My other life: Colin Smithers, Redtail Telematics, gliding

Colin Smithers

As well as being CEO of Redtail, Dr Colin Smithers is an accomplished glider

How did your interest in gliding start?

Back in 1985 my fiancé saw gliding on TV and said “I’d really like to do that!”, so I arranged for the last week of our honeymoon, at the end of my PhD studies, to do a gliding course. I would probably have left it at that but my new day job caused me to drive past Duxford airfield where the Cambridge University Gliding Club used to operate and I frequently saw the gliders going up on evening instructional flights. One evening I made a detour into the airfield and the rest is history.

How did you build up your skills?

After going solo in 1987 I started to attend at weekends and learn about cross country, stopping to turn in thermals that allow flights to last not just six minutes, but perhaps hours and cover distances of hundreds of miles.

What have been the highlights so far?

The first time I saw the features of the east coast of England and later the Bristol channel during the same flight. Or seeing the Forth Rail Bridge poking through the clouds from near Perth. Once I was near the Wash and found a 10 knot thermal that took me from 1700ft to cloudbase at 5300ft. That’s the same as climbing Ben Nevis in three minutes, simply humbling, and guaranteed to keep your mind off work.

Colin Smithers

How has the experience changed you?

When you begin cross country flying you frequently get it wrong and land out in farmer’s fields, mostly by panicking, changing or reversing decisions too frequently and failing to fly on to the next good bit of sky. Learning from better pilots how to be relaxed while negotiating the ups and downs of the flight is a useful skill.

Any crossover between gliding and your insurance day job?

To achieve risk mitigation – as the risks of flying are similar to the risks for young drivers. Certainly insurance premiums are similar. There is also an ironic similarity between the ups and downs of business and the ups and downs of a gliding flight, and the corresponding emotional rollercoaster; it’s just that the timescales are different.

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