Bathurst Soaring Club – A History

Bathurst Soaring Club – A History


Table of Contents

BSC’s L-13 Blanic VH GYL on shot final into Raglan. Photo courtesy of Mike Timbrell.

As I recall it was early in 1966 when I saw the notice outside the student amenities building at Sydney Technical College inviting expressions of interest in a gliding Club.

Sandy and I were both at the Institute of Technology then, and as she had expressed an interest in parachuting I thought that this gliding club caper might be a safer involvement. An enquiry about the notice brought forth the student amenities officer, a Mr. Bob Matchet, who gave us the good oil. It seemed that several Business Studies students had talked him into starting a gliding club.

This was not the first Sydney Technical College Gliding Club; such a club existed before WW2 and, I believe, even built a sailplane which was bent just at the outbreak of war thereby causing the club to fold as other priorities emerged.

Some of the people who stimulated the 1966 STCGC’s beginning were Paul Thost, Alan Blair, Mike Burns and a lecturer by the name of Jack Haddock, all had some experience.
Paul Thost, a paint chemist with a passion for management had reputedly started several clubs in the West and he and Alan Blair had begun to fly with the Dubbo Club where they met Mike Burns, an engineer who was running an aircraft repair and modification business at Bankstown. These days Mike is on the other end of those Form II’s that you send in for glider airworthiness to GFA. Jack haddock had been a Military Glider pilot in the RAF during WW2 until someone landed a troop glider on top of his glider and put him out for the duration. His interest in aviation had been re-kindled and he was keen to fly again.

I was co-opted as secretary and some other names familiar to present club members joined up: Paul Drew, Frank Jackson, Kevin Rhodes of Auster rebuilding fame, Keith Franke, Sandra Ferguson (later to become Sandra Meldrum), Dick Seers, Graham Felton, Chris Rolfe, the Pelnens: Gunard and daughter Sandra (later to become Sandra Crossan), Col Hayler and his brother Mark Hayler who later joined the RAAF and got to the Empire Test Pilots School (the ultimate flying school).

The first problems addressed were: what to fly, how to obtain it and where to fly it.

The joining fee was set at $4 and $4 per annum, designed for impoverished students.
The committee after some searching found a marvellous aeronautical contraption called the Wallaby Trainer, built by Edmond Schneider and known as an ES50, it was a pod and boom strut braced tandem high wing monoplane just slightly ahead of a primary glider with a glide angle of about 1 in 12-15. The cost of $400 was of course prohibitive as there were only about 15 people in the club by that time.

Bob Matchett once again came to the rescue and talked the Canteen Fund Committee into a loan: we were off!

With a trailer built by Jack Haddock and Dieter Hilderbrandt (another founding member) the long haul from Colac began. Upon arrival in Sydney the ES50 was immediately put into the Aeronautical Trades School and refurbished by a lot of scruffy sarcastic apprentices who probably thought that hardware like that belonged in a museum. Meanwhile, the Committee searched earnestly for a venue and most importantly an instructor.

As he had a few hours up Paul Thost answered that call and went off to do an instructors course coming back able to cart us aloft as passengers. The first flights of the ES50 VHGHP (known as Genuinely High Performance) took place at the Nowra base of the Navy Glidng Club using autotow– fantastically exciting.

My log book shows a first entry of 5 minutes on the 5/9/66 and a second of 4 minutes on the 10/9/66, not a fast way to accumulate time. Inevitably Paul Thost always came down with
a heavy cold after each flying day as the ES50 was open with only a small windscreen for the front seat; he sat up high at the rear of the pod under the wing leading edge and must have been subject to severe flow through ventilation during uncoordinated turns and sideslips etc.

 The hospitality of the RANGA club I know was strained to the limit by our operation, (3 to 5 minute flights and a lot of hard work on their part, as we were largely untrained and the ES50 used up tows quickly in comparison to their 2 seater.

Those early days did not see us accomplish much flying as our major problem was that of finding a sympathetic, let alone permanent, site with launching facilities close to Sydney. The next entries in my log book show that the STCGC flew at Warkworth in the Hunter Valley during Easter 1967 with the Newcastle Gliding Club which I remember as a very hospitable and helpful club. Those first members who flew at Warkworth experienced the thrill of lights in a real high performance airplane, the SZD Bocian two seater belonging to the Newcastle Club; my log book shows flights of 9 minutes from winch launches and in contrast quite a few 5 minute flights in the ES50.

