Club History

Early Times (Part 1) - by Phil Pearce

The Wanganui Gliding Club was founded in 1954. This was the club that got off the ground. There had been an earlier attempt to form a club but it was not successful in getting established. The two Handley brothers, Rex and Owen, had for a time a strong desire, dream if you like, to be able to fly and soar in gliders. Owen at this stage was not a pilot but Rex was and he also held an engineers rating. I joined the club they formed during it's formation year of 1954. The subscription was three guineas and the entry fee was ten guineas (quite a reasonable sum in those days as the basic wage was around five pounds.)

From members subs and joining fees the club ordered a Slingsby T31 kitset from England. The kitset was not much more than a set of plans, wood, fabric and steel fittings. We built the glider in a shed at the Wanganui aerodrome under the watchful eye of Rex Handley. Several of our members had woodworking skills especially Fred Bosselman an accomplished cabinet maker and woodwork teacher.Owen Handley obtained two registrations ZKGAM and ZKGAN. The T31 would have AM and AN was to be held for our second glider when we got one. GAM was well built and gave the club more than 20 years of faultless service. I did nearly all my early training up to and after first solo in GAM. By the time the T31 was ready to be flown, Owen Handley had a C badge (almost the equivalent of a QGP of today) and was obtaining an instructors rating. Owen was my chief instructor but I had a few flights with Rex. I went first solo in the T31 from a winch launch out of a paddock on Ken Smith's property near Marton. According to my log book the last flight I had in GAM was 26th January 1980 and it was sold soon after that as the club had purchased the Blanick GKN.

The scene at Wanganui airport in the very early days

The scene at Wanganui airport in the very early days.

Early Times (Part 2) - by Phil Pearce

During the fairly early stages of the building of GAM I started a two year diploma course at Massey College, this was before it became a full university, so my assistance in the construction of the glider ceased. Mid 1955 I left for Australia and had a year working in the wool industry over there as a part of my practical for my wool diploma. I spent 6 weeks at Mildura and took the opportunity of a temporary membership with the Sunraysia Gliding Club. This club was quite new and their two seater was a new short wing Kookaurra. I had 11 flights in the Kookaburra for a total of 1 hour 13 minutes. Keith Hollins was the instructor and he put the following comment in my log book "shows good handling ability for time in the air". I also learnt to drive their winch and did a number of launches. That was my first practical gliding experience. After returning to New Zealand and completing my Wool Diploma I took up a job at Invercargille and was married. My wife and I moved north again mid 1959 and I started gliding again on the 1st August 1959.

By this time the Wanganui Gliding Club was very much in the air and had a strong and dedicated membership. The club was flying from the Wanganui Aerodrome and most of the launching was from an aero club tiger moth. The gliding club had also made a winch which was sometimes used and taken to suitable farm sites for a days flying. Flying continued at Wanganui until about September 1960 when a move was made to Ken Smith's property some distance out of Matron to the north east. This was a much better site for soaring as it was well inland. The T31 was housed in a long packing case with corrugated iron nailed to the top to keep the weather out. Each day we flew we had to extract the T31 and rig it, quite a job with all the struts and wires etc. However we got good at the job and quite fast at it. A bit later I bought a second hand motorcycle, an AJS which I still own today. We were living in Somme Parade, and Jack Williams a club instructor and later CFI would often meet me at our front gate riding his Triumph Speed Twin and we would be off to the Marton gliding site on the bikes. Jack farmed further up the river so our place was on his way.

The club stayed at the Marton site until almost the end of 1961 before returning to Wanganui for a while. There were a few away trips of course but more about those later. The big news for 1961 was the purrchase of Ka6 GAN received and flown just before Xmas that year.

T31 GAM on approach piloted by Helen Fitton

T31 GAM on approach piloted by Helen Fitton. Helen learnt to fly in the T31 during the early days of the club. She later progressed to power and gained a commercial licence. She took up overseas posts and married a professional pilot. Her father Ted also took gliding instruction but I don't think he ever went solo.

Ka6 GAN about to be winch launched from a paddock near Marton

Ka6 GAN about to be winch launched from a paddock near Marton. GAN had a belly hook for winching in those days. Owen Handley at the wing with bat.