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


World Competitions in Australia


This is not an account of the 1973-4 World Comps held at Waikerie. I was chairman of the task setting committee and was involved in other ways in the organization. I will recount here some of the organization areas and problems and will have very little to say about the actual flying.


The World Gliding Federation had granted Australia the right to host the World Comps, flown every two years, and hosted by a country chosen from the applicants. Planning began well over a year ahead.

We had to select a site. Really, there were three options. Narromine in NSW, Benalla in Victoria, and Waikerie in South Australia. There very definitely was inter-state rivalry. A small selection committee was set up by the Gliding Federation of Australia - the body that controlled gliding in Australia. I became one of the three or four members under the chairmanship of Bill Iggulden, the GFA president. Mainly we did our business by phone.

Narromine: An excellent aerodrome where Australian Championships were held regularly - by turn among the States. No resident gliding club. Good gliding competition country to the south and west and a little to the north. Flying wise - quite OK.

Benalla: An excellent aerodrome and an active resident Club. Good competition country to the north and west and maybe even into the mountains to the east. Benalla also had hosted quite a few Australian championships.

Waikerie: Almost a rebel club in the early days when club cross country flying was not always a favoured pastime. A long history of competition flying and the club, more than any other in Australia, that had provided our past International pilots. Good gliding country to the east and south. Very isolated 'Sunset Country' to the north. The area had more of a variety of weather types that the other two - sea breeze area and the desolate country to the north. Also, possible beneficial 'influence' in high places.

To the rather strong objection from Victoria, we decided upon Waikerie. We made this decision by phone. Maybe the magic weather fairies were looking after us - the selection committee. 1974 was the flood season. Terrible floods in Southern Queensland in fact extending all the way south to Victoria. No competition would have been possible at either Narromine or Benalla. We had fantastic weather at Waikerie. In fact we who were involved in the Championship were not really aware during the contest of the wash-out we would have had if we had not selected Waikerie.

We got considerable help from Local, State and Commonwealth Governments. It was the period of the School Christmas holidays. The large assembly hall of the local school became available as the mess hall for contestants, their teams and the Australian officials and friends. In fact it was available to most who were at Waikerie. Locals were hired as casuals and some arrangements were put in place for catering. It started well. A couple of sessions per meal and no trouble. That is, until the hired help wanted more money and threatened strike action. They thought that was something we could not accept - all the visitors and a mess up over feeding them. They did not know the gliding movement. No deal - so they went on strike only to be immediately replaced by volunteers from the movement who worked for free. The strike did not last and would hardly have been noticed.

The State Government erected a hostel for the aged at Waikerie, timed to be complete just before the contest. It was not to be occupied by the elderly until a short time after the contest. It was available to us for accommodation. Thus we could house and feet the contestants. At Marfa a few years previously the local university had supplied accommodation and the meals were arranged actually at the drome. It was a drive of a few miles to the university. Distances were shorter at Waikerie.

Money had been budgeted for aerodromes and some was spent on the Waikerie aerodrome. There had been gliding at Waikerie for years and of course powered aircraft used the strip as well. The aerodrome itself was improved just before the contest. The Waikerie Gliding Club had a large hanger and quite a few Club buildings at Waikerie. An area was made available both for 'official' caravans and tents and for visitors. So we ended up with quite a village complex on site. The Waikeri Club had a swimming pool. We did something that was very much appreciated by the competing pilots and crews that had not been done elsewhere. Near the pool a square of caravans was arranged solely for the day use of the crews - a relaxation place with privacy. I think it was appreciated. Buildings were set aside for administration, task setting, photo checking - and so on.

The Commonwealth Government made available a 'detachment' of the Meteorological Bureau that provided the met information so important for task setting and for the flying itself. This group, with their equipment, acted as height assessors for the start procedure. More on that later. Our contact was mainly with two met people - a younger very competent official and his superior who was -somehow - not so gliding weather conscious. The younger chap gave the met forecast both for the task setters and for the weather bulletins made available to pilots. He was good, with a fine appreciation of glider weather requirements and implications. One day his superior briefed the task setters and on his information they set the task for the day. Then the young chap arrived and to us, the task setters, violently contradicted what his boss had forecast. Bad task setting had on a number of occasions during former World Contests resulted in completely messed up days. We had introduced and circulated a changed procedure. Should weather forecast or whatever - change after briefing and before launching the task setters reserved the right to alter the tasks. We knew how unpopular this would be if we ever did it. However, this day, we had so much faith in the young chap we did alter the task. The change certainly was unpopular with the pilots. Helmut Reichmann former World Champion (and to win the title again at this contest) complained bitterly to me, the Chairman of the Task setting Committee.

