The Bollington club has been paragliding now for forty years and some members
for rather longer than that. We have seen much change over that time and what some
thought were impossible dreams, have come to pass.
Founded 1st January 1973, we are one of the founding paragliding clubs in
the world. Our members are mostly from the North West of England. We operate as
a verified school under the governing body of The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding
We actually started in the mid sixties when Walter Neumark sought the assistance
of military units for his pioneering work in tow launching the new steerable parachute,
the Lemoigne. This multi-slotted, pulled-apex design was a major advance in the parachuting
world. Here was a canopy that had enough forward drive and steerability to be flown
as a glider; albeit with a very poor (1:1) glide ratio. Walter adapted glider launching
and training techniques and ascended these parachutes.
When the Territorial Army in Macclesfield came across this strange new activity,
they realised its potential, formed the ” Double-Two Ascending Parachute Club and
secured the use of a local airfield (Avro's Woodford factory). The members of this
T.A. unit were particularly enthusiastic about the new sport; non more so than Wilf
Shaw (and his son, Brian).
1968 saw the really big change which was to create the sport as we know it today.
Walter Neumark brought the first ram-air canopy (Para-foil) into the UK. The Double-Two
club helped with much of the experimental work and Brian had a number of lucky escapes
as test pilot. The early wing designs were rather unstable at launch and easily rotated
but flew well after release. It was several years before tow-launching them became
a routine safe procedure.
In 1972, the Government re-structured its financing of the Army and terminated a
great many T.A. units across the country, including the one at Macclesfield. The
Double-Two club had to be wound up. Undaunted, Wilf promptly bought some equipment
and we formally launched the ”Bollington Parascending Club”on the 1st. of January
We called it ”Bollington” simply because it was based at Wilf's home address in that
village. We then had no specific operating site and only a handful of members from
the immediate neighbourhood. We have since retained the name of Bollington more out
of habit and familiarity rather than for any geographical reason; our membership
actually covers the whole of the North-West.
In those days, our sport was governed nationally as part of the British Parachute
Association. We started as “Ascending Parachutes” but became classified as a sport
under the title of ” Parascending". The term ”Para-gliding” was also in common usage
then as were ”Para-kiting”and ” Para-sailing." However, the new name of Parascending
was preferred by officialdom, probably because they could not see that it really
was gliding! Walter could, and so could the members of Bollington PC.
We came to share Walter's dream of an aircraft that could fly many miles cross-country
and yet still be packed into a rucksack. In 1968 we could see what he meant but we
didn't realise it would take some twenty years to prove its viability. In those days,
manufacturers were only interested in the free-fall market or the holiday beach tow-around-the-bay.
Canopy performance actually worsened since sky-divers regarded their canopies primarily
as air-brakes! There simply wasn't the market to fund the development of truly soaring
We continued to promote tow-launched parascending as the most practical way to push
development of gliding canopies although Walter Neumark did have another brilliant
idea which seems to have become lost in the mists of history. He sponsored the ”Paraglide
Stand-off Trophy” as a competition within the BPA (1972). The idea was for each competitor
to work out a deployment point as far from the airfield as possible and then fly
back in. Whoever successfully predicted and flew the longest glide won. One person
just managed to reach the airfield; the others got lost! The BPA didn't find this
very exciting and dropped the idea. However, those few competitors had (unwittingly)
established the concept of air-launched cross-country paragliding.
By 1972, relations between parascenders and parachutists had become a little strained.
They saw parascending as “kid's stuff” and nothing to do with “real” parachuting,
i.e. sky-diving. We felt that they were being short-sighted and holding back progress.
At the BPA's 1973 AGM, they formally relinquished any authority for our sport. Bollington
representatives, along with a handful of others, gathered in a side room and made
a commitment to form the “Association of Parascending Club” as our new national
Although Bollington has been giving total support since day one, we must give credit
to Walter Neumark and Andrew Wakelin (committee members from that day to this) for
actually providing the real effort (and finance) which established the then APC as
a world-respected authority on parascending/paragliding.
We weren't overtly involved with national administration although we assisted in
many ways in the background. We often had (and still do) something to say at the
AGMs and it was us that proposed seeking permission to add the prefix “British” to
become the BAPC. Brian not only proposed the motion he, in the interests of fair
debate, was the only person to speak against it! (It could be too parochial as we
were then the only association world-wide that was promoting parascending and issuing
Instructor and Operator licences.)
In the early days, we (as Bollington and formerly Double-Two) worked closely with
Walter's Paraglide Club giving demonstrations and training to numerous Army units.
