History of Australian Hang Gliding Competitions

Australian Open Hang Gliding Championships

Contributed and updated by Ian Jarman

Just as the sport as a whole has made rapid progress from its Australian beginnings behind the boats of the Water Ski and Kite Flyers Association, the objectives and style of our National Championships has also evolved.

 1976-1980

Steve Moyes, Rick Duncan, Equal Tim Travers & Steve Powter, Rick Duncan

Even with the rapid emergence of foot launch hang gliding in the mid seventies our competitors were still flying glides with figure eights around pylons or 360 degree turns to finish the flight with a spot landing as was required of the tow kite era. The first foot launched Nationals were held in 1976 at Mt York in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and were won by Steve Moyes, who also dominated the tow comps of that era. The ’77 Nationals at Mt Elephant in Victoria were won by another keen young tow graduate by the name of Rick Duncan. However this competition introduced many competitors to thermals. This was an accidental consequence of flying a volcanic plug in summer, with these unexpected blobs of lift tending to mess-up landing approaches or by comparison the sink would reduce a flight to a rapid plummet to the bottom. By 1978 pilots had learnt a little more about the vagaries of convective lift and headed to Burra in SA hoping to test these new found skills. The weather unfortunately failed to co-operate (still seems to be a problem) and the ultimate winners/survivors were Steve Powter and Tim Travers in a tied result. Even though we had learnt how to utilise thermals our competitions still revolved around pylon courses, with little or no allowances for pilots flying in dramatically varying conditions. In ’79 and ’80 the tow launch nationals seemed to regain dominance and it was not until 1981 at Mt Buffalo that the pilots started to demand greater organisation, and better tasks, that more realistically tested their free flying skills and objectives.

1981-1985

Phil Mathewson, Steve Blenkinsop, Alan Daniel, Danny Scott, Phil Flentje

This move to Mt Buffalo saw the change to true cross country tasks if only at a limited level. Phil Mathewson became National Champion. There were still pylon judges for short courses and duration tasks, but these were now interspersed with true X-C days where “open distance” was all the rage as pilots daily improved on personal bests. The summer of ’82 saw Steve Blenkinsop hold things down just long enough to earn the National Champ Title. However, early in that season Rob DeGroot produced a flight of 250km which ensured that the National Champs were bound to return to the Buffalo region. Drought conditions prevailed at Ben Nevis for the ’83 Nationals where smoke haze and raised dust from the devastating Ash Wednesday fires created problems for the photo turn points that had been introduced in order to provide longer tasks. The comps were run using a heats system with scores allocated for placing within the heat. Alan Daniel was victorious in ’83 with Danny Scott, and Phil Flentje being crowned National Champions in the ’84 and ’85 comps respectively. It was at Ben Nevis in 1984 that the 40 or so competition pilots that gathered in the Buangor Pub on a bad weather day, decided to form a Competitions Committee. The committee was elected from those gathered with the major objective of developing and designing a better competition format and scoring system.

1986-1990

Steve Moyes, Rick Duncan, Rick Duncan, Ian Jarman, Steve Moyes

With the HGFA considering a bid for the ’87-88 World Championships the nationals made their inevitable return to the Bright/Buffalo area. The scoring system had changed, heats were still utilised but pilots were now also scored against the field and upon relative performance. The number of pilots had increased to over 60 and the process of trialing comp formats and scoring systems had begun in earnest, albeit to a fair amount of criticism. Steve Moyes had taken the Title but once again with the increasing number of top overseas entrants, the actual first and second place getters were visitors. The Comps Committee returned to the Swan Masters the following year with a whole new concept, computer trialed and tested at lesser comps. As this was the lead up meet to the next World Championships 150 entrants put the system to the test. Rick Duncan could find no fault with the scoring system, nor with the flying. Twelve rounds with daily tasks averaging over 100km. But these were not open distance tasks. The equipment and competitor skill now allowed for more convenient yet more challenging out and return or triangular courses. The larger field required several launch sites to be utilised with elimination rounds followed by a cut to a finals. A win at the Australian Championships was now indeed a great achievement. History now records that Rick’s victory was a precursor to his leading the Australian Team to Individual and Team Gold at the following World Championships in 1988. The hosting of the Worlds saw the ’88 Nationals postponed until October and moved to Killarney in SE Queensland. Once again Rick Duncan took the Title of Australian Champ. With only fine tuning to our competition format the next two Nationals ran smoothly, but were as different as Killarney was to Ben Nevis. It was back to Buffalo in ’89 for another arduous 11 day event of eliminations and finals. Ian Jarman, the National Team Coach for the ’88 and ’89 World Champs was a convincing winner, while at Corryong in ’90 Steve Moyes’ consistency saw him take yet another title.

