Monday, 9 September 2013

Gliding at Umtali - 1948

THE Umtali Gliding Club, Southern Rhodesia, is once again in action.

Monday and Tuesday, July 14th and 15th (Rhodes and Founders) saw two of the three Club's machines flying  over the local aerodrome for the first time since April, 1940, when, through lack of personnel and other  conditions brought about by the war, gliding was reluctantly brought to a halt.

It is interesting to note that this time ten years, ago. almost to a day, the Umtali Gliding Club first started active  gliding in the field. It was an occasion of great excitement and enthusiasm after the long preparation which included organisation and building of machines; moreover, it was the first time this form of flying had ever been  attempted in the Colony and those who took part had never previously flown a glider.

Four of the hard-working numbers, [left to right), Jimmy Harrold, the Secretary,
Chris McGrane and Matt Howie.

The various vicissitudes of the Club during the succeeding three and a-half years would make interesting  reading. There were many exciting moments when pupils first took off from terra-firma— laughter and fun,  minor mishaps necessitating spells of repair work—the thrills during qualification for the " A " and " B "  Certificates, and throughout all remained that keenness and esprit de corps which makes gliding and soaring  flight rank high in the field of scientific sport.

Despite many set-backs and the fact that Instructors had to feel their way step by step, many excellent displays  were given and a very successful and progressive method of primary training evolved.

Well, all that now belongs to past history, but there were still a few of the old foundation members left who, on  the conclusion of war, decided that the only Gliding Club in the country simply must be brought back to life.

Early in 1946 a general meeting of all those interested was held to discuss ways and means of resuming gliding  activities, and a working Committee was eventually formed. This comprised some six foundation members, with  Mr. Matt Howie in the chair.

Mr. Howie, with almost four years' Club experience of glider construction and a unique proclivity for detail and exactness, lost no time in getting busy, his programme being the building of a Primary training machine the  complete overhaul of the two existing sailplanes and the construction of a mobile winch.

Such an undertaking was enough to daunt the heart of a professional expert, but not Matt Howie, who with  quiet confidence and determination and supported by the energetic Jimmy Harrold and Wally Tite. got things  under way. Glider parts were difficult to obtain, but they got them, miles of the country side were scoured in  search of old car chassis, wheels, etc; they even found time to locate one or two possible soaring sites, they  worked practically every weekend since August, 1946, and by the end of nine months completed a Primary training machine, together with the complete overhaul of the intermediate sailplanes—a truly great achievement.

The erection of a mobile winch on an old car chassis was the next problem, however, nothing daunted, with the  assistance of a few Club members and Mr. Newman, in a matter of six weeks produced a very amazing  contraption, in fact it has to be seen to be believed, and alone is worthy of a special visit by the citizens of Umtali.

It can be driven into any position, has a separate engine to operate a drum carrying 3,000 feet of flexible steel  cable, but, above all. there is the wizard mechanism which feeds the cable evenly on the drum. This latter cost  Matt Howie and his henchman much head scratching.

Work was speeded up to commence gliding tests on the Saturday afternoon of the Rhodes and Founders  weekend, but it was not until 2 p.m. on Monday that all was ready.

The most promising of the Clubs' pre-war pupils, Jimmy Harrold. who had since become an R.A.F. pilot and  instructor, had come all the way from Darwendale to be present at the testing out.

Using a three hundred foot rope attached to the tow car. the primary glider was taken on a low test flight by the Chief Instructor, Mr. C. J. McGrane, who followed this up with two more flights varying between 60 and 100 feet.  He would describe the experience as exhilarating after seven years' absence from gliding, but the machines  proved comparatively docile and let him down gently every time.

Two succeeding flights each by Messrs. Harrold and Tite in the Primary and a short flight by C. McGrane in the "  Kirby Tutor " closed the day. The tests proved the airworthiness of the two machines and a tribute to the  excellent workmanship of Matt Howie.

Tuesday morning, 13th, saw the winch in action with Jimmy Harrold. piloting the " Kirby Tutor."

With the winch (operated by Matt Howie) at the extreme west end of the aerodrome and the " Tutor" at the opposite end connected up by the 3000 feet of cable, the flag signal was given for the move off.

Following a run of some 60 yards the " Tutor" rose rapidly into the air and when about 600 feet up the cable was  released and the machine left in free flight. Like some great bird she flew slowly and gracefully outside and  around the northern boundary of the aerodrome past the hospital kopjie and turned in over the east boundary  to a perfect landing some 300 yards from the launching point. It was a perfect flight lasting 2 minutes 5 seconds.

This flight was succeeded by three more flights by Jimmy Harrold lasting 2 minutes 40 seconds, 2 minutes 30  seconds, and 2 minutes 15 seconds respectively.

Certain adjustments to the winch now became necessary and further flying was curtailed until later in the  afternoon. Resumption of flying saw Messrs. McGrane and Tite on circuits lasting 1 minute 15 seconds to 45 seconds, but it became obvious that the winch engine was not behaving properly as the higher launches of the  morning could not be attained. A cursory examination showed that engine overhaul and adjustments were  necessary, so it was decided to spend the following weekend and evenings during the week on that work.

General view of the club's three machines hangar, with " Arthur " the tow car and" Willie winch in the  foreground.

It is hoped to commence pupil training from the first weekend in August onwards, and all those interested are  invited to contact the Hon. Secretary at the Club's hangar, or P.O. Box 46. Umtali.

Matt Howie has started on the building of a special trailer to transport the " Kirby Kite " sailplane, and when this  is completed a soaring ridge located at the back of Old Umtali Mission will be tested out.

Should this prove successful negotiations will be opened with a view to securing an area of ground close by for  training purposes and (it is hoped) the ultimate establishment of the Umtali Gliding Club.


Extracted by Eddy Norris from the magazine "Sailplane and Glider (The First Journal devoted to Soaring and  Gliding) dated March 1948 and for use only on the Our Rhodesia Heritage blog that I administer.

Club Planeadores Albatros Buenos Aires sheltering from the heat whilst preparing to fly.
Sent in by Lee Follmann

Thanks to author of this article, the owners of the photographs used and to the publishers of this journal for the  use of their material.


Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home