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


Waves - Mountain and Shear


August 1968. Kingaroy. The Fourth Queensland Gliding School.  The Advanced Course.  

We were about to enter the mountain wave era in Queensland. 

Australian gliding people had been flat inland thermal cross country flyers. We had done almost no mountain flying as was done overseas, though  perhaps there had been one or two wave flights down south. But really - a new era was about to dawn.

We had discussed wave. We had read the theory. The Bunyas seem to have been especially built to generate waves, especially in winter with the south-westerlies. And the met pattern of the atmosphere seemed to fit the theory. But more than that, we had seen the lenticulars indication primary, secondary, tertiary and even beyond. Ground wind observation between the drome and the range gave turbulent areas, wind reversals, calm areas - yes - everything fitted, and early in the course it was all there. Met forecast, actual wind, and the lenticulars. There had even been one or two little air nibbles before. Ian Aspland and Alan Rogerson had been exploring the system.

I quote from a write up prepared at the time by Dennis Wengert ...

"During Monday 21st a strong westerly wind began and towards the end of the day the unmistakable lenticulars could be seen to the south west. These clouds were the subject of much discussion that night and Ian Aspland was dragged from his warm fireside to give advice gained in his previous flight and from knowledge he acquired in New Zealand. The clear cold night air was host to many pilots out from the warm kitchen of the clubhouse; for the lenticulars were showing in the moonlight. It was decided that if similar conditions prevailed at daybreak an attempt would be made to contact the wave lift. At six we shook the icicles off our sleeping bags and decided to make the attempt. Max Howland and Denis Wengert launched at 7.30 in the M200, towed by the 172 Cessna piloted by Bruce Sinclair. Wind at ground level (1450 ASL) was about 25 knots from 220. Severe turbulence was encountered on the first part of the flight."

That was Dennis’ description but it is an under estimate  ... I think it was as severe as any turbulence I have struck in all my flying.

Obviously the third rotor was just off the end of the strip. In fact it so surprised Bruce that he immediately landed after the tow and put his tug away. He decided such flying was not for him - and that was not altogether an unwise decision. Another launch and  by then the roll had moved and the launches were normal.  In view of this Bruce tried another tow. Would you believe it - the roll was back and Bruce had his second shock. 

But back to Dennis ... 

"Climb was painfully slow at first, the first thousand feet taking all of eight minutes. Still on tow the combination turned parallel with the clouds and good lift was obtained on the down wind side of the next rotor area  2000 feet to 3000 feet took 2 minutes and we went from 3000 to 4000 in 1 minute 50 seconds. We left this area of lift at 5800 feet and promptly lost 1000 crossing over the second rotor cloud. We again entered lift and reached 5800 above the Bunya cap cloud, before entering sink on the other side. The combination turned down wind and we released, the Cessna returning home and the M200 flying fast to contact the lift downwind of the rotor. Temperature at 7000 was 25 degrees F.

Lift in the order of 2-3 knots was found windward of the rotor over a surprising wide area and along the whole length of the cloud. Wind at 7000 was calculated at 50 knots. Flying in the wave was incredibly smooth, at speeds from 55 to 80 knots.

As this flight was exploratory we left this area after making our observations and marking the areas on our map. We continued (back) to the next rotor and found that lift was obtained  in the same area as previously, though over a narrower band. The sink between rotors was appreciable. The fourth rotor was approached at about 3500 feet and we again found lift areas as before. This rotor was about over the Kingaroy aerodrome, about 25 miles from the Bunyas. Turbulence from 3000 feet down was severe.

The second flight, overlapping the first in time was by Marj Pegler in the Ka6 towed by the Tiger. Her rate of climb was opposite from ours - she was at 6000 feet at the point where we were at 1000. She passed over the Bunyas and released in the area of the pressure wave which gave only very weak lift. She then had to cross over the Bunyas and found small areas of lift. If she had lost height here she would have to pass through the rotor cloud itself so she continued on and passed over the cloud. In the third wave she found broken lift. This flight proved that the lift in the pressure wave was so small as to not be worth spending time on.