The young chap WAS corerect. It was just as well we changed. When the day was over Helmut came up to me and said - ‘I apologise. You were right. If you hadn't altered the task no one would have got back'.

We would be tasking over a large area of South Australia and east into Victoria. About eighty gliders flying each day. And Commercial and Civil power flying would naturally take place in the same area. As a liaison group, three Examiners of Airmen with their aircraft were attached to Waikerie. They attended our task setting and - I suppose I could say - kept a watching brief on the flying. We got on well with them. I was familiar with almost the whole task area having flown over it on quite a few contests. There was one area to the north of Waikerie that we did not use. It was the terrible 'Sunset Country'. There was a tongue of good country running north but to its west. That was included in our task area. I had not flown over that area. The examiners were quite willing to fly me there for a look-see. On the return they cut straight back across the sunset country. Airmanship. This was a modern power aircraft. Said the pilot when he saw the country below him -'I think we'll edge off track a little to the south'. Later we did task into the good area. A few glider pilots did fly across the sunset country!

As I said, the examiners were always present during our task setting. With competition and civil flying mixed they would need to be present. The relationship was professional and excellent. We, the task setters, had to set a demanding but not impossible task to fit in with the weather forecast - to stretch the competitors but not to over-stretch them. This required navigation knowledge and calculations- likely speeds, suitable distances with wind effects varying with the direction of the legs. On windy days the navigation ‘calculations' became more detailed. And to a point, time consuming. The examiners agreed that they would automatically do the basic calculations for us as we discussed other pros and cons. We found this helpful.

The examiners could fly during the day as they felt the need - in their Government aircraft of course. One day looked like being a beauty. World record times a distinct possibility. Proposed distance - 300k or gold distance as it is called. A triangle. The second leg to the south looked unbelievable - possible cloud streeting along a terribly fast leg, the maybe with a fast glide home. For world records there were leg length stipulations - legs approximately equal. Therein lay our problem. The first leg - roughly to the south if of the correct length would POSSIBLY enter an area affected by sea breeze - or be a bit too early even for that. The task setters had an interesting choice - task for a possible world record but make it maybe a badly chosen world contest task. We were running a world contest and we gave that our priority - a fast task but no world record. The day turned out as planned. One of the examiners remarked later ‘1 thought 1 would fly along that second leg to see the gliders in action. Maybe just as well 1 didn't. 1 couldn't have kept up. Speeds were round 160 mph on that leg - the glider speeds that is. The power aircraft would have been nearer 140. Interesting.

In the sixties the checking of turning points was done by a couple of crew (detailed in turn) physically going to the turning point and placing a marker behind a building or silo. These markers were changed periodically. The pilot had to report the correct time-marker and was usually observed as well. Pilots had to descend to 3000 feet. As performances improved turning points were a long distance from base. It was not a satisfactory method of checking. Now of course we are in the days of global positioning systems (GPS). Anyway, for the World Comps at Marfa Texas in 1970 photographing turning points was introduced. Pilots were given a printed diagram of the turning point and the diagram indicated how the pilot had to approach and when he was to photograph. Cameras were checked and sealed. Some European pilots reckoned they could beat the system so the Americans made it very stringent. By 1974 we had a very satisfactory photo check system in place, not quite as stringent as Marfa. At Waikerie fifty possible turning points were selected and a card was issued for each. The pilot would take the one or two or so he would need for the particular day. The system worked well.

A pilot carried two sealed fixed cameras and just before launch he photographed a checking board held beside the cockpit. The cameras were so fixed that the wingtip appeared in each photograph. On landing the two films were handed in and all photographs were checked. An official photographer was appointed by the organisers and a special darkroom was available. Dennis Wengert who had made almost a second profession of photography did the developing and printing on a few occasions. The prints then went to the team of checkers. There were a couple of minor arguments but the system did work well.

We used virtually the same start system as was used at Marfa. The pilot had to fly through an imaginary vertical square one kilometre by one kilometre. The side placing was no problem but the height could be critical. As the pilot crossed the line - having obtained radio clearance to make his run - he had to be no higher then 3280 feet. A kilometre. This was checked with instruments assisted by the Government Met people who were helping at this International Contest.

There were two classes in the contest - the standard and the open. For standard class wingspan was limited to 15 metres and there could be no tail chute or wing altering devices. There were a few other restrictions. At this time open aircraft had wingspans to about 21 metres. Invariably the open was set the more difficult task.


