Connect with us


How a water skiing stunt in 1963 made aviation history

Email Grafton hang-gliding pioneers: Boat driver Pat Crowe honoured 55 years on ABC North Coast By Catherine Marciniak

Posted September 09, 2018 05:30:00

Video: Grafton hang-gliding pioneers (ABC News) Map: Lismore 2480

Fifty-five years after the first flight of a hang-glider in a water skiing stunt on the Clarence River at Grafton in New South Wales, the boat driver Pat Crowe has been awarded the 2018 Hang Gliding Diploma by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

It’s the culmination of 12 years of research by hang-glider pilot Graeme Henderson.

Mr Henderson was determined to prove that the very first flight of the modern delta wing hang-glider happened at Grafton.

The mission began when he saw a photograph of John Dickenson testing a half-size model of his new design for a kite.

“He wanted to build a flat kite and what he came up with just accidently, with a whole string of little inspirations, became the template for tens of thousands of hang-gliders around the world”, Mr Henderson said.

The successful first flight was on September 8, 1963.

Man attached to a small glider sitting in a river Photo: This photo of John Dickenson testing his half size model of his new kite design inspired Graeme Henderson to research the history of hang-gliding in Grafton. (Supplied: John Dickenson)

Paul Green, President of the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia, said that it was “a pivotal moment in aviation history, that took three men to make it happen”.

“All of them were critical.

“John Dickenson’s design was absolutely critical that was the start of it.

“The courage of Rod Fuller [the pilot] who had the courage to jump onto this thing, he must have had some trepidation.

“But it had to be controlled by the man driving the boat on the ground.”

Breakthrough in modern hang-gliding

It could be argued that the history of hang-gliding goes back to sixth century AD China with men being tied to kites.

However, the first major development happened when Germany’s Otto Lilienthal, known as the ‘flying man’, made and flew the world’s first gliders in the 1890s.

“He was the first person to fly”, Mr Henderson said.

Man flying a very early glider just above the ground and a small hill. Photo: Known as the “flying man”, Germany’s Otto Lilienthal built and flew the first gliders in the 1890s. (Wikimedia public domain. )

Otto Lilienthal made more 2,000 flights of 250 metres but was killed in 1896 in a glider accident, when he lost control and broke his neck.

“In those craft you hung basically by your arms and you moved your legs to shift the weight, and it’s very ineffective and eventually that cost him”, Mr Henderson said.

The invention of the flexible wing was the next significant development with NASA testing a design by aeronautical engineer Francis Rogallo as part of their research on space capsule recovery.

NASA didn’t end up using the Rogallo design, but its simplicity did inspire hang-gliding pioneers like Mr Dickenson, who adapted the design for his stunt kite.

The breakthrough made by Mr Dickenson was his design for the pilot’s control system.

“The pivotal moment for this form of aviation was when Mr Dickenson realized if you put a frame beneath the wing, and made it independent of the wing, then you could control movement around two axis, pitch and roll.” Mr Green said.

Man in hat under hand made blue hang glider Photo: This replica of John Dickenson’s hang-glider was made by Graeme Henderson and like the original, the sails are made of the blue plastic used in growing bananas. (ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak)

The epiphany for this design came when Mr Dickenson was pushing his daughter on a swing and she asked him to swing her sideways.

“Everyone else had tried to versions of weight shift had swung the legs, but once you attach the harness to the centre of gravity and swing the whole weight of the pilot, suddenly the control problem was solved”, Mr Henderson said.

Water ski stunt makes history

Mr Dickenson, Rod Fuller and Pat Crowe were all members of the Grafton Water Skiing Club and had a reputation for performing stunts at their carnivals.

Inspired by photos they’d seen in magazines of water skiers attached to kites being pulled behind speed boats, they decided to make some kites for their next carnival.

Woman sitting on a man's shoulders who is water skiing. Photo: The Grafton Water Skiing Club were known for their stunts at their regular carnivals. (Supplied: Fuller family archive)

Mr Crowe and Mr Fuller unsuccessfully had a go at making flat kites. However, Mr Dickenson had a bigger vision.

“A kite flies because of the high pressure of air underneath it and that pushes it up into the air”, Mr Crowe said.

“When you get the angle right and the balance right, it will sit there.

“John’s idea was that it should actually fly.”

When Mr Crowe arrived at the river to test Mr Dickenson’s kite with the new triangular control system there had already been three failed attempts.

