I had a lovely time in the tower at Alice Springs Airport, learning about how air traffic control works. Many thanks to Maranda (pictured) for helping us to have that opportunity. Picture: EMMA MURRAY at the Centralian Advocate. Article below, as a PDF.
A chance meeting at the Avalon Airshow (between Andrea Johnston from Alice Springs Gliding Club and Les Mitchell from Gove Airport) prompted news of Alice Springs Gliding Club to filter back to Les Mitchell (senior), who was a member in the 70s.
He put pen to paper and recalled those days….
A letter from Les Mitchell, Chipping Norton, NSW, dated March 23, 2017
I joined the Alice Springs Gliding Club in 1971, having taken my discharge from the RAAF after the construction of the Tindal base. The then Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) offered me a nice house if I took up a position as an Airports Safety Inspector / surveyor in Alice Springs. While at Tindal, a DCA and club member who was establishing runway lighting at Tindal suggested I join the club when I settle in Alice. Ron Mitchell (no relation) was an instructor at the club.
Once settled in Aluce, Ron was back in town and kept asking me to come out and have a glider flight with him. All the while I was apprehensive about a flight in an aeroplane without an engine. One day I plucked up the courage and went to Bond Springs, Ron wasn’t there and I took a flight with another member. I later realised that instructor taught me the best lesson he ever taught anyone: he demonstrated to me what NOT to do with a first time flyer! He frightened the living daylights out of me. Ron came back and talked me into having a flight with him. I had that flight and although I knew little about aeroplanes I handled the controls, we landed and Ron said “what do you think?” I said “can I have another flight?” and joined the club. I attained my instructor rating in 1972.
The club’s fleet consisted of two Blaniks, Pirate, Palatus, BG12, Libelle and a private Phebous. Our tug was initially an old Auster which could hardly pull the hat off your head. Later we purchased a Piper Super Cub. It was like being towed behind a jet.
When the tug went down we would employ reflex launch. The method consisted of an old Ford V8 car with the top cut off and a small winch to wind in about 2500 feet of tow rope. The launch procedure was to lay out the rope with sufficient slack so the Ford would take up the slack when the car was travelling at about 65mph, beyond the runway end and through the bush. Instant flight. We would release normally, the parachute would drift down and the winch would wind in the rope. We would have a little competition guessing the cloud base and one day I decided to fly up and check the base.
At around 10,000ft orbiting close to a large CB with 900ft of lift close to the CB and 400ft away, I suddenly felt like a large hand was pulling me into darkness, into the CB. With full spoilers and nose down doing 80kts I was still going up at 900ft per minute, when just as quickly I was thrown out of the cloud almost inverted. I was shivering I reckon from fright and cold because the Blanik didn’t have a canopy – it was removed for repairs.
The club had many members. We had to be on the field around 8am to get a flight. I would spend up to 10 hours there for one 20 minute flight. The climate was great for soaring, long flights up to 12,000ft with no oxygen. I think we even attempted night flights on a moonlit night.
We had several members from the space base. Our president was Earl Martin from the base. One time the base was disposing of several demountable buildings. Earl and I managed to secure one building for the club and another for our airport club at the old terminal area. I also arranged for the club to purchase (at the best price) a dismantled hangar which was at the airport. I don’t know if it was ever erected.
Other members at the time were our CFI, Tom Bird, and my aerobatic instructor, Bert Persons. Tug pilot was Doug McCutcheon. We had a great club but unfortunately almost no social activities.
I left the club in ate 1973 when I was transferred to PNG as the Islands District airport safety inspector/surveyor. I did my restricted PPL with Aussie Watts of the Aero Club to fly arund the islands. I feel I would not have had the confidence and skills to operate into one way 600m strips with a 10 per cent slope if I did not have gliding experience. One day I had to ditch an aircraft with three passengers into the ocean due to a catastrophic engine failure. Fortunately there were no injuries. The accident investigators believe my gliding experience saved us that day.
After PNG independence I was posted to Sydney. I spent 18 years with the RAAF Richmond club as an instructor and tug pilot. I now fly with Southern Cross Gliding Club.
I hope your members find some interest in this.
Regards, safe and enjoyable soaring,
Aviation news from Central Australia, written or collated by Andrea Johnston, journalist with the Centralian Advocate (News Corp) and secretary of Alice Springs Gliding Club.