Two important influences came to bear at that time: the fact that we were well on the way to wearing out the NGC winch and hence their hospitality, and the biting of the high performance bug in the form of a proper sailplane. Several of us had seen advertisements in Australian Gliding for a fantastic machine called a Blanik, the ad said it had cloth upholstery, dual instruments, had flaps, was all metal, had a tool kit and even a first aid kit built in etc. and fantastic performance.

Someone said in the committee, “Why don’t we do this properly, stop mucking about with low budget machinery, go for broke and get a Blanik”.

An enquiry to the Blanik agent (Bill Riley at then at Colac, later at Tocumwall) brought forth the answer that it would cost us $6000 and was available out of the next shipment due to leave Czechoslovakia. In retrospect there must have been a colossal money glut just at that time as we were able to raise finance from a hire purchase company recommended by the Blanik agent (ESANDA) on a deposit of $1500. All of the committee had to take security out on their houses to secure the loan.

At that point, around May or June 1967 the club was re-structured and a membership drive undertaken to increase membership The fees were adjusted (joining fees $20 I think) and $15 per year to try to raise the deposit. Sandra Ferguson (became Sandy Meldrum in 1968) was the first to pay up the extra and became member number 1 in the new club. The ES50 was traded in for $500 and I was able to fly in a Blanik for the first time at Colac on 23rd September 1967 when we delivered the ES50 to the Blanik agent as the trade-in and good faith deposit. Sadly the ES50 was written off several years later down in the Snowy Mountains somewhere by being blown over on the ground by a thermal, a sad end for any sailplane or glider.

This new overblown operation was all nail biting stuff as the club did not have the full deposit, enough members, or a site, with an awfully expensive sailplane on the water. At that point fate intervened in the form of the Suez Crisis and our designated Blanik got stuck in the Canal. Alternative deliveries were arranged and we received the Blanik finally on 23rd March, 1968. I remember that day well as Sandy & I were married and I was not allowed, for some reason, to go out to Bankstown to see the Blanik arrive.

However, I digress, the Suez Crisis delay allowed us to build up membership a little more so that we had just enough to pay the deposit, a quarter insurance and the first instalment and were able to settle on a site.

The choice of site (Bathurst) was interesting. Col Hayler and I had been attending meetings of the New South Wales Gliding Association which was effectively the Camden Gliding Centre as the representatives of the STCGC in the hope of being allowed to start the club operation there. The response was always polite but negative for a club operation. Also at about that time (November 1967) Paul Drew and I attended an Engineers Course at Camden and we met people from the RAAF Richmond Gliding Club.

One of the RAAF instructors, Peter Henson invited the club to come up and fly with them at Richmond. The day we went out, the weather was so crook on the coast that Henson and crew packed a Glider or two and persuaded those of us present from STCGC to troop over to Bathurst for the day. This we did and I met for the first time the legendary Werner Geisler who flew some of the STCGC bods in a Blanik belonging to his private owner group.

That Blanik figured prominently in the clubs first years at Bathurst. It was registered V-HGFS and was I believe the first Blanik imported into Australia and had interesting expanding main spar pins unlike the succeeding models with larger plain pins. VH-GFS and several other sailplanes based at Bathurst were operated by this small private owner group known as the Bathurst Soaring Group. As I recall they were Werner Geisler, Jan Coolhaas, Monty Cotton, Peter Hannerman, Charles Salisbury, Max Riley, John Blackwell and several others whose names escape me (for more details on the Bathurst Soaring Group see Tom Appleton’s article on that group in a Thermal about 1983). They had escaped from the club grind and height restrictions at Camden and after operating for some time from Pennyfather’s paddock several miles to the south of the strip at Kelso with Monty Cotton’s Tiger Moth, had eventually moved onto the Bathurst Aerodrome.

Paul and I also met Frank Fraser at the Camden engineers course, he came from a group called the Blue Mountains Gliding Club. That group (about 8 to 10 I think) had been training with the Bathurst Soaring Group and we met some of them on our visit there with the RAAFRGC.