Mr Fuller, the pilot, said he would not go up with anyone but Mr Crowe behind the wheel of the boat.

When Mr Crowe opened the throttle, Mr Fuller lifted the nose of the kite and shot straight up, sitting over 40 metres above the water to the full length of the rope.

Man flying a hang glider above a river Photo: The first flight of Dickenson’s glider with its new design for a control system took place on September 8, 1963 on the Clarence River at Grafton. (Supplied: Fuller family archive)

Mr Fuller was signalling Mr Crowe to bring him down, but Mr Crowe knew that this wasn’t possible without putting Mr Fuller in danger of plummeting into the river.

“I couldn’t slow the boat down too much because it could just suddenly stop, as if I hit a sandbar and if that happened l knew Rod would be in trouble”, Mr Crowe said.

“The fall from that height is not real funny”.

Then Mr Crowe was confronted with another challenge — the bridge across the Clarence River.

“I turned around in a big curve that took me past the face of the bridge and he slid out over the bridge, and I got him back over the far bank safely”, Mr Crowe said.

By this time pilot Mr Fuller had relaxed into the flight, there was a small ripple in the sails and Mr Dickenson’s new leverage system was giving him the control he needed to actually fly the kite.

Over the next few years with the help of his water-skiing mates, Mr Dickenson refined his design making it more lightweight and reliable.

He teamed up with Bill Moyes in Sydney and together they released an improved design to the world.

“The rest is history”, Mr Henderson said.

Young man in an Australian Air Force uniform. Photo: Boat driver Pat Crowe had been interested in aviation since he was a young man. (Supplied: Pat Crowe)

Boat driver is celebrated

Fifty-five years after the flight, Mr Crowe has been awarded the 2018 Hang Gliding Diploma by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for his role in making modern hang-gliding history.

Mr Crowe has had a love of aviation since he was a young boy flying model aeroplanes and he spent his national service in the air force as an engine fitter.

“He knew a thing or two about flying”, Mr Dickenson said.

The inventor and the pilot have both previously been honoured for their contribution and Mr Green said the recognition of Mr Crowe was fitting.

“All three men are regarded by us in the world of hang-gliding as the holy trinity, but the success of the first flight depended on the boat driver.

“The whole future of hang-gliding was sitting up behind that boat driven by Pat Crowe , he had that package of the pilot up in the air, and he had to get him up, keep him up, turn him around and get him down.

“That was all up to the mastery and consummate skill of Pat Crowe.”

Elderly man holding a framed diploma with another man in the background. Photo: Pat Crowe receives the 2018 Hang Gliding Diploma by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for steering the first flight of the modern hang-glider from behind the wheel of his speed boat. (ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak)

Mr Crowe said he was extremely proud of what he and his mates achieved in what really was meant to be a one-off stunt.

“I’ll always be very proud of what we managed to do here, and proud that it was here on our river, our beautiful river,” Mr Crowe said.

Topics: science-and-technology, sport, air-transport, lismore-2480, grafton-2460

Contact Catherine Marciniak

More stories from New South Wales


FAI to join potential combined bid to host World Cup

The FAI is set to join up with the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish FAs in conducting a feasibility review into a potential joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

The development comes on the back of recent positive discussions amongst all parties, according to a statement on the FAI website.

The full statement reads:

"Following recent positive discussions amongst all parties it has been agreed that the Football Association of Ireland will join the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish FAs in conducting a feasibility review into a potential joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup."

Martin O'Neill's men failed to qualify for the recent World Cup tournament in Russia while Qatar will be the next nation to host the World Cup in 2022, while Canada, Mexico and the USA will host the tournament in 2026.

France claimed their second ever World Cup in Russia during the summer, defeating Croatia 4-2 in one of the most entertaining and action-packed finals for decades.

Continue Reading


Trainer Hanlon to appeal suspended 18-month penalty

Trainer John Hanlon plans to appeal the suspended 18-month penalty handed out by the referrals committee of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board following a hearing on Wednesday.

A sample taken from the Hanlon-trained Camlann following his victory at the Galway Festival on August 2 was found to contain cobalt, a substance that while found in supplements that contain low levels, is prohibited in a horse on raceday when above an internationally-agreed level.

A statement from the referrals committee said that "the current case in question was serious in nature resulting in a strong argument for the withdrawal of licence from the trainer".

