sometimes my passengers are other glider pilots, sometimes trial flighters having their first experience.  The whole family has been up and my eldest son Robert has flown solo in his own right (not in my glider though).  My daughter has flown with me in competitions and is very chilled about it; she has even fallen asleep.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone in your glider?

660km, which seems a long way but it’s actually a failed 750km diploma attempt. ☹  It took a little over 8 hours!  I’ve failed twice at around that distance now (still waiting to achieve it)!

The world gliding distance record is over 3000km and flown in Chile in the Lee of the Andes in a phenomenon known as wave lift. The UK distance record is 1108km and set in Scotland, also in wave.

What’s the best sight you’ve seen while gliding?

The Forth Road Bridge appear through the clouds as I looked down.  I was flying from a site some way away – about  25 miles North, but it was a beautiful sight.

Forth Road Bridge

Are there any weather conditions you really can’t go out in?

If it’s too windy or when the cloud base is low or it’s raining.  You can fly through rain, but you don’t want to take off or land in it as we don’t have the same instruments as commercial airlines – you need to be able to see where you’re going!

What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone in your glider?

660km, which seems a long way but it’s actually a failed 750km diploma attempt. ☹  It took a little over 8 hours!  I’ve failed twice at around that distance now (still waiting to achieve it)!

The world gliding distance record is over 3000km and flown in Chile in the Lee of the Andes in a phenomenon known as wave lift. The UK distance record is 1108km and set in Scotland, also in wave.

Does the glider have a telematics device (black box) in it?  Why/why not?

It does!  We mostly track all our flights, and many pilots upload them to the national gliding ladder (a competitive ladder).

What’s your most thrilling flight?

Quite a few but one that stands out: Flying on a competition on a day with weather such that you shouldn’t really have left home. It was a low pressure, windy day in August that was always going to turn showery, but with strong thermals in the sunshine. The task was to fly down-wind (like driving down stream) – wind aloft was 30 knots blowing me Northeast towards the Wash – and after arriving at a pre-selected turning point return back home.

When I turned for home I had to find some lift; I had been under a cloud street – clouds that align with the direction of the wind. (This happens all the time but you only notice if you need them. Glider pilots see them everywhere at all times, especially when at garden parties or weddings instantly making them morose and bad company). On my way downwind I had dodged round a couple of showers – there’s always strong lift just downwind of a shower – but looking back some fifteen minutes later these had now merged into, well, what I can only describe it as a monster that was sure to wash me out of the sky, and indeed I watched a good friend suffer that fate before my eyes, as though a fly being swatted. So I chose to fly crosswind to an alternate cloud street with fewer showers which was wide and black and went as far as the eye could see up and down wind. Arriving underneath its edge I first met sinking air, I was around 1500 feet above the ground (AGL), and sinking fast, eventually 800 feet per minute (about 8 knots). “Do I feel lucky?” I thought.

I pressed on, constantly spotting for possible landing fields, and eventually the sink reduced to zero at about 900 AGL, or maybe less, certainly at a height where you should be considering preparing to for a field landing. Slowly this became climbing air and I watched the Vertical Speed Indicator rise slowly but firmly through 2kt, now feeling safer, although also watching The Wash getting larger and larger in the window. Quickly this became 4kt and feeling fine, through 6kt feeling positively buoyant, through 8kt feeling surprised, finally to 10kt and off the clock now feeling elated. This 1000ft per minute climb continued to cloudbase at 5,300ft and literally felt like I had just been lifted up to the heavens by the Hand of God, but by now looking straight down at The Wash. To put it into context, this is the same as climbing Ben Nevis from bottom to top in just three minutes. You don’t think of work under these conditions.

Although it was a fast ascent, it felt completely like I was just in a lift. It was a relatively normal thermal, just really powerful and my friends in other thermals nearby, although they were doing well, appeared to me to be going downwards.

Then I had to make my way up the street.  Flying in pretty much a straight line towards home I would slow down as far as possible in the thermals and speed up in the sink.  I progressed at a reasonable pace while, on that day, all of my friends had ended up on the ground.

That was my day to be lucky. I have learned that significant luck exists in business too – good and bad – you just have to recognise it, steering around bad luck and searching out and making good luck. The even greater similarity is the emotional roller-coaster ride in business through the ups and downs of fortune; it’s only the timescales that are different.

The true hazard in business is for those that do not recognise the part that luck pays, especially if they have first experienced good luck. Learning to navigate bad luck second comes much harder and as a huge surprise.

Can anyone fly?

Yes, most people who can safely ride a bike can learn to fly, although some have more aptitude than others.

If you’d like to read more about Colin’s gliding interest (his “other life”), there’s a previous article about it on the Post Online’s website >> https://www.postonline.co.uk/people/3239491/my-other-life-colin-smithers-redtail-telematics-gliding.