Motor gliders used to train thousands of Air Cadets will get a new lease of life and bring joy to people with disabilities and injured ex-military personnel.
The MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation has sold 63 decommissioned Vigilant T1 aircraft to Aerobility, a charity which provides flying experiences to those who might otherwise never get a chance to take to the skies.
The first batch of 10 gliders will be modified and refurbished by German company GROB Aircraft SE – the original manufacturer and Design Authority – to meet civil certification standards.
The remaining aircraft will be engineered and recertified in the UK, where the charity has identified a qualified engineering partner in Southern Sailplanes, based in West Berkshire.
Hampshire-based Aerobility will initially more than double its fleet with eight Vigilants thanks to a grant from the Department for Transport (DfT); meaning they will be able to help about 2,600 people into the air every year compared to 1,000 currently.
Clive Walker, head of the Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA) in DE&S, said:
“I am very pleased to see the RAF Vigilant T1 gliders move on to a new lease of life, in particular supporting the excellent work of Aerobility in creating flying experiences and opportunities for those who might otherwise never get the chance to fly.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“General aviation is the engine room of the entire aviation sector, so it’s vital that people from all backgrounds can access it. Some of our most successful pilots learnt to fly in a glider and I’m encouraged to see the work of charities like Aerobility offering similar experiences to people who may otherwise miss out.”
Glider modifications will include new engines, propellers and refurbished cockpits, and the charity hopes the first glider will be ready to fly in the summer of 2021.
Aircraft that aren’t used for flights will be refurbished and sold to generate revenue for the charity, pay for the ongoing costs of their operational fleet and help them branch out into other parts of the British Isles.
Aerobility’s CEO Mike Miller-Smith said:
“Acquiring these aircraft will help us transform the lives of an even greater number of disabled people by giving them the unrivalled sense of freedom through the magic of flight. We are extremely grateful to the Ministry of Defence, Department for Transport and our various partners for supporting us in this ambitious project. “Not only will it help us build capacity for our future operations, it will enable us to expand the charity to support more disabled people and to do so at additional locations around the UK.”
The sale will create four full-time engineering jobs, one project management role and one administration position at the charity. They will also need a full-time co-ordinator and a part-time flying instructor, with all positions being filled by candidates with a disability where possible.