A North Yorkshire glider pilot is trying to encourage women to get into the sport. Hannah Chapman visited the Yorkshire Gliding Club to find out more

ANYONE who has ever strolled along the footpath at the top of Sutton Bank near Thirsk will have seen gliders taking off from the Yorkshire Gliding Club, based on an airfield set just inland from the busy A170.

On the Sunday when I call in, the area is a hive of activity, with gliders taking off every few minutes and the clubhouse bustling with members.

I’m meeting Kelly Teagle, an instructor at the club who works with Women Glide, an organisation endorsed by the British Gliding Association which aims to support women in the sport.

Over a mug of tea in the club café, she tells me how women make up a small percentage of those involved in gliding. The club is hosting a seven-day competition for pilots from across the country this month, and Kelly is the only woman taking part.

She believes the lack of women in the sport is partly because of the increasing time pressures on women involving work and family duties. “Men don't perhaps have that pressure as much,” she says.

Kelly, 38, runs a small software business and lives in Thirsk with her husband, who is also a glider pilot, and six-year-old son.

"It does help to have an understanding husband,” she says. “I would have a very hard time without him keeping everything going.”

Kelly originally wanted to be a fast jet pilot, but at 15 when she visited her local RAF careers office, was told that at 5ft 1inch and a bit, she was too short.

Determined to still take up flying, she decided to give gliding a try instead.

"I was hooked from day one," she says. "I remember I was trembling all over. I was so excited, I wanted to do it all over again. Within a year I learned to fly. That was 23 years ago."

I ask what makes her so passionate about gliding. "It's being in the sky on a summer's day when you have a brilliant blue sky, green fields below and fluffy white clouds in between - it's just mindblowingly beautiful,” she says. “I've never seen anything to compare with it.”

Before she takes me for a flight, she explains how gliders work. They are pulled up to a certain height by a light aircraft, and then the tow rope is released. It is then up to the pilot to use the weather conditions and their skills to manoeuvre the glider.

There are three types of ‘lift’ that pilots use to gain height; air travelling over hills which keeps going up, thermal lift from warm air rising from ground level (which often ends up as fluffy cumulus cloud), and wave lift – the result of air going over a hill, crashing down the other side and then bouncing up again.

“You need a good understanding of the glider and how to make the most of the weather to get where you're going,” Kelly says.

Gliders can fly hundreds of kilometres in a day, and in competitions, pilots try to complete a set course in the fastest time.

Out on the airfield, I meet several of the other female club members.

Christina Griffiths got into the sport after being bought a gliding experience by her husband, and had been suffering from a period of illness. "I didn't even think I'd be able to walk up the airfield," she says.

She describes her first flight as a "complete joy" and is now on the verge of qualifying to fly solo.

Tash Dodds, 14, is learning to fly gliders ahead of a planned career in the RAF. She says: "It's a really good experience to have.”

Kelly straps me into a parachute and gives me comprehensive safety instructions after I get into the front seat of the cockpit. She takes the seat behind, and we’re soon hurtling along behind the tow plane.

In no time at all we’re up and once the tow rope is off, she demonstrates how the glider works. She gets us in a thermal and we corkscrew upwards. Even though the day is a bit hazy, the view across to the Pennines in the west and the Moors in the east is spectacular. The fields are a green and golden patchwork, the heather shines purple, and lake Gormire is no more than a murky puddle.

A few minutes and a smooth landing later and we are back on the airfield. I tell Kelly I can understand why she is so keen to introduce other women to a sport which can offer such an exhilarating experience.

She stresses that all you need is determination.

“There are times when it's difficult, when you will think that you're not doing well,” she says. “Everybody goes through that but by the time you've gone through the whole syllabus, you will know everything you need to know.”

And she adds: "Whenever I think I'm too busy to go, I think about the skies and how gorgeous it is, and how it makes me feel – I just love it."

To get involved in gliding, call or email your nearest club. For more information on the Yorkshire Gliding Club, see www.ygc.co.uk