With the death of Philip Wills on January 17th 1978 at the age of 70, a great mass of British gliding history seemed to have suddenly shifted into the past. The records show that he started gliding in 1933. He found what he described as "the most absorbing sport of all time", and glider pilots for generations to come are going to benefit from his decision in 1932. The gliding world, with good reason regards him as rather especially their man, because he was one of the pioneers who demonstrated time and again to pilots that there were new frontiers to conquer and, in addition, taught the movement how to organise itself and look after its interests.
He was the second man in the UK to obtain his Silver C in 1934. In 1938 a magnificent flight of 209 miles from Heston to Cornwall which, together with a subsequent height record of 10080ft at Dunstable, won him the third Gold C in the world. In those early days the mere ability to stay airborne was a major achievement. It was this above all that we learned from Philip, for he was always willing to pass on his own hard earned experience. His peak as a competition pilot was reached in 1952, when he won the World Gliding Championship in Spain.
Born with a brilliant and creative mind, Philip acquired a rarer tribute - a high degree of wisdom. Always interested in the world of ideas, he developed a clear philosophy that he was able to apply during his 19 years as Chairman of The British Gliding Association.
Philip wrote about his libertarian philosophy in Free as a Bird (1973). His other two gliding books, Where no Birds Fly (1961) and On Being a Bird (1953), describe his love affair with the air.
The short appraisal and photo above is extracted from Sailplane and Gliding, April/May 1978. The complete articles in S&G and the three books are in our library in the clubhouse. An article from Justin Wills covering a flight from Walney demonstrates Philip's flair and love of flying is still alive and well.
Club Trophies: The Lonsdale Trophy, 1959, a flight from Tebay to Sutton Bank. The whole of the flight was done in cloud and across the Pennines. A weekend competition had been arranged and pilots from various parts of the UK participated, Philip naturally won.
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