The report from the committee said that in his evidence, Hanlon stated the horse was receiving an oral supplement which contained cobalt and vitamin B12, but that it was not administered to the horse on the day of the race and that he did not know the source of the adverse analytical finding.

Co. Carlow-based Hanlon – best known for his handling of multiple graded-race winner Hidden Cyclone and likewise Luska Lad – immediately signalled his intention to appeal.

He said: "The only comment I'm making is that we're definitely going to appeal. My reason being it was only three over the threshold of a hundred and we've got to appeal."

Camlann was disqualified from the race in question, the Open Gate Pure Brew Handicap, with original runner-up Make It Hurrah promoted to first place.

Having elected to use its powers to suspend the ban for three years, Hanlon was advised that "should he come to the notice of the referrals committee for a similar breach within three years of today's date the 18-month suspension will be activated in addition to any further sanction imposed for the later breach".

Continue Reading


O’Connell has no coaching master plan for the future

Paul O’Connell says he still has no grand plan for his future in coaching – unlike his former Munster and Ireland team mate Ronan O’Gara.

Following a stint in Paris with Racing 92, O’Gara is now working with Super Rugby side Crusaders in New Zealand and says one day he hopes to coach Ireland.

O’Connell is following in his footsteps, taking on a role with Top 14 side Stade Francais in Paris, though his future isn’t mapped out as clearly yet.

"For me to go to Paris, I always wanted to live in France so for me this was a chance to travel, live in an amazing city, immerse myself in coaching and see is this what I want to do while learning a language and meeting some good people," said the former Ireland captain, speaking to RTÉ Radio 2FM’s Game On.

"People don’t seem to believe me when I say there’s no real long-term plan in going to Paris."

O’Connell is working with Stade’s forwards and line-out and his first season has started well with three wins out of four in France.

His family, wife Emily and children Paddy, Lola and Felix, haven’t been able to join him yet as they haven’t been able to find suitable accommodation so he is staying with Mike Prendergast, another Irishman on the club’s coaching staff.

"It’s difficult because there is a lot of apartment-living where the club is. We’ve decided we don’t want to live in an apartment and we’re trying to find a house, which is quite difficult. The family haven’t arrived over yet, but it’s great," he said.

O’Connell agreed to move from Munster to Toulon in 2015, but an injury suffered in that year’s Rugby World Cup ended his playing career and scuppered that deal.

O'Connell puts his arm around O'Gara

So he is grateful for this chance of living in a new culture, though he admits he’s having trouble learning the language – mostly because he doesn’t get enough opportunity to practice it.

"It’s one of the reasons I’m over there, as much as the coaching. I’ve always wanted to learn the language," he said. "It’s one of the reasons I was going to go over to Toulon towards the end of the season.

"The only problem is that English in the chosen language spoken in the coaching room because we have Heyneke Meyer, John McFarland, Peter de Villiers, so many of the staff speak English so I’m probably speaking too much English and it doesn’t help me learn.

"I’m trying to work out as many ways as I can to speak French.

"I do classes in the club, one of the physios in the club, his dad used to work in IBM and is retired and actually teaches refugees French voluntarily and he does lessons with me over the phone.

"I listen to Coffee Break French – Johnny Sexton recommended him to me. I’m trying to hit it as many ways as I can and I’d love after Christmas to be able to coach as much in French as I can.

"I’d say I do about 10 per cent now and Peter de Veilliers translates, or else one of the players translates. It’s difficult, but it is what it is and you just have to roll with it."

Continue Reading


Fennelly: ‘There’s a line now with manager Shefflin’

Michael Fennelly says his relationship with former Kilkenny teammate Henry Shefflin remains the same but that there is 'a line' with Shefflin now managing their club side Ballyhale Shamrocks.

The 10-time All-Ireland winner was appointed to the position last year having retired from inter-county hurling in 2015 after winning an All-Ireland club title with Ballyhale.

Fennelly called time on his Kilkenny career last December but continues to work alongside Shefflin at club level in a slightly different capacity.

"Our relationship is still very similar," said Fennelly at the announcement of the Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor Championship team of the season.

"It's Henry's first year in management and he's doing a good job. He's learning through the whole process and system and what has to be done.

"No doubt I'd say he's been frustrated with the fixtures this year starting in early February in terms of training and playing only one match in April. Our next game wasn't nearly until the start of August. So, that's been a struggle and trying to get our heads around that both players and management.

"Our relationship is probably still the same but there's a line there now. I'm a player, he's a manager, and you have to respect that and I think that's important. I'm coming from a coaching education background as well so I'd be aware of the boundaries and stuff. You have to respect that."