Task Setting 

That was my area as chairman. There was a contest chairman - the very experienced Wally Wallington. He was famous , world wide really, especially as a meteorologist. The world set-up under which the contest was run gave him virtually absolute power - more authority in fact than was given to a chairman by our national contests. No question of passing the buck if anything went wrong. Luckily nothing really did go wrong. Wally insisted on being a member of the task setting committee. He was thus the only member of that committee without actual world contest flying experience. However, otherwise I could virtually set up the committee as I wished. I selected a main committee of three with three' advisers' but we all pitched in with the discussions. I did this in case there was a strong disagreement in which case it would be easier to settle with a group of only three. However, only once did we even look like approaching this situation. I had a say in the members. For the so called advisers I selected one who was a very very practical pilot and another who would take a more theoretical approach. The examiners of airmen who heard all our discussions said that Wally would always tend to stretch the task while the practical pilot would bring things down to earth with a definite comment. Actually task setting went almost smoothly with several options invariably examined and a consensus reached.

We would begin with the met briefing before we began discussing actual tasks. There was a task for the standard class and another for the open. I used Dennis Wengert as the black-board man. He did not speak or in any way join in discussion. I selected him because of his excellent blackboard style. Neat. Quick. As we started discussing a proposed task he would write up all the relevant information - distances - wind and so on. He would follow what we said and without prompting put the facts up. If we changed our minds as we generally did he would erase as appropriate and re-write. At the end of the contest the French team gave each of the task setters a bottle of contreau so they at least must have been reasonably satisfied with us. In the contest before ours the Yugoslavs had made a hell of a mess of it so maybe sights were not set too high by the pilots. In retrospect I as chairman am quite satisfied with the result. An unexpected weather change can play hell with a well set task. We had some differences from what we expected but no significant change. Touch wood!

The tasks remained private until the official briefing. That was held with pilots and crews in the hanger. Maybe 300 people. Wally ran a formal and concise briefing. There was no surplus chatter by officials. There was the official met briefing and the announcement of the tasks. Order of takeoff was announced - and so on.

Launching ran smoothly at both Australian nationals and at out world contest. One launch every 30 seconds with a short break between the classes. When a class was launched, the gate would be opened a few minutes later for that class. Aircraft did not air start in any special order. Open and standard were mixed and as I have said, it was by radio clearance. Pilots would often make more that one start - the latest start being the one that counted - and on some days a pilot may delay his start for over an hour. It was a case of the pilot trying to select the time that would give him the best weather during the time he expected to take. At times starts of other pilots could be 'fed' into decision making. But of course some pilots would deliberately make false starts. All part of the interesting techniques pilots used.

I do not plan to cover the actual flights of the contest in this article. One story only. 1 have already mentioned Helmut Reichmann. He was well in the running to win the Standard Class title - again. Ingo Renner, who did his flying training in Germany and had become a naturalised Australian was coming to the peak of his form. Near the top but he hadn't quite made it yet. ( He was to go on and become one of the world's top pilots.) As the last day approached Ingo and Helmut were neck to neck. In fact Ingo was slightly in the lead and, 1 gather, he reasoned if he could more or less stay with Helmut round the task he would win. They launched. Catastrophe! Ingo had dive break trouble and had to land before the start. It appears that in an attempt to really ensure an airtight fit the dive brakes had been over tightened and now something went wrong. Helmut had a team member who worked in the factory producing Ingo's aircraft. He came over and in a few minutes corrected the over-tight adjustment that he knew was causing all the trouble Ingo launched and was able to fly the task. But Helmut was a little faster and won the Championship.



Scoring involves a great deal of mathematical calculation. For a race, time from start to finish is the critical factor and pilots do not fly together as in a car race. Out of maybe - to simply pick a time to illustrate - eight reasonable hours of soaring a task may take five hours. It is up to the pilot to pick the best five. So it is not a case of first home being the winner. If a pilot lands out and this often happens the score calculation becomes quite involved. At times with everyone knowing starting time of pilots (they go up on a board) it is possible to calculate who is likely to win. On other occasions a pilot arriving late in the day can be very high up on the scoring scale - due to better therefore faster conditions late in the day -or a significant wind change which certainly affects groundspeed. At Marfa in 1970 scores were out by the next morning. They would have been calculated by what I might call longhand. I don't know what happened in Yugoslavia in 1972 but at times scores took several days. Perhaps the large number of out landings partly due to weather but accentuated by bad task setting. So naturally we Australians were watched as far as scoring went. But we had a tremendous advantage. We were the first to computerise the scoring. Whoever did it prepared an excellent program and scores were available immediately the relevant information was at hand.

Let me illustrate with our friend Helmut. His wife Helgie a typical and beautiful Nordic blonde was a member of his crew. When he landed on the last day, Helgie brought the necessary films and documentation to hand it in. She could be told - 'We've made the calculations. Helmut has won the day and the championship.' 'But he's not even tied down yet!' His glider tied down of course - another standard procedure. Those of us who were present and involved found her surprise amusing and a compliment.

