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.
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.
Suggested reading - http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.com/2013/08/rhodesian-gliding-incidents.html and http://www.ourstory.com/thread.html?t=480010&comments=1
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