Fennelly continued by saying that there's still a strong sense of honesty between them despite the changes, although the way in which they communicate has altered slightly.

But Fennelly added that he can use his insight in the dressing room to help Shefflin manage his players throughout the season.

"You're not just talking to another player or another person, it's the manager at the end of the day. The dilemma does change a small bit funnily enough. I can still be completely honest with him which is important and Henry would want that in terms of feedback and bits and pieces.

"Sometimes as a manager you mightn't see everything whereas a player is seeing a player in the dressing room and you might be seeing things that a players wouldn't show off to a manager. If they're struggling with form or whatever it may be.

"It [the relationship] changes a small bit but at the end of the day, it's important to have that strong communication lines being active."

He added that adjusting from the inter-county environment to the less intense atmosphere at club level brings its challenges for Sheffllin, but backs the 11-time All-Star to make the transition over time.

"He's very level-headed and I'd say he's learning as the weeks go on to be honest. This whole coaching process takes a couple of years and even at that you'll still be evolving and adapting. And realising that 'that didn't work, I need to change my mindset a bit.'

"Maybe players at a younger age now have other commitments and other interests as well. You have to take that into account. As a coach you have to understand that, if you don't you're going to struggle and you will get frustrated. I think Henry without doubt is learning all that now and seeing what's happening and what's going on.

"He was a very passionate player, a very passionate person about hurling and he probably knows himself that he needs to manage that. With an inter-county set-up you'd have that automatically with most players. With a club set-up, it might be a bit lackadaisy and a bit more chilled out.

"That can be frustrating and I would definitely find that myself, the players or the coach not putting in the effort. I'd be getting frustrated and I'd want that natural commitment.

"It's about knowing yourself and knowing your skills. You have to think outside the box sometimes, what other players are feeling. At the end of the day it is a hobby at club level so you have to take that into account as well."

Continue Reading


Garcia does not feel extra pressure because of pick

Sergio Garcia insists he has nothing to prove ahead of next week's Ryder Cup, despite his controversial wild card selection.

Garcia won the 2017 Masters but has missed the cut in his last five major championship starts, with his only top-10 finish in a strokeplay event since March coming in the French Open at the Ryder Cup venue of Le Golf National.

"I don't need to show anyone," the 38-year-old said ahead of the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura.

"The only thing I have to do is go out there and help team Europe, my team-mates and my captain and vice-captains – not only with the game on the golf course but outside, in the team room and everything.

"There are things that are important to have in a team. I think that is one of the reasons why Thomas (Bjorn, European captain) picked me, not only because of the game he knows I can play but what I can bring outside of the golf course into the team room and stuff."

Garcia has not competed since the middle of August, a tie for 24th in the Wyndham Championship proving insufficient to qualify for the play-offs via the top 125 on the FedEx Cup standings.

"I told Thomas, 'If you end up picking me, I'll make sure that I play something coming into the Ryder Cup'," added Garcia, who needs three points in Paris to overtake Nick Faldo as the top European points scorer in Ryder Cup history.

"I didn't want to be without playing for four or five weeks coming into such a big and amazing event. Portugal seemed like a good fit and I'm happy that I decided to come here. Obviously the course is nice, it's going to be a good test and I'm excited for it.

"I took a couple of weeks off and started practising again. The game feels pretty good. Obviously there are some things here and there that I would love to do a little bit better and that's what I'm working on. The game overall feels good.

"It's just a matter of hopefully getting some good momentum, start building on that. If I can do that then I can gain some confidence and some good rhythm, that's the goal this week.

"Obviously getting a win would be amazing, you can't beat confidence. That would be nice but more than anything I just want to get some rhythm, get some competition juices flowing, that's one of the main reasons that I wanted to come here."

Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen is the only other member of the Ryder Cup team competing in Vilamoura, a place he knows well.

"It's a place I always like to come back to," Olesen said. "I actually went here earlier this year to train for five days with my coach and caddie. It's a place I've always enjoyed coming to – nice weather, good food.

"I feel like I know the course really well. I haven't particularly performed the last few years here but I still feel like I've played pretty well. Qualifying for the Ryder Cup didn't make a change at all.

"I probably took eight or nine days off without any golf, so obviously started the middle of last week to get back into it and I'm slowly getting back into the rhythm and hopefully can be fully ready on Thursday."

Continue Reading