Amongst the Katoomba group was a larger than life character called Alf Watts who had flown KittyHawks in WW2 and then as the STCGC/BSC club grew became in turn an instructor and Tug pilot with the club. I personally will remember Alf as a big man in more ways than one. He died rather tragically just before Easter 1985. One of his great contributions was participation on very special occasions such as the ANZAC day holiday in a fly-past called the Dawn Patrol” when John Honeyman, Arthur Bowie and Alf flew their respective Tiger Moths in a formation of three around Bathurst to give an observer a rare sight and sound treat of a time long past. Our first visit to Bathurst (Kelso) created an awareness of Bathurst as a site amongst the STCGC committee which was to pay off later. The negotiations with the NSWGA and the CGC were stalled from our point of view and it became boring for Col Hayler and I to relay this news each month to the STCGC committee who by early 1968 were getting quite desperate to find a site as the new Blanik had been shipped and was on the water.

In January 1968 a group of us went to a course run by the Gliding Club of Victoria at Benalla. This was organised by a new member of STCGC by the name of Col Turner. Col was an experienced pilot who had moved to Sydney and became interested in the STCGC. Mark Hayler went solo on that course and I recall being mighty jealous, a feeling that was partially soothed by a flight of l hour 4 minutes in the GCV Blanik.

It must have been soon after that course at GCV that Werner Geisler contacted me and with an offer for the STCGC to come and fly at Bathurst. Unknown to us Jan Coolhaas and he had talked his group into accepting us there as they said it would make their operation easier having the additional numbers. They had been fostering the Katoomba group but it had not grown to any degree in numbers. Werner particularly became quite involved in the club and served it in many roles from that time on putting in a mighty effort over the years for which we should all thank him as I think he had originally gone to Bathurst to escape the club rat-race.

We knew that Bathurst offered a great deal of freedom but also presented many problems such as accommodation for weekend stays and was outside the terms of reference with regard to an easily accessible site. A great deal of research yielded cheap accommodation at Karingal Village at Mount Panorama, initially all in a single large dormitory and later in a retired youth hostel known as the green hut (also known as the seismometer if anybody moved around much). There are many stories of the old green hut which need telling sometime over a beer; however the STCGC (al1 40 or so members) prepared to move on to Bathurst. l believe that the move to Bathurst was significant in an unexpected way as it shaped the nature of the club from that time on since those who were prepared to travel for 4 or so hours each way and stay overnight in primitive accommodation were much more committed than those who joined the Sydney Clubs and just did a bit of Sunday flying. That factor bred a certain fellowship and only the patient and committed lasted the distance in those first few years thus laying a firm foundation for the later years.

Around the third week in March 1968 the Blanik VH-GTN (known as the red Blanik, VH-GFS was blue) was delivered to us at Colac. I recall that Alan Rundle, who was an early member had conned a well known Auster buff and aviator extraordinary called David Llewellyn into allowing the club to use his Auster to aerotow the new Blanik back to Bankstown. Col Tuner did the aerotow with David and Alan. The Blanik was deposited in Mike Burns’s hanger at Bankstown for signwriting and general tizzing up including the fitting of a radio as it was mandatory at Bathurst aerodrome in those days (39.8 MHz).

Just in time for Easter 1968 VH-GTN was moved to Bathurst and the Easter holidays saw us in full operation for the first time with aerotowing provided by the redoubtable John Honeyman, initially with his own Tiger Moth. Some of the present club members will remember John and his colleague Jimmy Fullthorpe (Jim unfortunately died just at Christmas 1984) as they served the club on the wrong end of a tow rope for many years through a succession of tugs, committees, gliders, students, armchair experts, silk scarf pilots, instructors and other factors of danger.

Tow fees were initially $2.20 and glider time was charged at 8c/ per minute.

Those of us privileged to learn to aerotow in those days really did get some practice as the tows in summer were regularly up to 15 minutes long in hot rough air to get to 2000 feet, not like the almost winch like qualities of the present tugs. We were knocking up about 400 hours a year on the Blaniks and one suspects that much of it was on tow.

Speaking of tugs, the club purchased a Piper Super Cub (VH-CUB) soon after the start at Bathurst and which was subsequently pranged and followed by two Austers which also went the same way, one into a fence and the other into the petrol shed at Raglan during an uncontrolled startup; (you should have the seen the shed. The groundsman who was in the shed at the time filling out the paperwork was not particularly impressed being attacked by a runaway Auster!)

 The Tiger Moth was used in the interim periods between Austers and in due course another 135 HP Piper Cub was bought and re-engined to 150.

During some of the outages of the Cub, we contracted a local Ag operator to tow us with his 235 HP Piper Pawnee which really opened our eyes to what a real tug could do. The Cub was eventually replaced by the present Pawnee tug which seems to have led a charmed life and multiplied.