The last aircraft was down. The contest was over. The mood was good. A finale? Well yes - the competing teams threw all of the officials they could find into the swimming pool. I happened to go into Waikerie at the critical time and so they missed me.

  Of course there was socialising and the lighter side. Nights in the bar. A mixing of world people. And as it was flying, connections with the war. Interesting connections with ‘the enemy’ now our friends. I’ll conclude with extracts from another article which I will call Our friendly enemies. First, the lead in ...

In the period 1955-1975 I was active in competitive gliding. I flew world contest in USA in 1970 and was an official in the world contest at Waikerie South Australia in 1974.  In both contests there was a Japanese pilot whose name we couldn't pronounce.  So what nick-name would we give him but Kamikaze. More of him later.

Let's go to a gliding contest at an isolated aerodrome at an isolated Australian town (and I mean Australian isolated). A group of us there for a week.

Maybe best speed round a 200 mile triangle. Maybe a day with five hours in the air.  About forty pilots competing.  At times six or more circling together all trying to outdo each other. Wartime lookout standard.  Minor feature pilot navigation and as a day can be lost by ten seconds only the most accurate of flying acceptable. -More like non op service flying than Saturday afternoon Civil. So the atmosphere is set. The illegal bar opens after flying. And it's getting close to midnight. By this time six or so wartime pilots in a small group reliving the forties. Quite oblivious of those around them. Just by a coincidence all ex UK types. In a circle around them the rest of the pilots, all younger of course, and for once, unusually silent, listening to flying totally beyond their experience. And on the outside another group - the womenfolk. The wives, the girl friends, the grown daughters. (In fairness to them let me digress. They were the crew. Riggers, deriggers, Daily Inspectors, Retrievers ... their pilot's intelligence during a flight.) During a day's contest anything that was common knowledge on the ground could be broadcast. They were in radio contact with their pilot during his flight. So they gathered their information, sifted it, distilled it and if they so decided - a cryptic message.)

Next morning one of the wives said to me -'I've never heard anything like it. I was absolutely fascinated.' And of course she hadn't. Very few civilians would ever have. Even shop talk at reunions wouldn't have been like those few late nights.

But where is this leading us to? Actually, to the Germans. Not in this group but scattered throughout the clubs and in smaller conversation groups ... a German aircrew who ended up as combat infantry ... another who migrated because he couldn't get on with his stepfather but a stepfather who succeeded in getting him out of Hitler's last stand fourteen year olds ... and a female with terrible tales of rape in the east, luckily not her ... but her family. I've read much wartime experience but nothing approaches a personal retelling.

World Contest 1974. One German contest pilot was ex-Luftwaffa. We all had the highest opinion of his professional competence. Again, one night in the bar we learned that he had flown intruder missions over England. An Australian there had been on the receiving end of such an intrusion. Comparison of facts, dates, places etc. Yes ... this German and this Australian. Said the Australian to the German ... 'You bastard. Come and I'll buy you a beer'.

It was an American who wrote something like - 'They had paid their dues. Warrior members of an ancient brotherhood to which no amount of influence, power, or political persuasion can gain admittance'. And the brotherhood crosses enemy lines. Certainly the Germans. The Japanese?

When I landed from my second last war time operation the first thing said to me when I opened the bottom door ... 'The Americans have dropped some kind of atom bomb and it has destroyed a whole city.' I don't believe it, I thought, but hell I hope it's true. I haven't altered my attitude since. An invasion of Japan is too horrible to contemplate.

But back to the Japanese. To the World Contest at Waikerie also came a group of World aircraft designers to hold their conference. There are vineyards round Waikerie and some have large well supplied cellars where people are encourages to come and partake. I found myself there getting quite merry with, of all people, a group of Japanese aircraft designers. Orientals look ageless but three were a little younger than I was and a few were definitely older. The three had good English. Yes ... the war. The three had been trained as infantry but I gathered, did not reach combat. But there they were marching up and down with imaginary fixed  bayonets. I had been (non combat) infantry before the RAAF and it struck me that while we would crouch to advance these Japanese straightened themselves up. Yes, I flew Mosquitoes in Burma! One of the older ones said,  ‘We made a copy of the Mosquito but didn't get a chance to try it. Unfortunately the war ended.'  I didn't take him up on 'unfortunately.' At this stage I thought I could mention their Japanese pilot whose name we couldn't pronounce so we called him Kamikaze.

The reaction was surprising ... almost a chorus.  'Oh no no he's not like oh no not like that at all’. And from us it was a sort of a compliment.  Literature has perhaps denigrated that group but with both the atom bomb and the Kamikaze - my opinions remain unaltered.


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