Charlie Irvin reckons she was always a bit of a petrolhead, but when her parents wouldn’t agree to her buying
a motorbike – they thought it too dangerous – she went gliding instead.
Some four months on the Raglan 19 year old completed her first solo flight, and feels now the sky really is the limit.
“I have fallen in love with it (gliding),” Charlie told the Chronicle recently as she eagerly anticipated her next date with the great blue yonder. The timing depended on the weather but it would be a Wednesday, Charlie’s regular day off from homeware and gift shop Zinnia.
Since undertaking a course at Piako Gliding Club a few months ago, she’s ventured back to Matamata Aerodrome regularly midweek to learn more about the art of flying and to experience that adrenaline rush after the towline’s released.
The former Raglan Area School student no longer aspires to go into business or on to university. “I am leaning towards aviation,” Charlie admits.
It all started when her dad Graham – the face behind the counter of Big Poppa’s Kettle Corn cart, a fixture at the bottom of Bow St – bought her a late Christmas voucher from the gliding club, which had set up as usual at Raglan airfield for a part of the summer holidays.
“My grandfather used to fly little model gliders by remote control,” Charlie recalls. “And Dad thought it might be a novel way to connect to Grandad.”
As it turned out, Charlie was so enamoured with that first flight over the Whaingaroa harbour mouth she went back a week later for a birds-eye view of the family farm, marae (Motakotako) and wetlands in the Phillips Rd area.
She was hooked.
By March she was attending her week- long course with the Piako club, which is run by volunteers. She and Graham ventured to Morrinsville together, where he sold his “dangerously good” kettle corn each day while she indulged her flights of fancy a short hop away in Matamata.
Charlie explains how the five students and three instructors did multiple circuit
flights daily, practising take-offs, landings and aerotows. “It was amazing.”
Lessons also included instruction in care of and respect for the aircraft, and emergency protocols like how to manage at different heights if the tow rope was ever to break.
Finally Charlie was ready for her first solo flight.
“The scariest bit was when I was on tow … coming off the ground … and realising it was truly up to me (alone) to get the glider back down safely,” she recalls.
“I couldn’t just let go of the controls,” she adds with a laugh. “You just have to take a deep breath and focus.”
One of the instructors captured a triumphant Charlie on camera just moments after she’d landed.
Charlie’s keen now to progress to “soaring pilot”, and to complete a 90-minute flight all by herself. And she thinks that come next year she could well be ready to pursue some sort of a career in aviation.