A Brief History of 626 Volunteer Gliding Squadron

626 Volunteer Gliding School formed at RNAS St Merryn and later moved to RAF St Eval.

The School was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Derek Tapson, whose son, Bruce, was later also an Instructor at the Air Cadet Central Gliding School, RAF Syerston. Flight Lieutenant Tapson had handed over Command to Flight Lieutenant L S (Pip) Phillips by the time it moved from RAF St Eval to RNAS Culdrose in May 1964.

The runway lighting at Culdrose was replaced during the period from August 1965 to June 1966. As the gliders could not be flown from Culdrose and the only hangar which remained at Predannack had holes in the roof and no doors the gliders were taken by road from Culdrose to Predannack for flying each day.


During this period the Seahawk Gliding Club was formed and commenced flying at Culdrose under Royal Navy auspices. A conjoint operation was attempted but was found to be impossible without contravening certain Air Cadet Gliding Orders. A permanent move to Predannack was negotiated and was completed on 6 October 1968. 

Flight Lieutenant Phillips retired on 2 August 1981 when Flight Lieutenant (now Squadron Leader MBE) Ross Goldsworthy assumed command.


Up to five T21 Sedbergh and T31 Cadet Mk.3 two seat training gliders were operated, along with Prefect and Swallow single seat aircraft, until September 1985 when the Unit was issued with 3 Grob 103 Viking gliders. The Unit currently operates up to 5 Vikings and has, for short periods, used ASW 19 Valiant and Janus C gliders.

                Link to Bessonneau history

A Bessonneau wooden framed, canvas covered hangar was used until 25 January 1990. The hangar had been very reliable when it was being serviced at six monthly intervals by RAF Sealand. The servicing party disbanded in 1988 and the condition of the hangar slowly deteriorated. It eventually collapsed during the third 1989/90 gale of over 100 knots. The runway control caravan was damaged but the two Eagle twin drum winches and the snow props, which had been erected as a precaution, gave some protection to the three Viking gliders. The gliders were too badly damaged for them to be economically repaired by the RAF and they were written off charge. Subsequently the three were used to make two serviceable aircraft which continued in civilian use.


The School was unable to fly in the period from 25 January 1990 to 16 April 1990 while the staff spent time clearing the hangar site. Two gliders were kept in their trailers and rigged on each flying day during the summer of 1990. It was not thought that a viable winter operation would be possible under these conditions and the School moved temporarily to RAF St Mawgan on 24 November 1990.

The School was the first Unit to keep aircraft in the newly built Hardened Aircraft Shelter complex at St Mawgan. The limited space available for launching gliders at St Mawgan brought forward the issue date of the new, six drum, diesel powered, Munster Van Gelder winch. Even with the more powerful winch the only flying possible was a restricted amount of Familiarisation Training and essential staff training.


The School moved back to Predannack and resumed flying with three gliders on 11 July 1991. There was still no hangar and the gliders were rigged and de-rigged each day.

Headquarters Air Cadets rewarded the School’s efforts by the award of the MEL trophy for 1991. A formal presentation was made by Air Commodore R P Skelley who visited the airfield with Mrs Skelley on 17 October 1992.

The School Headquarters building, a cedarwood hut, was condemned on 12 February 1994 when water leaks, brought about by old age, finally made it uninhabitable. The flying for the remainder of that winter was restricted to essential staff training as there was nothing that could be used as a cadet crewroom. Office work was carried out in the runway control caravan until a replacement hangar was completed on 26 May 1994. The office then moved into the back of the hangar until three Presco portable buildings were erected in early 1995, finally enabling the Unit to operate normally after five years of disruption.

The Racal trophy was awarded in April 2000 to mark the School’s sustained improvement in performance. The trophy was presented by Mr Bill Walker, Honorary President of Air Cadet Gliding.

The Sir Arthur Marshall trophy was awarded in April 2001 as the school was the best performing operator of Air Cadet winch launched gliders during the year ended 31 March 2001. A formal presentation was made by Group Captain W M N Cross OBE RAFR, Chief of Staff, Air Cadets at Predannack on 3 November 2001.