It was during this time that Wilf Shaw became the first person to be towed above
1000ft. During the seventies, our clubs diverged. For a while we operated at the
old Ashbourne airfield and later on the moors near Rochdale (where we nearly lost
the Landrover in a rather soft bit!). We gave basic training to hundreds of Scouts,
Guides, Officer cadets, etc. and demonstrated in the most awkward situations at village
fetes. We even did some over-water operations training a ski school at Abersoch to
tow-launch from the beach. Instructors then were not limited by specific endorsements.
In those days we were also quite active in competition flying. Bollington did not
have much success as a Team but Brian Shaw did take the Individual title at the 1974
Nationals. Target accuracy competitions have remained popular because they are very
much a social occasion but we were always trying to devise an effective contest that
would also help to improve canopy performance. In 1980, the Dorset Club hosted the
first British Open Cross-country Championship at Batcombe Down. Brian was there to
represent Bollington. Unfortunately, neither weather nor equipment nor site were
to match our hopes. We resorted to tow-launching from the top and flying down to
a target in the valley. Hardly cross-country but the idea was gaining credibility.
In the 70's several clubs, including Bollington, toyed with the idea of pay-out winches
(passive capstans) fitted to our tow vehicles to allow higher launches from short
fields. Yet again, canopy performance proved inadequate. It required too much wind
to lift a (sky-diving) canopy and heavy tow-line. It was simpler and safer to keep
looking for suitable sites for the standard fixed-length tow operation.
By 1980, Bollington had (after much searching) found a regular and practical operating
site. Quite by chance, the Lancashire Aero Club heard that we were looking for somewhere
to establish regular tow-launching and offered the use of their airfield at Barton.
This is a small grass airfield surrounded by the M62, M63 and the Manchester Ship
Canal and we could only use it when powered aircraft were not active. A very limited
facility which was ironically to prove a boon to the success of our club. We will
be forever indebted to the LAC for their generosity in allowing us access.
Curiously, Barton had seen paragliding before when in 1962 Walter Neumark had been
experimenting with towing a Lemoigne behind his car. Now it had returned as a fully
established and CAA recognised air-sport. Initially, we operated in the evenings
after ” last landings • until just before the LAC clubhouse called ” last orders".
This did mean that we flew through twilight into darkness (at that time not specifically
forbidden by CAA towing permit). Flying at night was safe within the confines of
an otherwise closed airfield but only with great care. Once the club started to grow
and we felt we were being hurried to fly everyone, we abandoned the evenings and
moved to weekend mornings.
There we have remained to this day. We arrive at 0630, have the first flight up at
0645 or so and the last flight nominally at 0815hrs. Fortunately, we often get an
extension if the powered aircraft are late starting (sometimes to 0900 or 1000 in
poor visibility or low cloud). Generally, though, we get just 2 hours of flying time
per day. We are also restricted by season. Barton (originally Manchester's international
airport) is all grass and would be damaged by driving a Landrover randomly over it
in wet or frosty conditions so we only use it from April to October.
This short operating day does limit our growth. We don't make a point of advertising
ourselves but enough people find us each year to maintain a steady turnover of members.
We usually have 18-20 odd members each year; any more means there aren't enough flights
to go around. However, it does not limit the training that we offer.
We cannot provide specific courses since we cannot give any guarantees of slotting
in several (or any) training flights on any particular day. Training is given on
a personal basis to members as and when practical as part of their membership entitlement
and at no extra charge. All aspects of (vehicle) tow launching from ab-initio to
instructor level are taught at Barton. Instructors also offer limited amounts of
self launching training.
We are obliged by our situation to work together as a coordinated team. Only by helping
each other can we get a fast enough launch rate to give everyone a flight. We arrive
together, set up together, operate together, clear up together then breakfast together
(while logging and paying for flights) in the LAC clubhouse. Such teamwork is rare
in an all-day operation.
We normally tow to around 700ft. This is enough to do all the training required using
low-aspect canopies (stalls, spins, target landing, etc.) and in any wind direction.
With wind on the main runway, we tow to our CAA limit of 1000ft., though this does
slow down the launch rate. Unfortunately, we cannot then go cross-country since we
are enclosed within the Manchester TMA and there aren't many thermals that early
in the morning.
We usually manage a steady 12 flights per hour though 15 or more have been achieved.
This is with a single-line single-vehicle operation and without undue haste. If we
really need to push the launch rate up, as we do for our display routine, we use
two lines with a motor-bike to retrieve the drogue ends and a group of line-handlers
in the field to prevent entanglement. We can then achieve 50-60 flights in our 2-hour
operating ” day". Such high-speed operations are potentially very dangerous and require
expertise and teamwork built up over a long period.
