For Kuranui teacher Vern Grant, being ‘press-ganged’ into supervising an outdoor education trip gave him a moment of clarity and ignited a passion for gliding.
“I was hooked,” Grant explains. “From that first lift, I was impressed. It was such a neat thing to do.”
So much so, that Grant now offers aviation classes at Kuranui College, one of only three colleges in New Zealand to do so, and the only secondary school in New Zealand to offer glider flight training at NCEA.
“I saw a need due to the growing shortage of pilots around the area. Students who study aviation can use this as a springboard into other areas such as air traffic control, flight attending, fixed wing aircraft and aircraft loading,” he says.
In collaboration with the NZQA and Service IQ, Grant has designed a course of credits for the National Certificate in Aviation Level 2. These standards concentrate on general aspects like aviation requirements and regulations, history and gliding units.
Past students have become airline and helicopter pilots, with one even becoming an instructor. No previous experience is required to complete the aviation course, just common sense, and a willingness to solve problems and make decisions under pressure. Students are given scenarios and practise landings in paddocks in preparation for when things may go wrong.
Glider flying in Wairarapa is ideal because of the topography of the land. The large flat paddocks are great for landing in and the wave lift from the Tasman Sea over the Tararuas, give the gliders the needed lift.
“At 2000ft, if you catch the wave, you can keep going up, like being in an elevator, you can go for miles. You could fly to Gisborne or down to Omarama,” but Grant warns, “The trick is getting back!”
Grant believes his passion for gliding comes down to perspective when you’re flying. “The ground looks so different from up above, the river and colours change, it’s a different view from ground level.”
The course takes up to two years to complete and at the end of it, students can become a qualified glider pilot.