Queensland Gliding

in the 50's, 60's and 70's


Compiled by Kevin Rodda based on photos, notes, letters and log book entries provided by 

Max Howland, ex WWII pilot and instructor ... a pioneer of gliding in Queensland.


The Gliding Series


 A Few Flights


High Climb

I had completed my three diamond flights but whenever a chance came to repeat a qualifying flight, naturally I would take it. I had been pairing with Marj Pegler flying her K6 (Romeo Victor). Basically she supplied the aircraft and the Howlands supplied the crew and the expertise. We had flown a number of contests but this Christmas we gave the Nationals a miss and did some flying here and there as far south as Benalla. Marj was still chasing her Gold Awards. We spent a few days at Inverell. Two cars - one towing the K6 and the other our small caravan. I will copy the write up I did at the time.

23-12-66. Inverell high climb. By 12 there were 4/8 Cu bases 3500 with variable tops. Most cloud was only a few thousand feet thick but a few isolated masses were extending to 10,000. There was high build-up well to the east.

On the second winch launch I contacted lift at 800 and for almost the next hour I was fiddling with indistinct, broken, and changeable lift below cloud base. Eventually I entered a larger mass but reached only about 8000 feet in poor lift. After more searching, another mass produced the same result, but this time at about 8000 I found a good strong core which took me to 11,500. I was on oxygen at this time and ice was just beginning to form at the top of the climb. There was still a little cloud above me but attempts to find more lift by flying through cloud proved fruitless. At about 10,000 I left the cloud. There was a gap almost clear of cloud to the east.

Stretching north-south from horizon to horizon was a line of towering Cu well formed and active but showing no signs of turning into Cu-Nimb. I decided to fly into this cloud using a reciprocal course as an escape route. Selecting a nicely developed part, I headed for it, and entered the side at about 8000. In contrast to the previous cloud climbs which had been extremely turbulent and at times produced lack of control effectiveness, this cloud was relatively smooth though for a time it produced no lift. Then the vario went hard over and the altimeter wound up at a fantastic rate. I had decided to terminate the climb at 18,000 indicated (a very definite Diamond height but I already had that). This height was reached in what seemed an incredibly short time. I then turned on to my escape course and I seemed to take quite a while to fly out of the cloud. - and I gained another 3500 feet in doing so I broke out of the cloud about 5000 feet from the top.

I had the usual considerable ice coverage, the dive brakes were frozen in, and unlike previous climbs the ailerons were stiff. I did not notice this while circling. The G meter showed a maximum of 3 G. The cockpit was warm (even though I was in shorts) so I had no fear of the oxygen equipment freezing. there was no practical way of getting down quickly. The build-up of ice precluded high speed or intentional spinning. The brakes unfroze at about 9000 feet.

I did have a barograph trace and I did run it through the official check but I now have no record of the result. We continued on with our trip south, flying at Benalla and I flew hors concours (outside competition) one day in the Nationals at Narromine. I did a 500 out and return. This would have given me the other two diamonds but, as I said, I already had them.


Win One / Lose One - Australian Nationals

It’s better to win one; and in any case that came first in the 1968 Nationals at Renmark flying the Boomerang. As usual, a few practice days first. An unusual aspect was a high thermal climb late in the day in clear air to 16000 feet.

I started off reasonably well scoring 888 points then 991. The important thing is not exactly where you come each day but how close you get to the magic 1000 points. Day 2 - 991. That was close. Day 3 was a race to a field to the west - Stonefield, across the Murray . Good going to the Murray but cloudless and dead the other side. And the countryside was scrub without landing spots except a few marginal ones just across the river. I climbed in a thermal just short of the river and watched a couple land in those fields just across. I was quite high and could have reached them but I tried a different tactic. If I could catch a thermal just a little higher I could overshoot them and glide to the goal. But I had to be sure I had enough height. I decided to stay on the ‘working’ side and try for that. But no go, and eventually I landed in a good paddock just short of the river.

Actually I was three miles short of the furtherest glider across the river. The three miles cost me 44 points. So day 3 gave me 956. Next day - 960. Then 953. Then 910. I was consistent and many others were messing up a day. That kept me well up and in the running. Next 1000 and then another 1000. I was among the top. For my last 1000 I managed to scrape home well ahead of the rest who landed well back. So I was well up the pecking order. Maybe I could win. Then 908. Still good. Next day only 859 and that had one pilot ahead of me. One day to go.

In fact provided I did not out land I would most likely come second. The others could not beat me. They were too far behind. The pilot ahead of me was an experienced pilot with International experience. For me to beat him he would have to out land. Most unlikely, and he could work out I had little real chance of  being  fast enough ahead of him to win. In fact, I knew I had no chance.

Never mind - play it up. I let it be know, especially let him know, I planned to ‘go for broke’ and he had better watch out. Actually, I had no such intention. I would fly my usual sensible flight.

For the last day the finish gate was to close exactly at five and the task was twice round a short triangle. Total 150 miles. We were not within sight of each other.  I did a reasonable triangle but nowhere near fast enough to beat him. Then I could not believe my ears. Daphne had a radio message for me.  Obviously he had gone like hell and -  and  he landed at base at the end of his first triangle. Naturally he launched again and started the task a second time. He still had two triangles and a bit of arithmetic told he could not complete them by five. If I got back I had won the Championship.

