Kookaburra Technical Publications
The World’s Vintage Sailplanes
This book began as a series of articles I wrote for the magazine, Australian Gliding, which I edited for ten years between 1969 and 1980. Sometimes when I was short of material I filled in the blank pages with my own writing. My descriptions of famous old sailplanes, with photographs and three-view drawings, proved popular. I had been collecting the necessary background and pictures ever since childhood so had no lack of information. Some of my material was reprinted by magazines in other countries, especially the French Aviasport, the American Soaring and National Soaring Museum and the international Vintage Glider Club News. I thought it would be interesting to make a complete book. I reworked all the drawings to as high a standard as I could with pen and ink and added many more to a total of ninety five. This took several years.
When I thought the book was ready, early in 1982, I approached several possible aviation publishers. Most thought such a book would not appeal to the market and turned me down. Geoff Pentland, of Kookaburra Technical Publications was one of these. An English publisher was prepared to do a smaller book including only a dozen most famous gliders. I was on the point of signing a contract with this firm when Geoff Pentland wrote again to say he had changed his mind and would like to publish the whole work.
A contract was agreed and signed. There followed a period of four years worry and delay. Pentland’s behaviour, to say the least, was very strange during this period. We ended in the Supreme Court of South Australia. The judgment was in my favour and I was awarded $8000.00 in legal costs. The book was published at last in 1986. There were still ways for things to go wrong. Pentland made little attempt to market the book and sold it only when he received a personal mail order with payment. He would not accept bulk orders from retailers.
He became sick and died, I think, in 2008. His widow was left with a large unsold stock in the warehouse.
Books have been published about several of the German glider manufacturers. Slingsby Sailplanes, the leading English company in the field, had no book and I decided to produce one. I visited the Company’s factory in Kirbymoorside, Yorkshire, several times and was allowed to search their archives for detailed constructional drawings of all the types the firm had produced since the first in 1931 to the last in 1982. (There is a story on another page of this site about the Slingsby Archives.) I had learned how to use a computer for drawing but even with this help each of the thirty-four full page drawings took several days to complete. The book was published in 1996 by Airlife of Shrewsbury. Sadly, following the death of Airlife’s owner and driving force, the firm went out of business some years later and the book is no longer in print. (ISBN 1 85310 732 8)
In the same spirit as I had written Slingsby Sailplanes, in 1995 I thought it time the American Schweizer Company, of Elmira, New York State, should have a book. The Schweizer brothers, Ernie, Paul and Bill, still at school, started building their own glider in 1929 – 30. By 1981 they had designed and produced over 2000 aircraft of thirty-seven different types and were still in business. I had met Paul once briefly in England and wrote to him suggesting we should collaborate on a book. I proposed he should do the text and I would do the drawings. He agreed. I sent him the drawings for correction as they were done and I edited his writing when necessary. I was able to visit him at his home twice during the book’s preparation. The last aircraft we described, the SA 2 -37A, was not truly a sailplane but was an advanced surveillance aeroplane. The photograph we had intended to include was censored by the CIA but they allowed my drawing to remain. Sailplanes by Schweizer was published by Airlife in 1998. It was immediately popular and large numbers were sold by the National Soaring Museum which is at Harris Hill, the famous soaring site near the city of Elmira. Paul and I shared the royalties 50/50. (ISBN 1 84037 022 X)
Klaus Fey is a partner in the publishing company Eqip, now based in Bonn on the Rhine. A keen glider pilot and instructor, in 1998 Klaus came across a copy of my Kookaburra World’s Sailplanes and wrote to me offering to produce a German edition, for which he would do the translation. A similar proposal had been made years before by the well known company, Motorbuch Verlag. This had been vigorously rejected by Geoff Pentland.
I told Klaus there was no chance of any such deal, but I would be glad to prepare a completely new book with improved, coloured, full-page drawings and a completely new text. I suggested the period dealt with should not extend back to 1909 but would run from 1920 till 1945. There would be some overlapping but I would include many more sailplanes than the earlier work. We agreed and a contract was signed for simultaneous German and English language editions. I wrote to Pentland telling him what was proposed, but had no reply. This was the beginning of a long association and friendship with Klaus Fey. I have visited him many times since. Having done one book, he insisted I should continue. We extended the Sailplanes series until the year 2000.
The first volume covers the quarter century from the tentative beginning of hill soaring to the discovery of thermals and waves. Gliders progressed from primitive and sometimes dangerous contraptions, to sophisticated, beautiful and strong wooden aircraft capable of flights exceeding 700 km distance and height climbs over 6800 metres. This volume, now out of print, will be converted to E-book form in the near future.
The second volume describes the transformation of the sport by the discovery of low drag, laminar flow wing profiles and the development of new constructional methods enabling full advantage to be taken of them. By 1965 it was clear that composite, fibre-reinforced plastic structures were to become universal. Competition flying now was chiefly a matter of racing around closed circuits of several hundreds of kilometres.
By the end of the 20th Century, carbon fibre reinforced plastic materials had become widely adopted enabling further great improvements in sailplane performance. Wing spans over 26 metres had become common with aspect ratios exceeding 45 and even 50 :1. Sophisticated computer instruments, data loggers and satellite navigation systems transformed the sport again. Distance records now exceed 2000 kilometres and stratospheric altitudes of 50,000 ft have been reached.
I have sworn to do no more Sailplane books in this series. This is for someone younger to do.