On 18 August 1964 the Southern Downs Aero and Soaring Club was formed when Dr. John Best who was President of the Southern Downs Aero Club which had formed just three years earlier expressed an interest in forming a gliding club. The first operating day was 18 October 1964 when the Kingaroy Soaring Club attended with various gliders flying from there, Inverell and Oakey to attend.
The Warwick aerodrome was first established by local volunteers working on behalf of the Warwick War Memorial Committee, who gave up their weekends to build the facility over a period of three years from 1955.
The club first started by winch launching with their first glider, a Kookaburra launching to some 900 ft, many times the cable would break and fall to the ground in a tangled mess, broken strands can still be found in the ground to this day!
A Schneider ES 52 Kookaburra – the glider of choice for training new pilots of many gliding clubs around Australia in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
The club then later had access to a single tow aircraft, a Tiger Moth owned by John Best and the first tow launches were undertaken. Early instructors and tow pilots were Max Hall, Bob Keogh and Gus Mauch. When legendary aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith visited Warwick in 1933 and gave 10-year-old Gus Mauch a peek inside the cockpit of the Southern Cross, a lifelong passion which would span seven decades was born. Gus joined the Royal Australian Air Force at the tender age of 18 and at 19 he was training fighter pilots for combat in the Second World War. An avid aviator, glider pilot and local historian Gus was awarded the Order of Australia in 1994 for his role in aviation and gliding. Gus spent much of his life promoting gliding and flying at Warwick Memorial Aerodrome until his passing at age 87 in 2011. As a lasting memorial to Gus the access road inside the airfield is signposted as the “Gus Mauch Road”.
An Auster tow plane
The club purchased its own tow aircraft an Auster in the late 1960’s with a second Auster being purchased in 1973 until it was replaced by a Pawnee in 1977. Club membership in those days was roughly 85 with both power and glider pilots the majority of members being locals to and there was a great social scene. The gliding club in this period purchased a Bocian, a Boomerang and a Skylark 2B.
The 1960’s and 70’s were when the club grew its membership, the first hangar was built in 1963 with the present clubhouse being built in 1967 with the accommodation section coming from a house removed from Mt Colliery. All buildings were built through voluntary efforts of members who had the skills and qualifications to build them.
Bill and Val Wilkinson joined the club in 1971 and are both active members of the club to this present day. Val has been active member on the club’s committee and tow pilot assisting the many young men and women RAAF Cadets who are able to commence their aviation careers at the Warwick Memorial Aerodrome. Many go on to military and commercial aviation careers. Since the club’s founding members of the Warwick Gliding Club have distinguished themselves by participating in numerous regional and national contests. Members have earned many FAI Silver, Gold and Diamond badges and many records have been set. In June 1980 Val achieved the Australian women’s height record flying 26,825 feet above Cunningham’s Gap, a record unbeaten to this day. More recently, in May 2012 Val was crowned with the Australian Women Pilot’s Association award for her outstanding contributions to gliding.
The club purchased a Pawnee 235 in July 1977 for $14,500 and it became a stalwart as a towing aircraft in the following decades and is still in use to this day, some 42 years later! The club’s glider fleet which consisted of a Blanik, a Bocian and Puchateks, a Super Arrow, a Pilatus, a Libelle, Twin Astir, Cirrus and Hornet.
The club Pawnee
The AAFC Cadets began using the Club House for accommodation and training in the early 2000’s there was lectures each night then up early flying until last light. Other cadets with gliders being aerotowed down to Boonah, Amberley for various Camps, also aerotowed back from Caboolture
For many decades the runway was just dirt and it was only on September 14, 2003 that Warwick Council Mayor, Ron Bellingham opened the newly sealed aerodrome.
Into the millennium the club has gone from strength to strength. On 2 November 2010 the Southern Downs Aero and Soaring Club changed its name to the Warwick Gliding Club as members wanted to acknowledge the increasing focus that the members had in gliding above power aviation. At this time the Club disposed of its aging glider fleet and purchased a PW-6 trainer and a Discus.
The club has always had a focus on cross country soaring being located in the great Southern Downs region and more members purchased their own gliders. The sport of soaring has evolved from an era of pellet variometers, declaration boards and turn point cameras to GPS driven, moving map displays, flight computers and data loggers with flights of hundreds of kilometers becoming the norm.
The future of the Warwick Memorial Aerodrome is inestimably linked to gliding with the club having an unbroken presence at the aerodrome for more than half a century! We shall be forever in the debt of the numerous club members over the decades who volunteered their time. The Warwick Gliding Club has also changed over the years, but a few things have remained the same. The club is still flying every weekend and today’s club members are just as enthusiastic about soaring as those pioneers were 55 years ago!