No chances. I switched to ‘best L/D’, it being the safest way to fly but also rather slow. Every man and his dog was passing me and probably were wondering ‘how come’. I landed and reckoned it was in the bag.  I went down to the finish line and waited till five. No Derrick. I had won the Standard Class Australian Championship and had a fair chance of being selected to be one of the four making up the Australian International team to fly at Marfa Texas USA in 1970.

Winning the first Australian Triple Diamond had been very satisfying - but without doubt winning the Australian Championship was the  highlight of my gliding career.


Well that was the Win One - now for the Lose One

A few years had passed. I had flown at Marfa, Texas. That International contest had a Standard Class winner - name of Helmut Reichmann, a young German of exceptional ability. The Gliding Federation then invited him to come to Australia and fly hors concours (outside the competition) in our national contest at Benalla in 1970. Arrangements were made. We would invite him, his attractive Nordic blond wife Helgie, and his flying club friend. I helped introduce him to ‘things Australian’  - our Australian ways, our Australian glider flying, our contest procedures. Our families became friendly and Daphne and I were later to be his house guests in Germany . A little diversion. They took us just over the French border for a restaurant meal - their little joke - snails and frog legs. Yes, we did sample them - but back to the contest at Benalla.

Nationals at this time could still be shared. Some pilots like myself at Renmark had the glider to themselves and flew most days. Others flew two to a glider, each flying roughly alternate days. Scores were averaged accordingly. At Benalla I shared the Libelle with Ian Aspland. So I flew half  the days.

I did not fly on day one - an out and return that proved difficult. Helmut got back but only two Australians. One was Sue Martin, wife of Bob Martin the pilot I had flown with at Marfa. She did very well. Towards the end her club mates were encouraging her over the radio with her, I believe, almost in tears. We all gave her silent cheers when she made it.

My turn on day 2. It was a 123 mile triangle and I came second with 960 points. Quite OK for a start. That was on  December 30. I flew again January 2, 3, and 5. More triangles. I came second on the 5th with 980 points. Consistent but not top flying was certainly keeping me in the running. If a pilot has a bad day that usually is it. For me, so far so good.

My day 5 on January 7. A triangle again first into the mountains to Mt Beauty and the to a place to the north called The Rock. Australians do very little mountain flying and to put it lightly, that section was very interesting. Slope soaring up the mountain side with the people on the road below stopping to watch. A low point and a climb away, and then into the more relaxing open country. An interesting decision. A cloudless space ahead but with clouds marking a large diversion to the west. Calculation. Yes, I could cross the gap in a straight glide - and yes, it did work out. A trip of 272 miles taking 5 hours 15 minutes. And I came first. Very nice to have the World Champion come up to you and say, ‘You were faster than I was today’.

For me, one day to go and I was in the running. It looked as though it could be between a pilot called Debonie and myself provided we both got back. If we both got back it seemed unlikely no one from the group not flying this day could beat us.

Forecast - weak to start but coming good with a weak front from the west later in the day. Standard procedure was for pilots to ‘hang round’ after launch and pick a starting time when things improved - maybe even 90 minutes later.

Conditions certainly were weak and most of us ‘hung around’, including yours truly and also Helmut Reichmann. Debonie started almost half an hour before me. I knew that from information Daphne could broadcast to me. But conditions did not improve and one by one we decided to start. The Met officer Wallie Wallington  still stuck by the briefing forecast.

I made a bad start in the weak conditions and had to struggle to stay up. Progress was slow. Kites were dropping out in droves. I watched a few actually land and the radio information painted an even  grimmer picture. No hope of catching Debonie now. Goodbye championship. I was trying to balance staying up with making some speed - and that required very fine judgement. Then came the radio message from Daphne that made my day. Very soft as I was well north. “Debonie is down’. I became even more careful  If I could get back now I almost certainly would have it.

I rounded the first turning point. I watched my mate Jan land. I crawled along the second leg. Then I heard Reichmann was down also. I reached the second turning point. There were only a few aircraft ahead of me but that mattered little. None of them could beat me on overall score if I got back. Right over the turning point I got a weak easy thermal that took me very high. I spotted Bob Martin below me. I would repeat what he and I had done at Marfa - pair fly where two chances of finding weak and scarce lift is better the one. I delayed at the top of the thermal until he climbed up. Then we both headed south - not in formation but within sight of each other.

My mistake soon became obvious. He was flying in an Open Class aircraft which was faster then my Libelle. I slowly lagged behind and any chance of finding each other thermals disappeared. Then in hindsight I made another mistake. Still with considerable height I waited over what should have been a good area for a thermal to enable me to climb again. No thermal came and I eventually landed in a paddock. There were a few aircraft ahead of me ... they could not affect overall score. No one got back. The whole field landed out and scoring was on distance, not speed. Even a few miles under distance scoring can have a significant result. It did for me. One more thermal or heading on instead of waiting and searching would probably have been enough.

Sue Martin, who was not flying this day came first - and good luck to her. She had flown a magnificent flight that first day. She got  904 average. I was second  with 900. So close but so far - but there was one consolation. I had twice beaten the world champion.

So, "win one - lose one" - but it’s all good fun.


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