Celebrating 75 Years of Gliding in Australia

2024 marks the 75th anniversary of the Gliding Australia (Gliding Federation of Australia, or GFA). It’s a perfect moment to reflect on the remarkable history and evolution of gliding in Australia.

The Formation of the GFA

Gliding Australia was officially formed on June 26, 1949, during a pivotal meeting chaired by Gurth Kimber of the Canberra Gliding Club. This historic gathering brought together about 40 gliding supporters from across Australia, all united by their love for the sport and their vision for its future. The attendees decided to form a federation of State Gliding Associations, leading to the establishment of the Gliding Federation of Australia.
At this foundational meeting, the following pro-tem officers were elected to lead the new federation:
President: Mervyn Waghorn
Secretary: Fred Hoinville
State Representatives: Two representatives from each state

One of the first tasks for this newly formed committee was to draft and submit a constitution to the State Associations within three months. This constitution would lay the groundwork for the federation’s governance and operational framework.
In addition to the administrative structure, a Technical Committee was formed to oversee the technical aspects of gliding. This committee included notable figures such as Geoff Richardson, Norm Hyde, and Kevin Sedgman.

The Origins of Gliding Clubs in Australia

Tracing the roots of gliding clubs in Australia reveals a rich history intertwined with the early days of aviation. If we define a glider club as any group of individuals coming together to fly gliders, one of the earliest examples would be the Queensland Aero Club, established in 1910. This club had around 40 members and several gliders.
However, if we consider gliding as a sport that gained momentum in Germany in the 1920s, the Geelong Glider Club holds a significant place in history. Founded by Percy Pratt and others on June 18, 1929, the Geelong Glider Club became a prominent player in the gliding community. Although it seemed to fade out by the mid to late 1930s, Percy Pratt continued his gliding endeavors, including a gliding school at Belmont Common. The modern Geelong Gliding Club, formed in the 1950s, claims lineage to the original club of 1929, maintaining a continuous heritage of gliding in the region.

Pioneering Gliders and Launch Methods

The history of gliding in Australia is marked by pioneering efforts and innovative methods. The Taylor hang glider, successfully flown on December 5, 1909, at the sand dunes of Narrabeen, is generally accepted as the first man-carrying glider in Australia. This achievement laid the foundation for future gliding endeavors.
Other early experimenters also contributed to this rich tapestry. Allan Betteridge of Hackney, Adelaide, built and attempted to fly a hang glider in June 1905, managing several short hops. John Duigan, another aviation pioneer, constructed a Wright-type glider in 1908, which he flew in March 1909 to learn aircraft controls. Duigan later built the first Australian aeroplane, which flew on July 16, 1910.

As interest in gliding surged in the late 1920s and 1930s, the fledgling clubs primarily flew Primary gliders. Launch methods evolved over time, starting with pilots stepping off or running into the wind from sand dunes, assisted by wingmen, as with the Taylor glider. In the late 1920s and 1930s, primary gliders were launched using rubber shock cords (bungees) from hills. On level ground, car towing and winches were introduced for greater height and better launches. Advanced gliders like the Grunau Baby were later launched using tug aircraft, although primary gliders typically did not use this method.

Looking Ahead

As Gliding Australia celebrates its 75th anniversary, we look to celebrate those who have contributed to the sport. From its humble beginnings to the sophisticated and thrilling sport it is today, gliding continues to inspire and excite aviators of all ages.
Here’s to the next 75 years of soaring to new heights, fostering community, and embracing the spirit of adventure that defines gliding in Australia.

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