Club focus

Extract from S&G October to November 2007

Following a meeting in Taunton of a small band of enthusiasts in December 1952 the Taunton Vale Gliding Club was formed, but it wasn't until 1957

that a site could be found at the former US Navy wartime airbase at Dunkeswell Aerodrome, for a rent of £30 per annum.

A secondhand Slingsby T-31 glider - "Old Faithful" - was purchased, together with a surplus US Ford V8 Pilot, which was used for autotow launching. By 1962 the old control tower was in use as a clubhouse and the club was thriving. The fleet included a Slingsby T-21, a T-49 Capstan and a Slingsby Swallow. Launching was serviced by a Clayton (now Supacat) winch and later a Tiger Moth for aerotowing. The club later hosted its first Regional Championship, with many notable competitors, including Ann and Dennis Burns, 'Doc' Slater, Sir Peter Scott and Philip Wills. By this time drawing members from far and wide, it was renamed The Devon & Somerset GC.

In the mid 1960s the then Air Ministry decided to dispose of the airfield and the club found itself in a perilous situation. However, good fortune came its way when 108 acres of land at North Hill, just to the west of Dunkeswell, came up for sale. This land - known then as "the pig field" - has south and west facing ridges, which on occasion had been soared from Dunkeswell. Through the dedication of a corps of members, funds were raised, by members' covenants, loans and the sale of life memberships, supplemented by an appreciable bank loan. The purchase became possible and the club began moving operations.

With now only two gliders, a winch, the Tiger Moth and a small wooden hut for use as a clubhouse, members rallied to construct a hanger with a framework of steel made from old electricity pylons, which they previously dismantled. During work in progress, gliders were trailed to and fro using the steep and winding back lanes from Dunkeswell via Sheldon! On September 19, 1970 the club official opened at its new venue.

Today, DSGC has a modern fleet of gliders, ground equipment and a Piper Pawnee tug. During the 1990s the fleet has seen a gradual transition to glass - two K-21s and two Juniors. In the late 1990s the arrival of a new DG-505 gave pilots of all abilities a superb range of gliders to fly. It was two years' hard graft by a small group of committee members, led by Simon Leeson, that won Lottery Sports Council funding and also provided us with a new hangar.

Launching is by winch, using one of two Supacat winches, and aerotow with our Piper Pawnee. Two motorgliders are based at North Hill and both are available for ab initio and advanced training. The site offers a wide range of opportunities for glider pilots of all levels with thermal, ridge and occasional wave, despite our proximity to the north and south coasts of Devon and Somerset.

The club has a very active association with Exeter University, which provides a regular influx of enthusiastic young members, many of whom go on to fly in the Junior Nationals. Young membership is encouraged through our junior membership scheme. During the summer, trial lesson evenings and week-long holiday courses are open to all and provide training from ab initio to advanced levels.

2007 has seen the arrival of our new launch point vehicle, which is a tribute to its designer and creator Mike Robinson. We were delighted to offer BGA Chairman Patrick Naegeli the opportunity to officially "launch" it on a recent visit to the club with Pete Stratten, the BGA's Chief Executive.

Visitors will find a warm welcome with a fully furnished clubhouse, where a full range of hot and cold food and drinks is available on club operating days. The lecture room is currently undergoing a revamp and will be ready for the winter lecture series.

If you fly, then the view of the Devon countryside from the Blackdown Hills is stunning.

Simon Leeson - early history by Mike & Barbara Fairclough