Rising to the challenge

Lisa Trotter in her glider.

By Abbey Cannan

Imagine yourself alone, in an aircraft 10,000 feet in the air, gliding with no engine. To most, this is a nightmare, but for Lisa Trotter of Peregian Beach, this is where she feels most at home.

The sport of gliding is an exhilarating, spectacular yet serene flying experience. Gliders take to the air like birds with wings outstretched, soaring on rising air currents, immersed in three-dimensional space and flying silently with an eagle’s view of the world.

Lisa is a current world, continent and national record holder in long distance flying, gliding an incredible 1026.8 kilometres non-stop, and in January next year she will represent Australia at the World Gliding Championships.

Far from the heights of gliding, Lisa is a psychologist in her own practice in Peregian Beach, where she has lived with her husband for the past 15 years after relocating from Melbourne.

Lisa, who is a member of the Kingaroy Soaring Club, said she couldn’t believe it the day she broke a world record.

“It felt amazing. In 2013, I spent two weeks at Tocumwal making attempts to break a declared triangle distance record which had been held since 1986 by Andy Pybus from NSW. On the last possible day that I could reasonably make an attempt, I took off in not ideal conditions because it was a bit too windy. No-one else made an attempt on that day and after the first couple of hours of my ten-hour flight, I thought that I would be too slow to be able to complete the distance but pushed on deciding that I would go as far as I could and enjoy myself regardless. It seems that persistence pays off,” she said.

It takes a lot of dedication to be up there with the best in the world.

“Apart from developing flying skills so that you can use thermal energy efficiently to travel a long distance, I had to be able to read the weather well so that I could pick the right day and plan the optimal track to take. I also needed to make many attempts and have a great crew of people helping me,” she said.

With an airline pilot as a father, it’s easy to understand why Lisa had an interest in aviation from an early age.

“I was in my late teens when I trained at a flying school at Essendon Airport to be a pilot. I had ambitions to become an airline pilot myself, but discovered that wasn’t possible for women at that time, so settled for recreational flying,” she said.

She first started gliding in her early 20’s after doing a course at a gliding club.

“It usually takes people about a week to learn to fly solo, but I already had a pilot licence, so it took me a couple of days,” she said.

Some gliders have engines, but Lisa prefers to fly her glider without one.

“It is very satisfying to cover large distances over many hours purely on the energy in the atmosphere. An aircraft doesn’t need an engine to fly – it’s the wings that make them fly.”

Despite what you may think, Lisa said gliders are quite safe as the aircraft and training is very good.

Each year there are thousands of flights with very few incidents or accidents – Australia has an enviable safety record.

“But I have had reason to feel some concern a couple of times when I found myself a little closer than comfortable to a thunderstorm with lightening,” she said.

You might also be wondering how gliders always manage to land in the right place without an engine.

“I don’t!” Lisa said, “That is half the fun.”

“It is such an adventure flying over the country side wondering if you are going to make an unexpected visit to a farmhouse or not. Most of the time we do get home, but landing in a paddock is not a problem.”

Lisa said the basic skills needed to fly a glider are similar in complexity to driving a car.

“Gliders like a power plane are quite stable and easy to keep straight and level. It takes a bit of practice though to learn how to do a coordinated turn and smooth landing. It’s a lot of fun learning. It becomes even more fun when you develop skills to be able to travel long distances,” she said.

With the World Gliding Championships fast approaching, Lisa said that although she is trying to keep her cool, she is jumping out of her skin with excitement.

“It is such an amazing opportunity to fly with the best in the world and I am sure there will be plenty of adventure. I have just arrived back from a week of training with the team. We talked about teamwork, weather, terrain and tactics. I try and do as much practise as I can, so I fly two to four-hour tasks most weekends and I will compete in the Australian National Championships later in the year as preparation,” Lisa said.

About 60 pilots coming from as far as Perth and Alice Springs will compete in the National Gliding Championships, which will be held at Tocumwal near the Murray River.

“I have done a number of international competitions in Germany and in the USA, but Australia has excellent weather for gliding so, I travel to competitions in NSW, Victoria or SA during December and January each year,” Lisa said.

This is the first time that the Women’s World Gliding Championship (WWGC) has been held in Australia, far from the event’s usual location in Europe.

The 10th WWGC will be held at Lake Keepit near Tamworth NSW in January 2020 and there will be 14 countries represented and about 50 pilots competing.

This year Australia was able to select nine women to compete in the Australian team for the championships, with three in each class; Club, Standard and 18m.

All women have excellent soaring skills and experience at the highest level, which speaks well for the standard of women soaring pilots in Australia.

Lake Keepit Soaring Club is located on the north west slopes of New South Wales and is considered one of the premier gliding locations in Australia.

When she’s not competing, Lisa’s favourite thing about gliding is being in nature.

“I love flying over beautiful terrain and among the clouds, sometimes joined by an eagle or even pelicans. It is also fascinating from a technical point of view and I really like the social side as well,” she said.

And it’s not just gliding that Lisa is into, she loves all things outdoors.

“I love swim squad with Jan Croft at the Noosa Aquatic Centre and the Park Run at Noosaville. I also spend a lot of time swimming in the ocean at main beach and walking or running in the Noosa National Park,” she said.

The love of aviation seems to run in the family, as Lisa’s 32-year-old step-son Michael also flies gliders and para-gliders.

With Mother’s Day this weekend, maybe they will spend the day gliding.

“We have had some wonderful times as a family and it was always easy to be a parent because he was such a good kid. As a parent, one of the things I learnt is to put the relationship first and not sweat the small stuff,” Lisa said.

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