The Sir Arthur Marshall trophy was again awarded in April 2002 together with the British Aerospace trophy as 626 VGS was the best overall from a total of 14 winch and 14 motor glider schools during the year ended 31 March 2002. The trophies were presented at RAF College Cranwell by Mr Bill Walker, Honorary President of Air Cadet Gliding.

The Breitling Trophy was presented by Mr Bill Walker at RAF College Cranwell on 13 April 2003 as 626 VGS had provided the greatest contribution to youth development during the two years ended 31 March 2003.


The Sir Arthur Marshall trophy and British Aerospace trophy were again awarded in April 2004 as 626 VGS was the best overall gliding school during the year ended 31 March 2004. The trophies were presented at RAF College Cranwell by Mr Bill Walker, Honorary President of Air Cadet Gliding.

The Breitling Trophy and Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy were presented by Mr Bill Walker at RAF College Cranwell on 24 April 2005 as 626 VGS had again provided the greatest contribution to youth development during the two years ended 31 March 2005 and was the best of the 11 remaining winch launched schools.


On 15 August 2005 a cadet from 2174 (Estover) Squadron ATC was involved in an unfortunate and rare incident that resulted in a Flight Safety Award from RAF Personnel & Training Command.  The citation read: Cadet Best, a 17 year old Air Cadet, was being taught the winch launch on her 11th sortie as a Gliding Scholarship Trainee in a Viking T Mk 1.  The take off checks had been completed normally and the Aircraft Commander and Trainee were satisfied that both canopies were closed and locked.  The Aircraft Commander flew the initial part of the launch with Cadet Best following through on the controls.  During the climb control was passed to Cadet Best who continued the launch with the speed stable at 55 to 60 knots.  At approximately 800 feet she heard an unusual amount of wind noise behind her and, by looking over her shoulder, realised that the rear canopy had opened.  The instructor asked her to lower the nose, release the launch cable and to adopt a normal straight gliding attitude at 50 knots.  She did so quickly and accurately.  The Aircraft Commander had managed to grab the canopy with one hand but could not close it, managing only to hold it in a two thirds open position.  Cadet Best was tasked to alter the attitude to fly at 45 knots, still in level flight.  Again she responded quickly and calmly.  The reduced pressure from the airflow enabled the Aircraft Commander to close the canopy, make a radio call and recover the aircraft with minimal damage and no injury.  This was to a large extent made possible by Cadet Best’s accurate flying and ability to respond to instructions during an unusual and demanding emergency.  Throughout the incident Cadet Best displayed a calm and professional attitude that, for someone with so little flying experience, was exceptional.


Cadet Hannah Best  receiving her RAF Personnel & Training Command Flight Safety Award from Group Captain Remlinger

In September 2005 the Air Force Board approved the change of title to 626 Volunteer Gliding Squadron.

BBC Radio Cornwall’s Nina Davey enjoyed a flight whilst visiting Predannack on 14 January 2007.  Nina recorded a short broadcast about gliding for cadets to encourage adult recruitment.


Nina Davey with MAEOp Mick Headleand and Cadet Bridie Tamblyn

The Sir Arthur Marshall trophy was again awarded on 22 April 2007 as 626 VGS was the best winch launched gliding squadron during the year ended 31 March 2007. The trophy was presented at RAF College Cranwell by Mr Bill Walker, Honorary President of Air Cadet Gliding in the presence of Air Commodore Gordon Moulds MBE RAF, Commandant Air Cadets.


CGI Mark Wardley receiving his long service certificate Aug 07

The inaugural George Young Memorial Trophy for the ‘best engineer in the hangar’, awarded to the VGS with the best engineering standards in 2007, was presented at RAF College Cranwell on 22 June 2008.


A total of 67,079 launches were flown in the period from 2 August 1981 to 30 September 2007.  5,765 cadets have received Familiarisation Training, 2,555 have completed Initial Gliding Training / Gliding Induction Courses, 377 have been awarded Basic Gliding Training / Gliding Scholarship certificates and 55 have completed Advanced training.


                                                     February 2004                    June 2004                          Sunset                        August 2005                Another sunset





                                                                                                       Sunset 30 Dec 07                                   A visitor                                                                                


                                                                     626 Deployment to Canada??                  Another Visitor                                  A Windy Day