World class gliding pilot floats into Newcastle

Ranked among the top 50 glider pilots in the world, Gary Whitecross has got a trick or two up his sleeve for this years’ Newcastle Airshow.
The Springs resident, who has been flying since 1972, spends his days training at the Springs Airfield in conjunction with the East Rand Gliding Club.
Although he only started gliding a few years ago, he is ranked number 42 after the World Championships in 2014, and he believes gliding is the best entry point to learning how to fly.
‘I believe gliding develops skills that no other form of aviation training can provide,’ he said.
Having been an instructor for more than 30 years, there are few other people in the country qualified to confirm the fact.
Due to financial constraints, and his father’s anti-flying attitude, he only qualified in 1981.
Since then he has also obtained his helicopter and micro-light licences.
When he obtained his paraglider licence he competed in the masters section of the World XC Series in Spain in 2006 where he placed third.
In his many years of playing in the skies, Gary has flown most types of aircraft from paragliders to jets, including multi-engine commercial aircraft, helicopters, micro-lights and gliders.
He is also currently Head of Training for the Soaring Society of South Africa, was voted the societies’ Instructor of the year in 2014 and is at the forefront of recreational aviation instruction.
A pilot like few others, he has won both the Western Cape and Gauteng regionals twice and took second and third place in the South African National Championships.
The competitions he says are an endurance test both mentally and physically.
During these competition the committee usually predetermines distances from where competitors take off, which can be up to 600km where the pilot needs to flu to and turn back to the spot where he took off.
‘These are called turning points,’ he said.
‘The fastest competitor who would return first, wins, bearing in mind there is no engine.’
Gliders have the same instruments as normal planes plus an extra sensitive instrument called a variometer, which tells you whether you are rising in the air or not.
Gary received his Protea colours last year, an honour bestowed on only those who are chosen to compete for South Africa internationally.
‘I am honoured as it has been a hard, long road to get here.