The third flight was by Jim Moore and Harold Powell in the ASK-13, towed by the 172. They also experienced a very rough tow and found themselves above 8\8 cloud and had trouble getting down. During the last part of their flight they were in conditions where the wave was moving forwards. Owing to the cloud cover they eventually found themselves in a position of no return to the aerodrome under normal conditions. However, by flying in lift as the wave advanced they were able to cover some five miles back to base. This flight demonstrated the danger of becoming lost above cloud. The township of Kumbia was clearly visible on the first and third flights but was completely covered during the second.

John Best had the best climb of the day. In the secondary wave he climbed to 8500 feet, just under controlled air. He moved to the primary wave and here could climb to 11,500 feet. Good lift was found here and a much greater height could have been obtained had oxygen been available.

The fifth and final flight was by Max Howland and Flo Robinson in the M200. The Tiger towed them to 6000 feet where they released in the third wave over Kingaroy. They climbed in this and a distinct  fourth wave could be seen to the north east. Lift was of the order of 1 - 1.5 knots but map reading was very difficult through the cloud breaks. At this time, 11am, the cloud in the rotor area was very definite but scattered in this and round the edges was Cu cloud no doubt associated with instability under the wave height."

Thus wave flying became almost standard - whenever the wave co-operated.  And that was virtually every year - winter or thereabouts. The weather pattern was usually the opener - then of course observation. The sky could vary from no cloud - to beautiful lenticulars - to confusing over-development. It was interesting to sit perfectly stationary over a spot and slowly go up - or to explore the range itself after better lift. Of course a wave flight could be combined with a cross country using the considerable height as a starting benefit.

Once the then new Maroochy Club was to begin flying at Maroochydoore Airport. It was their first day. I picked up wave lift off a launch at 1800 and then moved forward to the primary and reached 16,200. What to do? Why not pay a visit with the Libelle to the Maroochy opening - a flight of just over 100 miles. So I did that and then Daphne had the task of retrieving me. Another time I did an out and return to Tara, back to the wave, more height, then another 100 klm triangle - an interesting flight of 8 hours and 5 minutes. I did a ‘glide’ 100 klm triangle on a few occasions.

Most pilots trying for wave were experienced pilots and they did their own exploring. There were a few ‘guest’ flights and some actual instructional flights. If well known gliding people from ‘down south’ happened to be at Kingaroy while wave was on they of course were interested. The then well known Marti Gething was one such visitor. As well as demonstrating wave I could show another aspect. It is possible on a good cross country day to be a little stretched for time - to be very high- say 9000 feet, and with some distance to go. Light still OK except that it can be dark at ground height. A trap if a paddock landing results - a request for car headlights by radio if it is to be a base landing. It was easy to demonstrate this (but still keeping it daylight landing safe) if the wave was working. Actually a potential trap for the unwary.

We did reach the stage where we would be entering controlled airspace. By arrangement we could get radio clearance from Flying Control Brisbane to be give a block of controlled air. Often this would alert the Oakey Club that wave was on and they would at times join in the fun. There was a fourth wave just ‘past’ Kingaroy. I played with it one late evening. Too late to see how many more there were - and I never did explore that aspect.

Now, two very interesting days when the wave was not the wave. 1968. Messed up cloudy sky but every indication of wave. Yes, I released in lift just SW of the aerodrome and make my usual climb in the tertiary before working forward to the primary over the Bunyas. Only there was no more wave. Smooth air. Right to the range and a little beyond - in fact into a paddock of the SW side. Looked like the wave suddenly stopped just after I left the third. Strange. Must be more careful, and I was, and plenty more wave flights eventuated.

Then several years later. Cloudy, but still looking good for wave. I was off first and did my usual climb in the tertiary. Oakey was advised by radio and one or two set off from their side. I moved forwards but no secondary wave. More careful this time so back I went to the tertiary expecting it to have stopped. No, still there, and I explored it for some distance lengthwise both ways. It was working well - but again no secondary. Other  Kingaroy pilots took off and found the same. Oakey pilots flew right across the range and struck no lift until the working ‘tertiary’. So it wasn’t wave. I have decided that on some rare occasions when met indicated possible wave there was some sort of frontal lift running SE to NW . Sort of shear edge frontal lift - an interesting trap for the unwary. But let’s move back to real wave.

