A HIGH-FLYING glider pilot has set the record for the longest flight ever to take place in Wales – touching down at Shobdon Airfield after an exhausting seven and a half hour non-stop voyage.
Phil King, 65, set what is an unofficial record, twice completing a loop from the North Herefordshire aerodrome to Pontypool, while rising to heights of 14, 500 feet – the highest possible altitude before entering into airspace reserved for jet planes.
Using waves of strong winds that roll off the Radnor hills he was able to regain altitude several times during the circuit and prolong the flight for as long as daylight allowed.
But long distance flying to this extreme becomes as much a battle of concentration as flying skill.
Phil said: “I had to be very focussed to do this kind of flight – for seven hours you have a responsibility for avoiding other aircraft, as well as maintaining your both course and your altitude.
“I was thrilled to complete a long distance flight over Wales - it was hugely satisfying to see my ideas and plans come to fruition.”
A long-time pilot, Phil said he had dreamed of attempting a long distance flight in Wales.
And last week, as he tracked weather projections and cloud formations, conditions appeared to be aligning.
On Saturday morning the clouds – an indicator of both wind and the thermals used by glider to maintain height – looked good and Phil assembled his glider, stored in three parts at his home, packed a sandwich and some dried fruit and made his way to the airfield.
“I soon found some rising air that took me above the clouds,” he said.
Climbing high enough to fly south, to near Pontypool, Phil turned but began losing height just south of Newtown.
“I was aware I would need a boost to complete the flight, so I backtracked to an air corridor that I know would lift me up really high.”
Phil rose to over 14,000 feet, requiring him to use breathing apparatus as he flew just below airspace reserved for airliners.
This height was enough to get the glider to the routes second turning point at Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales, and back.
Heading south he picked up the same thermals, giving him enough lift to complete a second lap before touching down as the daylight faded.
Phil, a member of Herefordshire Aero Club since 1974, said: “I would have stayed up longer if the light had allowed it.”
He was met on the ground a sole supporter, club chairman Dewi Edwards, who himself had complete a three and a half hour flight, reaching almost 11,000 feet in a 10-year-old glider.
But news of his record has since spread through the gliding community; he has received congratulations from across the country with Scottish record holder John Williams getting in touch to suggest Phil’s route may hold the key to breaking the British record.