I remember that first Easter at Bathurst as we were staying in the Karingal Village at Mount Panorama and in those years they used to hold car races over Easter. I remember being disturbed from sleep late at night by somebody arriving outside the dormitory with a great screech of brakes in a cloud of dust and running into the dormitory to dive into a bed, followed a short time later by a very large policeman with an even larger torch who wanted to know what hoon was trying to break the sound barrier around the circuit (closed to the public but we were inside) in the middle of the night driving a pale blue Datsun Fairlady, owner remains nameless.

On one of the weekends soon after Easter when there was a great crowd of club members staying at Bathurst, one of the more senior club members (whose name reminds me of a certain Black and White checked Department Store) and who was of ten in his cups after hours from over-imbiding some substance which I believe originated from Scotland started carrying on a treat about not getting enough flying after driving all that way as there were to many others there. He was going on about having to make a booking; the present booking system was born at that moment and I believe has served the club members well as it evened out the attendance and stabilised utilisation which was critical in those days as the club lived from hand to mouth.

It was not until some years later when Harry Crossan became treasurer that really effective financial management was used. Since then the club has had a succession of excellent treasurers who have upheld Harry’s high standards. A great deal happened in that first year, for example, we had to fight a rather nasty battle with the Department of Civil Aviation to be allowed to continue operating on Bathurst Aerodrome. They only found out we were there when after 6 months of operation we thought we had better apply for permission to operate. That problem arose from the then detrimental policy of keeping gliding, power and regular public transport from mixing; we won on the grounds of political weight.

During that time the STCGC as the numerically much larger group absorbed the two other groups: the Blue Mountains Gliding Club and the Bathurst Soaring Group and within a few years the STCGC was amalgamated under Section 25 of the companies act which forced a change of name to the present one to avoid any complications arising from an association of Sydney Technical College with an amalgamated company. Chris Rolfe and his wife Nancy did the incorporation work for the club and the STCGC became the Bathurst Soaring Club.

Major hurdles were met and overcome; that of the hangar received a novel solution and David Hart designed the present structure to take advantage of a supply of reasonably priced wood via Monty Cotton and existing building skills. The hangar was originally built at Raglan on Bathurst Aerodrome anchored to 600mm diameter by 3 m deep concrete foundations.

It was dismantled and moved to its present site when the Club moved to Pipers Field. I often wonder what became of the concrete foundation pillars. It was a great leap forward to get that hangar as all our aircraft had been in the open up till then and

I can vividly recall working on Blaniks by torchlight on the edge of Bathurst Aerodrome in mid-winter to ensure flying next day.

Ah yes, Pipers Field, now that’s an interesting one, I can excuse you for thinking that what follows is a fairy story but I swear this is how it happened. Col Hayler, who had worked with me in the late sixties had married and decided to move to the country. Being fond of aeroplanes and gliders (he was CFI of BSC at the time) he bought a block on the east side of the access road to the Bathurst Aerodrome at Kelso and set up house there so he could watch the aircraft movements from his balcony. Being of an electrical background he went to get a job with the local supply authority and wound up being given a utility and instructed to read supply meters.

That job took him all over the Bathurst district and into all sorts of interesting places and situations. I remember at one committee meeting, Col wandered in and reported that he was reading a meter on a newly connected supply (to a pole in the middle of a paddock) when he got talking to the rather interesting character who owned the place and this chap stated that he had an airstrip there and was looking for a gliding club to come and fly off his strip as he was going to start a glider factory and wanted some activity on his site.

That chance meeting started a chain of events that have led to the clubs current happy position on its own land. I remember going out to see this character with Terry Costello and Werner Geisler and discussing his plans over a cup of tea in a used cocky feed bowl in a caravan in the front yard of his most amazing and antique colonial house. There were several exploratory flights and practice outlandings onto that strip which was little more than a track on the side of a hill and it was realised that for us to use it seriously we would have to put in some work.

Terry battled long and hard with the delicate diplomacy of the negotiations as well as the legalities of leases and licenses and Joe Brown set to work and literally carved the new strip out of the side of the hill either with his own hands (tractor) or by conning earth moving machinery operators. He lengthened and aligned it and the result is there for all to see.