1991-1995

Steve Moyes, Mark Newland, Drew Cooper, Mark Newland, Mark Newland

The 1991 Nationals returned to Mount Buffalo where Steve Moyes successfully defended his Title in some fairly inverted conditions. The Open then moved to the HGFA national office location of Tumut, with once again some inverted and fairly stable conditions heralding the start of a long drought. Mark Newland was the highest placed Australian at the 92 Open with Suchanek and the French beginning to show some real dominance. It had been quite a few years since the Open had been held in the Western Victorian area of Mt Cole-Ben Nevis where Drew Cooper finally took the title in 1993. Drew had been the No. 1 ranked pilot since 1991 and was to retain that ranking in 1994 where Mark Newland was to take the trophy back in an interesting battle at Mt Beauty. Mark maintained that good form to win in 1995 when the Open leapt back to the future as a tow meet in the drought stricken NSW western plains town of Hay. As usual the presence of a hang gliding event brought relieving rains to the farmers which created a nightmare for competition organisers.

As the nineties continue the emphasis is changing once more, as pilot skill levels continue to increase. The current style competitions are bound to evolve in new directions to ensure that each pilot is challenged and that those new challenges encompass all pilot skills, knowledge and advancing technologies. Consideration of spectators and promotional aspects will also begin to have an effect on competition formats if the sport is to grow.

A new professionalism is emerging; competition pilots must not only have more airtime they must supplement this with strength and endurance conditioning. As flights extend in both time, length and accuracy of performance greater meteorology and strategic skills will need to be developed. Pilots with an ability to adapt to and use new technologies to best advantage will gain a competitive edge. This adaptability will become increasingly more important as events are modified to attract greater media exposure and sponsorship.

The World Championships as a tow launch event scheduled for Forbes NSW in 1998 should prove to be a catalyst for major changes in technology and direction. The emergence of the Europeans as a major force in the early nineties looks like continuing at least until that event. Australian pilots will need to work very hard if they are to regain the dominance enjoyed a decade ago.

1996 – 1999,

Geoff Tulloch, Rohan Holtkamp, Joel Rebbechi, Grant Heaney

As the nineties draw to close the required pilot skill levels and the refinement of competition equipment continue to increase. The current style competitions are bound to evolve in new directions to ensure that each pilot is challenged and that those new challenges encompass all pilot skills, knowledge and advancing technologies. Consideration of spectators and promotional aspects will also begin to have an effect on competition formats if the sport is to grow.

A new professionalism is emerging; competition pilots must not only have more airtime they must supplement this with strength and endurance conditioning, technical understanding of the aviation sciences as well as often complex competition systems. Pilots with an ability to adapt to and use new technologies to best advantage will gain a competitive edge. This adaptability will become increasingly more important as events are modified to attract greater media exposure and sponsorship.

The 1998 World Championships were held as a tow launch event at Forbes NSW. As expected the European teams continued their dominance and although the Australian team took a credible fourth place behind Austria, Germany and Italy, it is apparent that some serious rebuilding of our elite performer stocks is now overdue. It is no coincidence that winners of our National Championship since 1996 were all on the team at Forbes.

1998 saw the use of GPS flight verification systems that ran off the existing track log functions of standard GPS instruments used successfully in competitions for the first time. This Australian bred system has been further refined and is set to replace photographs as the means of verifying competition flights.

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