Ron Smith – Staff Instructor at SGC

Ron Smith with Kate Byrne on qualifying as a regional examiner

Our Staff Instructor Ron Smith, has been a familiar sight around the club for many years. With a love of gliding that began over 40 years ago after a career in the RAF, and a recent Regional Examiner qualification, we caught up with Ron to find out what it is about gliding that keeps him inspired to keep on flying high.


Firstly, congratulations on becoming a BGA regional examiner having re-qualified in November 2022.

SGC: Starting with some background, how did you get into gliding?

Ron: Growing up as a kid I had many members of the family in the Air Force. I was so inspired by all this family influence, aviation was absorbed by osmosis and I had my first taste of flight before I was old enough to join the air cadets. My keen interest meant it was obvious I was going to join the air force or be involved in aviation in some capacity.

SGC: Tell us about some of those inspirational stories?

Ron: On my dad’s side, Uncle Andrew was in the RAF in the late 30s and in Iraq in 1938/39. I also had Uncle Alec who was in the RAF during the second world war, and thereafter, went on to do Navigation trials in the Arctic circle where compass dip errors were an issue. He was in the first Lancaster to fly over the North Pole! To mark the occasion, they threw out a bunch of bananas to weigh down a Union Jack, but this was 1948 and bananas were still rationed, so he got in a lot of trouble.

SGC: Do you have any other flying experience aside from gliding?

Ron: I also have around 1500 hours of motor gliding experience and became a CAA motor glider instructor which allowed me to teach up to solo standard. I also held a Private Pilot license and have around 200 hours of powered flying under my belt.

Ron taking a local newspaper photographer out for a flight

SGC: How has gliding shaped you as a person? 

Ron: The word shaped! 😊 I became a well-rounded individual because gliding is an adventure sport. It took me out of my comfort zone many times and I think I’m a better person for it. Having to deal with some situations my own way. High-altitude flying was well outside my comfort zone especially the first time above 10,000 ft. Going to Aboyne and taking a passenger to 24000ft was character-building! To be in a cockpit at minus 35 degrees with an oxygen mask on with the canopy icing up – I’ve been there and its character-building stuff. Then you have that one thought, “I’m at 24000ft with the tiniest piece of glass fiber between my bum and 24000 ft of fresh air”. That certainly concentrated the mind!

SGC: What do you enjoy most about coaching?

Ron: Seeing people flourish and progress and encouraging them to go off and try different things. Being able to offer advice to new instructors and help them assist their students too. There is also a wide range of lessons to teach which I enjoy. It is not fun having to say to someone “let’s go do that again”, but it is my job to recognise when someone is not quite up to standard and help them improve.  On the other hand, giving someone a briefing for a task and seeing them go off, complete it, and come back looking for an official observer is rewarding.

SGC: What is the best advice for someone starting out in gliding?

Ron: Don’t be disheartened by setbacks early on. There are lots of things that can prevent you from progressing such as weather, and the unavailability of aircraft/instructors. If you have a goal, then stick to it and enjoy the journey of getting there. Perhaps tee up with an instructor who you enjoy flying with and make it happen. Do fly with different instructors as well though for variance in teaching and cross-referencing to ensure you get everything.

SGC: What’s the best advice you can give someone looking to become an instructor?   

Ron: To be an instructor, fly as much as you can prior to putting yourself forward to becoming an instructor so you are current. Good handling and judgment skills and spare capacity to do other things when you are flying the glider which comes with experience. Once you’ve done that, fly with a coach and get them to point out where your shortfalls are and get you up to speed in the areas you need. Before you know it, you’ll be flying efficiently, accurately, and safely 100% of the time which will give you the spare capacity to teach.

SGC: What is required to be a Regional Examiner?

Ron: I would say you need to be a competent pilot, consistent with your handling skills, safe, and able to teach. Lots of experience flying gives you the confidence and ability to handle the glider while knowing how to keep it safe and when to take over from a student or let them carry on and learn for themselves.

SGC: What do you envisage the future holds at Portmoak Airfield?

Ron: We have been bold enough to call ourselves the Scottish Gliding Centre, so I would like to see us be a centre of excellence in gliding. I would like to encourage other clubs to visit us more regularly and inspire more people to look to us for coaching opportunities and see us as a destination to visit within the UK.

SGC: What kept you inspired all these years?

Ron: It’s all about a love for the sport for me. I’ve always wanted to be a pilot since the age of ten, so the inspiration comes from self-motivation and self-enjoyment of the sport. It’s easy when you enjoy something!

Ron flying a Primary