I think it was with some sadness that the club pulled up its tie down stakes and moved the hangar, pie cart and caravans to Eglinton. The time at Raglan had seen both frustration and great enjoyment. I remember staying in a certain caravan of dubious reputation on the drome and on several occasions being pushed out of bed at the crack of dawn by the excited cries of Harry Crossan, there’s wave on out there, what are you all sleeping for, followed by the hair raising tows East into the dawn gloom under the primary cloud towards the escarpment, then through the incredible turbulence of the rotor and after release the staggering rate of climb with all varios pegged in the silky smooth lift with wing tip hard in against the primary cloud and seemingly just at arms length from the escarpment.

My log book shows nearly 8 hours on one day from 7 launches with 7 different pupils through the same routine; I remember it well, launch under the primary cloud into the rotor, release just before hitting the hillside, climb in the primary, fly up the valley to the North, back to the dam nestled in hard against the escarpment just to the North of the Sydney road, climb for maximum height, and then over the top of the primary cloud to descend through the gap between the primary and secondary clouds and back onto the drome, sheer magic!

Many other legends were forged in those early days; I heard tell of raucous nights in the Acropole in town and of startled passengers in the early morning Fokker Friendship landing through the mist past the water hydrant on the cross strip and seeing naked persons showering whilst trying to repair the sins of last night with the near freezing water. One well known health fanatic who still flies at Bathurst got caught there without any clothes on one morning. On occasions the odd partygoer returning across the drome from the Aeroclub to the caravans in the late hours fell ended up in the drainage ditch on the edge of the strip and it has been known that cars were found there next morning having mistaken it for the road.

There are other stories too arising from the many Christmas camps that the club regularly held at Forbes over the New Year period. One story worth telling involved the rag and stick Cherokee which was a popular early form of torture and training for self discipline, and on one occasion Harry Crossan took off in it from Forbes for a cross country to the South and having reached the Victorian border was able to gain enough height to get across the river in one glide and so pressed on to Benalla and the sanctuary of the Gliding club of Victoria at last light.

The story goes that he landed in close to the hangars and someone just departing for home helped him push the Cherokee into a hangar. Harry wandered over to the clubhouses bought a drink and sat down quite pleased with himself for a flight of some 400+ miles in a low performance machine. As the bar began to fill someone asked him who he was so Harry introduced himself and said he’d just flown from Forbes in a Cherokee. Now the locals just said how nice and went on drinking; they apparently had never seen a Cherokee glider and thought Harry’s mount had 4 seats and four cylinders; I believe Harry thought what a churlish lot they are. Someone else came in and said ”What on earth is that funny little green glider in the hangar, it wasn’t there this morning”. Harry piped up and said that’s my Cherokee. He didn’t need to buy another drink all night, or so the story goes. The retrieve crew weren’t seen for 4 or 5 days.

Not long after the time of the move to Bathurst I remember discussing the future of the club over a cup of tea (or something) with Col Hayler as it really looked as though it would succeed. I recall Col musing out loud that in the future some time we would sit in the clubhouse sipping a gin and tonic on ice and after a hard days soaring watch the sun set over the hills as the little men in their white coats would push the gliders into the hangar ready for a nightly polish.

I must remember to have a word with whoever is the Chairman now about putting on some little men in white coats for glider pushing; the rest of the dream has come true.

In 1985 when this article was first published it made the suggestion: What about a 20 year Anniversary dinner next year?

It did not happen immediately but several years later there was a 25 year anniversary. It will not be long now to the 50th Anniversary.

Addendum: As I scan these notes into electronic form and review them in March 2007 it is just over 41 years since we saw that fateful advert on the Tech Notice board. Family and domestic pressures took Sandy & I away from regular activity at Bathurst for a while but we remained members and have been back to Pipers several times in recent years and enjoyed the stability and maturity of the club. I particularly appreciate the fact that the board has put some priority on keeping a real sailplane such as the K13 on the line.

It is hard to appreciate the hand to mouth nature of the early years but what should be remembered is the efforts put in by so many people over those years to lay the foundations of the infrastructure so evident today, too many individuals to list here but a selection spring to mind: to Joe Brown for hand carving the strip, to the late Roger Piper for inviting us, to Chris Pappas and Terry Costello for designing and initiating the clubhouse, to David Hart and the late Monty Cotton for the Hanger concept, to Paul and Jose’ Drew for always being there over 41 years, to Col Turner, Mike Burns and David Llewellyn for their early contributions, to the original Bathurst Soaring Group and most of all to Werner Geisler for his wisdom and leadership in those formative years.

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