The battle for the skies

Having enjoyed plenty of sporting glory on both land and water so far this year, Oxford will take its fierce sporting ri­valry with Cambridge to the skies next month.

From 2nd to 3rd July, the Oxford University Gliding Club (OUGC) will be competing in the annual varsity match. Competition among members for the highly coveted Half Blue sta­tus is reaching its peak, with the captains now in the process of selecting the first team.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, gliding involves relatively small, manned aircraft that are aerotowed into the sky by powered planes before being released at the desired altitude. A glider, which has no engine, relies on streams of rising air caused by geothermal phenomena to stay airborne or even gain height.

A flight itself can theoretically be limitless. The club makes expeditions each year to areas of natural beauty, all the way to Talgarth in Wales, Portmoak in Scotland and Edensoaring in Cumbria.

As well as a leisure activity, gliding is also a competitive sport with points awarded for duration of flight, height climbed, distance travelled and even aerobatic manoeuvres.

In the 2014 varsity match, Oxford soared to a 525-478 victory over Cambridge – a result that wasn’t quite neck-and-neck, but certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. Oxford will have to be at their best once more to ensure another victory this year.

Over the past 12 months, the OUGC has really taken off – quite literally. Oxford is currently the sixth ranked university gliding club in the UK, and has its sights set on ascending into fifth place this weekend, when several of its members will be completing a series of major cross-country tasks. The club’s president, Jonathan Pedde, told Cherwell, “We joined the national university ladder at the start of this year, and have slowly but steadily been working our way up.

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“I think that we have a good chance of win­ning as we’ve got a really good team this year. I’m sure that the folks from the other place are going to put up a good fight, so it should be an interesting match.”

Two OUGC members competed in the Junior Winter Series (the national competition for people under the age of 26), and with nine new solo pilots and one prestigious silver badge-ranked pilot, the club will be looking to record a sixteenth victory in 25 years next month.

The club, which accepts students and staff from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, is always looking for new members, and its doors are always open to complete beginners.

No prior experience is needed to get involved, and once you have paid for a year’s member­ship, full training from qualified instructors is free of charge. After roughly a year’s worth of hard training, a novice can expect to make their first lone flight and even participate in inter-university matches.