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Thomas is Northern Ireland youngest glider pilot at 14

By Laura Abernethy

Published 26/07/2016

Thomas Evans has always loved flying
Thomas Evans has always loved flying
Thomas displaying his certificate with grandad Laurence and dad Arthur
Thomas is congratulated on flight by grandad Laurence McKelvie

Most teenagers might be relaxing and enjoying a well-earned rest with the summer holidays in full swing, but the sky is the limit for one Banbridge boy.

Thomas Evans has become Northern Ireland's youngest glider pilot at just 14.

The Banbridge Academy pupil took his first solo flight last Friday after more than a year of training.

Until recently the minimum age for glider pilots was 16, but it was lowered to 14 in 2013 - and Thomas jumped at the opportunity to have a go.

The teenager has enjoyed flying from a young age and he began training with the Ulster Gliding Club at the end of last year.

Situated on the north coast, Northern Ireland's only gliding club gives those with a daring streak the chance to explore the land below using nothing but air currents to keep them up.

Thomas completed around 30 flights and underwent rigorous training before being allowed to take off alone at the Bellarena airfield.

His dad Arthur explained: "He has been gliding with the club since the later part of last year.

"He was 14 in January and, with the change of rules, he was ready to go solo.

"The weather was good on Friday and he just went for it."

Arthur missed his son's big moment as he was at work, but he said the boy was quick to share the news of his milestone.

He explained: "I got a great phone call from him to tell me he'd just done his first solo and he's got the certificate to prove it.

"We were all really chuffed for him.

"We think there may have been a Dublin lad who was 14 who came up here and did it, but we think he's the youngest boy from here to fly here, so it's a great moment for him."

Thomas said he enjoyed the chance to get up in the air by himself and hopes it will be the first of many flights.

"It was really good fun," he said. "I was up for about 20 minutes and I was a bit nervous, but it was fine when I got up there. I got a bit of a thrill from it.

"I've always been interested in flying and I've been doing it since I was really young, but it's a nice honour to be one of the youngest people to do a solo flight."

He was instructed by his grandfather Laurence McKelvie, who has been part of the club for over 50 years. He said: "He's shown a great aptitude and a great feel for the whole thing. It's rare for someone so young to do this. This is something that I've been involved with for a long time and Tom expressed an interest to do it.

"He's very talented and it was a delight to see him developing. My son, Thomas's uncle, flew solo gliders a long time ago so there's been three generations of me, my son and my grandson. You could say it's a little bit of a family affair."

Laurence was left waiting on the ground as Thomas took off but said he wasn't too nervous as he was confident the teen was well prepared.

"The training is very detailed and I took him through the whole syllabus, but had no problem with telling him it was time to go off on his own. He was ready to go at that stage"

He watched on proudly as Thomas landed safely following his short flight and then received a certificate recognising his achievement.

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