So long, Richard Westgate

Thursday 13 December, 2012

Richard with Jocky Sanderson at the 2011 North South Cup

Richard Westgate: 1969-2012

Few had it as bad as Richard.

It only took a sniff of a good forecast and he’d be off, gunning from his base in Wiltshire to the Long Mountain, the South Downs, Scotland… wherever it was on.

Richard was the UK’s most enthusiastic cross country pilot, by far. He was one of those people who was always looking right over the horizons of possibilities, and he pulled a lot of us along in his wake.

He inspired Mike Cavanagh and others to keep digging away at the unmined gold of Scotland and spring – and only now do we understand the country’s huge potential.

Richard was a numbers man – and his accolades include the Tandem World Distance Record (356.2 km), several XC League wins, the UK triangle record and of course his name at the top of the UK’s ‘100 club’.

His latest plan was to free-fly across the Channel. By thermalling up inside a huge towering cumulus over Kent, he hoped a strong north-westerly would see him over the sea to France.

I flew closely with Richard many times since we both joined the Nationals in 1994, and our last close XC together was in 2008. Richard flew his tandem like a sailplane – pushing deep cross-wind, carving huge circles, and never stopping for anything less than a 3-up. I tried to keep up with him at last year’s North South Cup – no chance.

We’re a tiny little club of nutty free flyers here on our ‘mud island’, as Helen Gant puts it, but that in no way reduces the appreciation many of us feel to Richard for showing us how it’s done – always with a grin on his face.

Thanks for leading out, Richard.

Hugh Miller

Richard lines up for a speed flying race at the 2011 North South Cup

Footnote: Richard, an airline pilot for British Airways, suffered acutely in the last 18 months from ‘Aerotoxic Syndrome‘. This is a little known condition brought about from toxic fumes from jet engines bleeding into the plane’s cabin. The Independent write about it here.

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