With this technique we have developed an impressive display routine. We can go out,
throw up 8 flights and clear the runway within a 15-minute slot. By keeping our whole
display below 700ft. we can sustain the action close to the crowd and without them
having strained necks. One goes up as (or before) the previous one lands and no long
(boring) tows. Stalls and spins are safe at low level using low-aspect canopies.
We usually manage a 2-up flight and often succeed with our specialty, the ” touch
and go". This is where the pilot lands back at the launch point keeping the canopy
inflated for a couple of seconds while the tow-line is reconnected for an immediate
re-launch. The crowds are always impressed with the glide-ratio of the modern high-aspect
canopies. These gliders are still novel to anyone outside our sport and only really
appreciated on a long, long glide down the crowd line. We also like to do our ” vintage
flypast • with the old Para-Commander. When else do you ever see a round canopy at
an air show?
By the mid 80's Bollington members were trying their Harley canopies on various hill-sides.
These canopies were built for tow-launched parascending and so were strong and safe
but had significantly better performance than anything else on the market (i.e. jump
canopies) at that time. In 1986 we had a club outing to Mam Tor, East face, to see
just how viable self-launching had become. The Sheffield Hang Gliding Club made us
very welcome. Several of us made soaring flights; Terry Kilmartin doing 40mins with
a Harley 288 on his very first attempt! Brian Shaw struggled to get his mid 70's
jump canopy into the lift band but then managed 5 mins soaring above take-off.
We came away very happy and yet also rather annoyed that we had not done this years
earlier. We had listened to others that had tried elsewhere and foolishly believed
that it was not yet practical. It was also clear from that first day that our future
would become closely linked to hang gliding. We would have to work amicably with
each other and not just for safety reasons. We realised then that our low performance
canopies might obstruct the hang glider take-off and overshoot areas and, as a club,
decided to restrict our use of established hill sites until our equipment allowed
us to soar properly.
Soaring then was just viable but only on very steep slopes with a strong wind. This
was dubbed ” gale hanging. • We even fastened handles to the front risers so that
we could swing all our weight on them to dive away from blow-back. These were dangerous
times and Bollington was in the vanguard. Our members vied for the National Duration
record; Glenn Stockton, Neil Slinger and Alf Pearson taking the glory in turn. Neil's
3.25hrs in his P9/200 stunt canopy was particularly impressive.
During the mid 80's, Paraglide PC's access to Woodford airfield became impractical
and they changed their emphasis to self-launching. Their instructors, Walter Neumark,
Glenn Stockton and Mark Hobson, joined Bollington to maintain their towing expertise.
This brought welcome new vigour to our club which had become slightly insular and
over dependent on Wilf and Brian. We became then, and remain still, the only tow
operation in the North West.
By the late 80's, parascending was growing rapidly (though only in self launching)
world-wide. The FAI (the international authority on air sports) classified us as
part of ” Hang-gliding • for administrative convenience. They also decided upon ” paragliding •
as the formal name by which our sport would be known internationally. Pleased that
they should select an English name (rather than French or German equivalents) we
renamed ourselves the Bollington Paragliding Club.
In 1991, Brian Shaw was appointed as the BAPC's new full-time Technical Officer in
respect of the wide experience he had gained with Bollington PC. He had long suffered
as our Chief Instructor, Treasurer and Secretary. This turned out to be a short-lived
appointment due to financial pressures and amalgamation with the BHGA and Brian is
back with us as a regular instructor.
Some may think that Bollington's methods are a little old-fashioned but we believe
tow-based training has a useful part to play in paragliding. We prefer to start training
on round canopies so that the pilot gets familiar with being airborne, judging height,
practising hard landings (PLFs) under close control. We then move them on to the
rugged reliable low-aspect ram-air wings which they can throw around (stalls, spins,
target approaches, etc.) with confidence. Only then, when we know they can really
handle a canopy, do we put them in a high aspect glider. We believe this gives the
pilot a broader education and a deeper understanding of flying. It also helps to
foster good relations with all the other air-minded people that meet at the airfield.
Recently, we have started to put students into high aspect gliders straight from
Not every club has the availability of an airfield towing facility as we do, and
we make good use of it. A tow operation like ours still has much to offer the sport
of paragliding. Flying and training are much more of a team activity than self-launching.
The basic skills of landing and canopy handling can be learned in a controlled environment.
Tow-launching is proving to be a very effective way to commence long-distance thermal-soaring
flights. The Bollington club extends an open invitation to any other paraglider pilots
to come and try tow-launching, to experience stalls and spins in our low-aspect canopies
and to try their PLF skills with a round canopy.