PIONEERS: A Story of High-Altitude Gliding

A documentary about high-altitude gliding and an attempt to break the UK distance record with a very ambitious flight. WeGlide spoke with pioneers Chris Gill and Simon Grice.
PIONEERS: A Story of High-Altitude Gliding

North Wales has been the location for many great flights and the wave over Snowdonia and the Vale of Clwyd can make for excellent gliding conditions. Chris Gill is no stranger to this area and the favorable conditions. He has been flying for 15 years and is the CFI at Denbigh Gliding Club. As a professional cross-country coach, he has been able to explore much of the area and learn the intricacies of wave flight.

A few years ago a change in airspace structure caught the attention of Chris. With this change, it was possible to climb in the wave in North Wales and make the jump over the sea into Scotland.

In October 2022, Chris climbed up to 5500 meters and made the 145 kilometer glide to the next climb in Scotland. This flight, which in the end took 8,5 hours and was 793 kilometers, showed the potential for such tasks.

It triggered the idea that with this downwind sea crossing, it would be possible to get in the wave in Scotland and fly 1500 kilometers in a day. Such a flight would break the UK's 1109-kilometer distance record that was set by John Williams in 2007.

Flight story picture
Chris Gill high up in the wave

The notion, of flying further than anyone has ever done in the UK, caught the attention of Simon Grice, an entrepreneur and avid glider pilot. He started flying 8 years ago and has since fallen in love with the sport. He founded Glide Britain, which tries to tell the story of gliding to a much wider audience. When he heard about the plans of Chris, he thought the story of high-altitude gliding and the challenge that it would bring to break this record, would be a perfect fit to tell the story of gliding once more.

Together, Simon and Chris started the PIONEERS project. A plan for a documentary that will show the preparation and hopefully execution of the record-breaking flight. Simon will join Chris in the cockpit of the Arcus M (G-ILEW) and document the flight.

Arcus M G-ILEW at Manchester Barton Aerodrome

The flight from Lleweni Parc Airfield should bring them over the sea into Scotland, over Edinburgh, and then up north beyond Aboyne, almost reaching the northernmost point in Scotland. The second leg will bring the pilots 445 kilometers southward to the Cambridge area. With around 1000 kilometers done, they will fly up to Peebles and down to Wragby to finish the 1500 kilometers. For this to work, a spring/summer day would be needed to have enough daylight for the flight. Of course, the wave conditions over the whole task area need to be great as well to keep the speed up. So, a few things need to line up for this flight to work! Whatever flight will come out, we at WeGlide are very excited for what is going to come.

The planned record-breaking task

The PIONEERS team feels that by documenting in a high-quality, broadcast-ready production they will be able to bring the story of gliding and what’s possible to a wider global audience. They hope that by doing this they’ll encourage more existing glider pilots to extend their capabilities and facilitate new potential glider pilots to try the sport. Filming will start in January ‘24, they are aiming to finish filming in April ’24 and have the final production ready for June ’24. We already got a glimpse of what we can expect in the trailer for the PIONEERS project:

Video trailer for the PIONEERS project

If you want to help the team and be part of this mission, you can do so in several ways. Simon has launched a Kickstarter project, to raise funds for the project. So far, they’ve raised the minimum level of funding and are now looking to raise additional funds to invest more heavily in filming and editing which will result in a better documentary. You can find the Kickstarter here, it will be online for the coming 7 days. You can also contribute by following the project via the Glide Britain Facebook or here on WeGlide.