The pioneer of hang gliding in Northern Ireland was the late Tommy Beckett who had come across a newspaper mention of hang gliding; followed it up; and acquired an Arion from Geoff McBroom in 1974. Armed with only basic instructions he stopped by where I and a few friends were flying model aircraft to ask if somebody would come with him to a nearby hill near Larne, Co Antrim to "keep an eye on him" as he attempted to fly. I thought he was mad, but my brother Jimmy went along, returning a few hours later with an excited account of having seen a short flight. This I had to see, so the following weekend I went along too.
I watched Tommy take off, ground skim for some 100 yds and land. When he asked me if I wanted a "go", I was clipping in to the swing seat almost before he had finished his sentence. Tommy carefully explained what I needed to do to get airborne, steer and land. I ran; took off; reached the dizzy height of some ten feet; and then forgot what he had said about landing! Result - one broken upright and a bruised ego.
A week or two later when a new upright had been fitted Tommy foolishly offered me another flight. This time all went according to plan and I was hooked.
We then found out about the big gathering at Steyning Bowl later in 1974. Tommy and I, complete with families and tents, made the long pilgrimage by car and ferry from Northern Ireland and had a great weekend. There I met the Haynes brothers and, on return home, bought a Wasp 229B3 to start my own flying career. I became an agent for Waspair and hence an instructor of sorts. Since one or two others had acquired hang gliders in Northern Ireland we got together in the now long-gone Clarence Hotel in Ballymena in 1975 and formed the Ulster Hang Gliding Club (now the Ulster Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club).
Around the same time, Tom Hudson in the Republic of Ireland was getting into the sport with great enthusiasm – setting up a school, having a simulator in his hallway, turning his lounge into a hang glider repair facility and having his wife and daughters flying hang gliders too.
to be continued.
(Sadly, Tommy Beckett suffered a stroke in later years and had to give up flying. He died in 2003).
The first three pages of the 'Achill, Mayo and Galway flying site Guides'
The Sligo and Fermanagh Flying Site Guide
Both Produced by Mark Leslie from Dublin in 1977. Prior to the Cork Flyin during March 1978.
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