Lifestyle Sport & Fitness The sky's the Limit
The sky's the Limit
Monday, 01 August 2005

Forced landings on outback roads and dog fights with wedge tail eagles it seems nothing can deter GP Iain Russell from his insatiable gliding fetish in his single seater Astir. Springing acrobatics and loop the loops on wife Kim we caught up with the front man of the Wanneroo Family Practice who continues to reach for the sky.

Iain's first fascination with flying came as a 15 year old air cadet attending school in Scotland. Since then he has purchased his own glider, become an instructor and flown regularly in club, interclub and state competitions culminating in a 43rd at the National Championships.

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Dr Iain Russell has introduced people of all ages to the exhilarating experience of gliding.

Released by a tow plane at 2000 feet, it's a challenging sport where each flight is different. Unlike motorised planes you don't have a throttle. You have to work all the time and look for the thermals.

Iain reckons on a good day it's pretty easy but sometimes when the weather doesn't co-operate it's difficult to even stay in the air. Half the fun is wondering if you're going to get back or not or if you might land in a paddock 150 klm away, which of course he's done before with wife Kim (who doubles as practice manager and retrieval team), being scrambled to the rescue.

"I was flying down to the Stirling Range near Bluff Knoll. We were in a two seater and we got into a lot of sink and turbulence and were flying over unlandable terrain. We didn't have enough height to get back to the strip and the paddock where we could land so we had to land on a road that wasn't wide enough to take the glider and we finished up in the bush with a damaged plane," he says matter of fact.

Despite the potential for danger, Kim has generously shouted Iain a new glider for his 60th birthday-a gesture which has amassed plenty of browny points and inspired a crash diet to improve his air time.

It seems gliders have a weight threshold particularly when doing two seater flying and if one pilot is slightly oversize it can occasionally cause problems with the cockpit load. According to Kim, Iain's winter coat has at times, created a few hiccups which of course he staunchly defends.

"I've lost 10 kilos recently through dieting and cutting out beer so it's not a worry anymore. I still drink wine though," he chuckles.

Flying up to 500klm in eight hour stints over some of WA's most remote terrain, Iain has witnessed plenty of bizarre sights but nothing prepared him for a high speed dogfight with an aggressive wedge tail eagle.

"The bird didn't like me and it dived me and hit the tail plane of the glider with a hell of a thump which scared the shit out of me I can tell you. So I gently came down and landed without turning in case the tail had been damaged."

Occasionally flying with other GPs and anaesthetists at Beverley and other gliding clubs, Ian loves the social side of flying and once a month serves as his Club's instructor for the day taking charge of all gliding operations.

"I recently had a student who went solo one day after his 15th birthday so he can fly a glider by himself before he can drive," he beams.

Drawing off his medical background for hydration which is important when you're flying in summer and oxygen use when you're above 8000 feet, he has only encountered one emergency to date.

"Our tow pilot had a heart attack at our annual Christmas dinner and I had to resuscitate him and spend the next three hours at a hospital helping the local GP to get him going again."

What a good wing man.