World height gain was made by an American Paul Bickle, ex NASA Aeronautical Research Director - to comfortably over 40,000. He used the Sierra wave in California - a world famous area. A WWII Lightning - the heavy metal twin engined fighter had soared with engines off in this area. Paul owned an HP14, a home made metal glider. My friend, Jan Coolhaas owned the same. Jan had been my crew chief for the World Contest at Marfa, Texas. Jan invited Paul to come to Australia and fly in one of our Nationals. I got involved with “helping” Paul with Australian gliding ways just as I had done with Helmut Reichmann, the World Champion. So I got to know Paul. When we visited USA in 1974 we spent a few days with Paul in the Californian desert as house guests. ‘Interested in a flight here, Max?’ What a question to ask.

I would fly from the airport at Lancaster where quite a few glider private owners had their gliders. The High Sierras run roughly N - S and at the southern end the range swings west near Mojave and the Tehachepi Pass. It seems  the pass area sends up the best wave and it was here Paul made his record climb.

Conditions indicated very very marginal wave if any at all.  A few days earlier Paul had made a flight to about 23,000 feet. He asked if I would like the wing extensions put on to increase the aircraft’s performance. No, don’t bother, I said. I picked up from a conversation between Paul and another pilot that Paul took no notice of certain flight restrictions that involved a nearby Air Force base. I must be a bit careful, I thought, but didn’t know why or what.

I launched and the tug pilot did not circle the aerodrome - he climbed straight west. No sign of anything interesting so I held on for quite a time. My first job after release was some almost frantic map reading to take in the lie of the strange countryside and where my aerodrome was. I would have been easy to become lost. There were signs of lift but I had quite a slow job making any height. I used the radio once for a very short message but there was constant ‘American voice’ chatter and I sounded strange as hell. One short message with no reply from Paul so I shut up.

It was wave but broken and although I slowly gained height time went by.  From what Daphne said later they expected me down as it was not the wave day they were used to. But I course I didn’t appear and Daphne gathered they were considering sending up a kite to look for me. She met an interesting American pilot - a millionaire who had come to Australia some years before and ‘circumnavigated’ Australia on a motorbike with some associated media attention.

But I was still making height with conditions improving as I climbed. Eventually at about 18000 very definite and now relatively ‘easy’ wave and my climb continued. But time was getting on. At 21,500 feet with good 300 fpm lift I gave it away. I had decided I would not try to out-do my guest’s height of a few days earlier. A steady  wave climb after the hard earlier hour or so was pleasing enough. Now to get down. Dive brakes, yes, but they had to be held open and it was hard. Paul told me about a catch so that made it easy. Later he said he did not usually tell guests about the catch in case they forget at a critical moment how to release. I was very pleased he had told me. So eventually I landed. First out was a girl I did not know who asked the obvious question - how high?  When I told her she said - ‘Oh my poor husband. He’s been trying for six months’.

Yes, wave flying can be very interesting. My last wave flight was around 1975 I think. Only it wasn’t a wave flight - it was that shear lift pretend wave I mentioned earlier. Still, an interesting way to end it all.

I mentioned shear lift. Sometimes, on a good day with well developed very high Cu clouds there can be a change of wind direction area into which the Cu grows. Quite often this condition will show up as a lenticular cap on the Cu. Often it is possible to climb up in lift just outside the Cu on the windward side.

Let’s go to Narromine - December 1974. Practice period before the Nationals. It was a day of fairly high cloud streets running roughly SW over many miles and finally petering out. I invariably brought oxygen to a contest though few contest days could have you that lucky. In fact this time, instead of having the supply bottle in the car I came away with only the aircraft bottle. Most unlikely to need even that.

But something strange happened up near the cloud streets. There was shear lift along the streets but on the west edge. Obviously an unusual wind pattern more or less matching the Cu side lift, only here for miles along the side of the streets. A number of pilots did find this lift. Ingo Renner used it as he was flying up from the south. And I found it. How high could I go? I did not have the oxygen bottle aboard. 10,000 is now the accepted height for oxygen. During the war we used 15,000 and I had been this high without oxygen on a few occasions. I did go a little above that but had to leave the lift. What a pity.


 > Return to "INDEX"