Flight of fantasy has kept Tom in air since childhood

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Turning 90 will not stop sprightly Tom Gregson gliding through the air.

The grandfather-of-three from Lytham has been flying more than half his life – but his fascination with aircraft began when he was just eight years old.

Tom Gregson gets ready for a flight with instructor Reg Wooller

Tom Gregson gets ready for a flight with instructor Reg Wooller

He says: “On September 5 1936 there was an air display at Birks Farm near Lytham. I managed to get a pleasure flight and that started me off.

“Since then, I have always been interested in aviation. My mum used to talk to me about the air ships she saw in the 1920s before she got married.

“I never really did anything about it until I joined The Bowland Forest Gliding Club in 1975.”

The club has historic ties to the Fylde coast, having been founded at Squires Gate before moving to its current location in Chipping.

Tom, who now lives in Cottam, Preston, added: “I visited the club on and off but when my wife, Savina, died in 2002, I started to go more as I had more time and I enjoyed the company.

“I mainly do maintenance work on the aircraft with inspectors Reg Wooller and Ian Bannister. I try to go most Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends, when the club is operational.

“I do fly occasionally with Reg, who is also an instructor. But these days it takes me a while to get in and out of the aircraft.

“But you can fly as often as you want – depending on the weather of course. I flew last week and I might fly again next week if the weather is fit.”

Tom’s friends at the club organised a surprise party for his 90th and he enjoyed a birthday flight.

Tom, who has two sons and is also a great-grandfather, adds: “I got the shock of my life. I didn’t know anything about the party, but I really enjoyed it.

“I appreciate the effort everyone went to. As long as I can, I will keep going. It is a great hobby and there is a great social side.

“There is nothing like being out there in the air.

“I would recommend people try it. It is different to any other aircraft.

“Experienced pilots can do aerobatics. If you are brave enough, you could go up with an instructor and ask them to do some.

“I don’t do anything like that. I prefer to keep going forward as normal. I have done them in the past with an instructor.”

The Bowland Forest Gliding Club, in Chipping, was founded in 1951 at Squires Gate and moved from there to Samlesbury in the 1960s.

In 1970 the club bought Lower Cockhill Farm at Chipping where it has evolved, with around 120 flying members and 40 social members.

Most members form syndicates with other hobbyists, where they own a share of an aircraft.

The hangar houses 28 aircraft, including two ASK 13s and an ASK 21 which are two-seater planes for the training lessons.

Instructor Reg Wooller, 77, of Fulwood, part-owns the oldest aircraft in the collection - a 1960 Olympia 2B.

He says: “Anyone interested can come and have a trial lesson. If the weather is bad, they will have to book another time.

“They come to our club and watch a 20-minute video about safety and how it all works.

“It is very simple and easy to follow.

“They go down to the launch point where the aircraft is waiting for them. They are then put into the glider and strapped in.

“It is standard practice to wear a parachute.

“The instructor sits in the back while the new flyer sits at the front.

“The instructor goes through the controls and then the canopy is closed.

“The plane then propels via a winch launch and it goes to 1,000 feet in 30 seconds. The launch is a lot smoother than it looks.

“The training aircraft flies at between 45 and 50mph.

“The plane goes over the adjacent hills and people can see the views of Morecambe Bay and Clitheroe.

“If people want to, they can be shown how to use the controls and fly and the instructor lands the plane.

“Overall the flight is between 20 minutes to half an hour.

“If there is no wind, we would do two shorter flights. I find these more interesting because there is an extra take off and landing and there is enough time to see all the views.

“The views are superb. Sometimes you get to see rainbows.

“If they like it, they can get a three-month membership and fly at club rates.

“We have 15 instructors, of varying levels of weather conditions and seniority.

“But all are fully qualified to a high standard to ensure your safety.

“We are in communication with other air bases, especially Warton, so we know everyone’s flight path.

“The more you fly, the more experience you get.

“The top speeds an experienced flyer can go up to is 120mph and the biggest height we have reached is 16,000 feet. They will fly as long as they want.”

● For more information or to find out about joining the club visit www.bfgc.co.uk