In memory of Nick Gaunt

The Yorkshire Gliding Club, and the rest of the gliding world lost one of their leading characters, Nick Gaunt earlier this year.

Like the Queen, Nick was also celebrating a Platinum Jubilee this year. 70 years ago, encouraged by John Simpson, his physics teacher who was a keen glider pilot, Nick started gliding, going solo at the Mynd aged just 15. He then came to Sutton Bank where, after two flights in the Tutor, first landing out, then landing long and breaking the skid to stop going over the cliff, he was told to leave the club and not come back! But thankfully he did! Three years later, Nick was instructing and had formed the Leeds University Gliding Club with Barry Goldsborough under the guidance of the YGC.

He has always been a very active member of Sutton Bank, flying in various syndicates and gliders. While he did enter one or two regional competitions, it was Competition Enterprise that really caught his imagination, allowing him to explore further and into parts of the country not normally visited by competition pilots. He epitomised the ethos of Enterprise “maximising the day with adventurous flying”, He enjoyed venturing further afield, using any ridge that might appear, flying into the evening when others had landed and winning five times. He was always at the heart of the Enterprise organisation, particularly with the task setting and being a true Yorkshireman, when it was run from Sutton Bank in 2007, he proposed the “Yorkshire 500”, a 500k triangle within the boundaries of Yorkshire. He also introduced a “Trip to Wales” but the weather did not allow either to be set. However, the seed was sown and within a month YGC’s Bill Payton went to Wales and then in 2010 completed the first 750 FAI triangle from Sutton Bank via Talgarth and Cambridge.

Nick Gaunt in 1952, aged 15
Nick in 2022

Nick’s enthusiasm to be in the air never waned and he took every opportunity to fly and push the boundaries from Sutton Bank. If not in his LS7, he was often in the T21, taking various people with him or flying club aircraft. His enthusiasm was infectious, inspiring many people to fly. He quite rightly saw bringing Enterprise to Sutton Bank as a great opportunity to show members what could be achieved at their Club. He did the same with his own flying, being only too happy to pass on what he was up to and why. Through his enlightened approach he introduced numerous young people to gliding who became lifelong pilots themselves.

Nick’s flights were always imaginative and adventurous; he was continually exploring and trying new ideas. In 2015, one of his more notable flights was, at the age of 77 and indeed 62 years to the day of his first solo, flying from Aboyne, he visited Skye not in wave but using thermals and cloud flying to 12,000ft. On the way back via Fort Augustus, he headed south and, courageous and tenacious as ever, took the photo of Ben Nevis while circling at 500 feet that appeared on the front cover of S&G. The trip was described in Nick’s own eloquent words and pictures in that edition of S& G and the full article is available below (click the image of S&G to download it).

Nick’s enthusiasm for and interest in the YGC went way beyond his own flying. As well as being a longtime instructor, he served on the board of directors in several roles over many years and was made second president of the Club following Moyra Johnson’s death in 2009. In this, previously ceremonial only role, Nick made sure he actively contributed to many of the planning and staffing decisions the board were facing. He was a keen advocate for maintaining the relevance of the “senior” members of the Club and making use of their wealth of experience. He didn’t quite achieve his vision of creating a president’s “House of Lords” to give the thumbs up or down to the Chairman’s “House of Commons” decisions although the conversations about it between the two were both highly amusing and extremely useful. Of course, Nick couldn’t be ignored, and his wisdom, experience and active input was valued by all of us.

In all of this, he was inspirational, creative, intuitive, resourceful and tenacious, qualities that not only served him well in gliding but in his work managing the family’s wool textile mill. Away from gliding he enjoyed writing and painting. He was warm, encouraging and supportive, with a great, wicked sense of humour. To fill the large Helmsley parish church at the service to celebrate Nick’s life gives some indication of just how many people that life had touched. He will be sorely missed.

Our thoughts go to his wife Diana and his family.

Chris Thirkell, Jon Hart, Justin Wills and others

We are most grateful to Diana for allowing us to share her moving poem with us all: