Greg Stokes

By chance, I discovered hang gliding in November 1974 when a friend told me that someone he worked with was selling a hang glider. This interested me as I'd already done a few hours in sailplanes, so I arranged to meet up and have a look at it. That was when I first met Arthur Trapp who'd built the Skyhook 3A hang glider himself, using plans supplied by Len Gabriels. I turned up on my 650 Norton and as I'd got a helmet and gloves with me, Arthur suggested that we'd fly it before I parted with 90 quid. We? We? "Nothing to it" he said, "I'll teach you".

There was a small 80 foot hill close to Arthur's house, so we took the glider there and started to rig it up. Within minutes a small crowd of onlookers had gathered to see what was going on. When Arthur explained to them what it was, I heard one of the kids say "Quick, go and fetch your brother to see this! There's two blokes gonna kill themselves here." I admit that didn't do much to boost my confidence!

After a bit of spanner work it was ready to go. Arthur had been flying for a couple of years and he made it look easy. Now it was my turn............. Oh sh*t.

Harness on and clipped onto the glider, I was told "Nose of the glider up, run as fast as you can, pull the bar in a bit, follow the slope down and shove the bar out as you come into land - then run again if you need to". With those words ringing in my ears I was off down the hill like a scalded cat.

I was lucky and managed a perfect take off and landing. Wow! Brilliant! After another few flights I parted with 90 quid. I then became the proud owner of what was later to be affectionately known as 'Arthur's Dart'.

Next weekend we went down to Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains just above Hay on Wye. After a few more 'learning' flights from halfway up, it was time to fly from the top of the 600 feet high ridge. Although the flight time was less than two minutes back to the car park, I was well and truly hooked on this lark. It was also the beginning of one of the best chapters of my social life and the start of many lifelong friendships.

Arthur's Dart with its 2 1/4" leading edges and Ripstop nylon sail served me well until I splashed out £175 on a brand new factory-made Hiway 240 in 1975. I did my first real soaring flights on this HG. Together with my new found flying buddies, I visted other flying sites such as Castlemorton Common, Rhosilli on the Gower, The Long Mynd, Mere in Wiltshire, Meon Hill near Long Marston, Bossington near Minehead, Edge Top and Shining Tor in the Peak District and many other sites on the coast of Wales. Each new site meant new found friends and the craic in the pub when we camped overnight was just as much fun as the flying itself.

1976 saw quite a few fatal accidents. Newspaper reports called hang gliders 'Poisoned Butterflies' and there were calls from some quarters to have them banned. I sent a letter to one newspaper arguing that in that case, cricket should be banned as well because there were the same amount of fatalities over a similar period. I later received a letter from John Blackburn (who later became our local MP) supporting my viewpoint concerning erosion of personal freedoms.

Glider design was improving quickly, so I bought a new Skyhook Sunspot in 1977. Wider nose angle with a larger wingspan and a battened sail. I also bought one of Skyhook's prone harnesses and for the first time - a reserve parachute. This glider was much easier to soar than the previous standard Rogallo wings and I doubled my flying hours on this HG. Flying had taken over all my spare time by now, so I did what most other keen pilots did - I bought a Volkswagen camper van to enable me to chase the wind to be onsite all over the weekend and every holiday. Hang gliding had taken over my life by now.

Arthur was Len Gabriel's Skyhook agent, so as soon as Len released his new Safari, we both had one. I was content with this glider until the Concealed Floating Cross tube gliders were available. The American UP Comet took the hang gliding world by storm after winning the world championships in 1980 and British clones were soon being produced in 1981. I bought a Hiway Demon 175 which I used later that year with a Hiway Valmet 160cc Trike. This was my first microlight and although I didn't realise it at the time, this was the second 'Golden Age' of powered flight. Aviators hadn't had the same level of freedom since the 1920's and 30's. By pure luck, I was in the right place at the right time.

A lot more interest was shown in wheeled microlights than foot launched powered hang gliders. It would now be possible to learn to fly without any previous hang gliding experience. There was an obvious demand for instructors after the CAA announced that pilot licences would soon be needed to fly these machines. Previously, a BMAA Pilot Certificate of Experience was the only qualification we needed. Arthur and myself, along with about 8 others, enrolled on the first CAA approved Instructor Course run by Gerry Breen and Julian Doswell held at Enstone over the winter months of 1981/2. After successfully completing the course, I became one of the UK's first batch of CAA approved microlight Group D flying instructors.

I took delivery of my new Skyhook TR2 dual seat training trike in 1982 and started teaching students to fly from Halfpenny Green Airport. One of the highlights at the time was a flying display that I gave at Donning Park Race Circuit. The other was meeting Ken Wallis with his autogyro at the Weston Park airshow.

Due to a shortage of microlight Examiners, after being recommended by the BMAA, the CAA approved my X Examiner Rating in 1983.

After the dual fatality in a 3 axis microlight at Halfpenny Green and the demise of the Micro Aviation company, microlights were later banned from the airfield. Due to a change in circumstances, I ceased microlight instructing in 1985. By then I'd gained my Group A licence and continued to fly GA aircraft for the next 12 years. I'd also bought another hang glider which I continued to fly. My last flight on a hang glider was in 2007. Reluctantly, I've just sold off all my hang gliding gear 'cos I'm an old git now and prefer the convenience of my trike after returning to microlighting in1998. I currently fly a Mainair Blade.

Although I've bent as many uprights as anyone else in hang gliding, I've had 33 years of enjoyment and memories from the sport. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in what is now, a bit of aviation history.

The most unforgettable memories are of having 2 Phantom jets pass 3 to 400' below me (as reported in the August 1979 Long Mynd news letter) and an earlier time when I launched from Edge Top without clipping my harness into my glider. I never forgot to clip in again ;-)

Copyright Greg Stokes 2009

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Greg Stokes with his Hiway 204


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