The Four Counties Gliding Club is a member of the Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Assocition, and exists to offer the sport of gliding to personnel of the RAF, and other armed serices, particularly those who would not normally experience flight in their everyday roles.
The club operates every weekend and bank holiday (weather permitting), with a fleet of training and single seater gliders, catering for all levels of the sport.
The name of the club is said to be derived from the number of counties visible from the top of a winch launch at Wittering. Although there is some dispute as to the actual four, Wittering sits roughly at the junction of Rutland, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire, with the main runway crossing the boundary between Cambs. and Northants.
The Club currently operates from the Charlie South dispersal at the West end of the airfield (for full details see the Find Us page).
The Club was established at RAF Wittering in March 1956, the first flying taking place on Thursday 29th March. In its first year the club had a core of around 45 members, and a fleet consisting of a Mk.1 & Mk.3 Cadet, later supplemented with a Grunau Baby.
In that first year the club managed some 2500 launches, with around 200 flying hours, an average of 4.5 minutes per launch. It seemed the club would be accident free in its first year, until just short of the years end, when both the Mk.1 and Mk.3 were broken within minutes of each other! The Mk.1 blown over in a gust, and the Mk.3 broken in a heavy landing incident.
Although instructor numbers fluctuated in the first few years, the club continued to grow, acquiring a Kite and a second Mk.3, while converting the Mk.1 to a Mk.2 Tutor.
Launching in the early days was by Auto-Tow and Winch. The Wittering Chipmunk trainer was also converted for Aerotowing, and gave the opportunity for regular aerotows.
In the mid 60s the club made the first of many moves to a new site, travelling to RAF Spitalgate just outside Grantham, Lincolnshire. This move started the clubs long association with the East Midlands, from where many of the club's members still travel. With the transfer of Spitalgate to the Army, however, it was time for the club to move on.
In 1975 the club moved a few miles down the road to RAF Syerston, near Newark, Nottinghamshire, home of the Air Cadet Central Gliding School. This began one of the most prosperous and stable periods for the club during what many consider to have been the heyday of RAF Gliding in the late 70s to 80s. The club shared the airfield with two Volunteer Gliding Schools (643 & 644) of the Air Cadet Movement. The Club and ATC shared a good working relationship, but it would be this sharing arrangement that would eventually see the end of Four Counties at Syerston.
In 1990, Nottingham University Gliding Club left Saltby and came to fly with Four Counties at Syerston. While at first the clubs were kept very much separate, with the University restricted to flying their own gliders, as time progressed NUGC became an integral part of the club, bringing youth and enthusiasm and a steady stream of students willing to learn to fly, as well as contributing to the very healthy social scene!
RAF Barkston Heath
However, by early 2004 the Air Cadets were planning a change to their operations, which would require their use of the entire airfield. This, combined with unfriendly forces at Syerston and HQ Air Cadets, prompted yet another move.
The RAFGSA had plans to move the club back to RAF Wittering, but our old home was not ready to take us. Being forced out, and with nowhere to go, the Club Executive organized a sideways move to RAF Barkston Heath, near Grantham and just down the road from Spitalgate, as a stop-gap measure and by Easter 2004 the bare bones of the club was at Barkston. With no infrastructure in place (apart from generously donated space in one of the large hangars) and most of the Club possessions still at Syerston, the Clubs future was uncertain. Besides this, the gliding club at RAF Cranwell was only a few miles down the road. Two large RAFGSA club in such close proximity, sharing catchment areas, was clearly not tenable.
Despite this, the club continued in their efforts and gradually improved on the basic start, providing basic facilities and the basis of a stable club.
RAF Wittering (Again)
Sadly, after a year or more of hard work, early 2005 saw the likelihood of another move increasing, and by May 05 the Club was bound for RAF Wittering once more. Unfortunately, this move would be too much for NUGC who could not justify the cost of travelling down to Wittering, and so departed for a new start at RAF Cranwell with the gliding club there.
By June 2005 the club was operating at Wittering. The early days saw only one third of the airfield available for use (around half the launching area available today) and the club spread between the portacabins on Charlie South, and the huge space of 2 Hangar at the other end of the airfield, where the Station had kindly let us store our equipment.
Later, with partial funding from the GSA, the hangar was erected on the Charlie South Apron, and we moved our gliders and equipment up closer to our launching area, which had now been extended to its current dimensions. Around this time, the club was also donated a complex of portacabins, which were refurbished and converted by the members, into our current clubhouse.
In May 2006 the Loughborough University Gliding Club joined Four Counties from Husbands Bosworth, entering into much the same arrangement as we had with NUGC.
If you have any more information on the Clubs History, or wish to correct anything on this page, contact Pete Davey.