IT is safe to say that Sean Gallagher is – quite literally – flying.
The Newtownstewart student recently became one of only five people in the whole of Ireland to receive his glider pilot’s wings at the age of 14 – passing his test with flying colours – and he also plans to reach new heights by becoming a full-time pilot in the future.
Sean, who is now 15 and currently studying for his GCSEs, holds his gliding achievement close to his heart. Partly because he has learned much about flying from his father, Seamus who is a pilot himself, and also as
the invaluable experience gained from the feat will help him land his dream job.
Gliding, Sean articulately explained, was ‘known as the purest form of flying’.
“In a glider plane, you fly without an engine, and there is no noise,” Sean, who lives two miles away from Newtownstewart, said. “It’s actually the wind that helps you move, and when you are in the air you can hear the air sweeping past.
“When you are in the skies, the peacefulness takes your mind off things, and you can just enjoy it and be present in the moment.”
For Sean, gliding is more than just a unique hobby: It is his passion and there is a glint in his eyes and enthusiasm in his voice when he talks about the craft.
At the age of 11, he took to the skies in a microlight, and at 12, Sean began flying with the Ulster Gliding Club. For two years, he visited the club almost every weekend to experience the exhilaration of air travel.
“There’s nothing like seeing the grounds, the flowers and the buildings just drifting away as you ascend into the air,” Sean described.
“However, the take-off is probably the hardest part because a glider is not like other planes.
“There is a rope attached to it, pulling it up until about 2,000 feet. Then you are released, and it is up to you to keep climbing and find your bearings by using the ground as a guide. There’s an art to it.
“I’ve flown over Ben Nevis many times. You can see the lakes below, and on a sunny day, it is absolutely beautiful.”
Sean’s first solo flight in a glider took place on September 16 last year. It was a day that he’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.
“I was sitting in the glider ready, and my hands were shaking,” Sean recalled. “As the ground rushed past, my heart was racing, and it was an absolutely terrifying, but fantastic, experience.”
With his radar set on flying in the military or flying commercially, Sean is firmly on course to reach his dream destination.
“Ideally, I would like to start training now to be a power plane pilot,” Sean said.
“Commercial airlines prefer you to have a university degree, and a lot of hours’ flying practice built up, so that’s what I’m going to work towards.
“However, gliding is something I’ll always keep as it’s where I started.”
Beaming, Nigel Frith, the principal of Drumragh Integrated College where Sean is a pupil, told the Chronicle that he is ‘very proud of Sean’s achievement’.
“I enjoy listening to Sean talking about gliding because he speaks about it with passion, and he gets so much out of it,” Nigel said. “It captures his imagination.
“I admire Sean’s unwavering dedication and motivation, and years of commitment to flying. Having those things is the secret to life, and Sean is a flying example of it.”
Sean has expressed his thanks to his dad, Seamus; mum, Olive; younger sister, Aoife, and Drumragh Integrated College for continuing to support his passion for flying.