Glider pilot makes unscheduled landing

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A Borders Gliding Club pilot had to make an unscheduled landing in a in a newly sprouted wheat field near Kelso.

Steve Rae – a long-distance lorry driver from Galashiels – was aiming to make a return trip from the club’s Millfield base to Bowhill, near Selkirk.

A relatively new glider pilot, Steve made it to Bowhill by climbing repeatedly to 4,000 feet along the edge of the Cheviots. When he got to Selkirk he thought he might as well fly over Galashiels, phoning his girlfriend from 3,000ft above her house and asking her to come out into the garden and wave to him. But as he set out for the club base at Milfield in Northumberland, the clouds were already collapsing and the energy was draining from the sky.

Realising he was not going to make it back to base, he flew over the gardens at Floors Castle at 1500ft before picking a spot in a field at Ferniehill farm, where he made a perfect landing. He landed so delicately that the only trace was a tyre track among the wheat.

He was soon greeted by a father and son from the nearby cottages at Ferniehill, who kindly ran to get a tractor to tow his aircraft to the nearest gateway.

Steve explained: “As I neared the golf course I noticed a really long field at Ferniehill which only had a short crop of what looked like barley seedlings in it. There were electricity pylons in the field, but they ran along one edge and were parallel to my landing track, so they posed no problem. 

“I had to clear some tall trees at the downwind end, but the field was so long that this presented no difficulty. 

“As I flew downwind I examined my landing area in great detail and everything looked fine. The crop was really short and there were no obstacles or stock in the field. I turned onto final approach with plenty of height to clear the trees. As the glider touched down it slowed rapidly and I did not need to use the wheel brake, since the ground was quite soft after all the rain earlier in the week.”

“Shortly after I landed a father and son, John and Gordon Heatlie appeared the road beside the field. They walked across to check that I was OK and to ask if I needed any help. Living in the farm cottages, they knew the farmer well and quickly arranged for a tractor to tow me to the gate before the gliding club crew arrived with the trailer to take the glider home.” 

Steve was quick to apologise to his fellow glider pilots for having to call them out to retrieve his aircraft, but chief flying instructor Keith Latty regularly encourages pilots to ‘land-out’ at least once a year.

He explained: “Making a safe landing in a meadow or farmer’s field – usually without damaging the crop – is considered to be part and parcel of every glider pilot’s skills, so that if they ever had to make an emergency landing, it would present no fears.”