The History of the Isle of Wight Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club.
The club is one of the longest standing in the country.
Although most club members now fly Paragliders the club itself remains much as it did.
The 1970s (by Alan hunter)
In 1970 I was sitting on Afton Down, looking into the fields below. Checking the wind direction? No, I knew that, from the exotic smells wafting on the summer breeze……and it wasn’t rapeseed or the sweet smell of silage from Tapnell Farm! I was lost in the music of Jethro Tull and a host of the very best musicians ever likely to be gathered in one tiny spot on the planet. Hang Gliding! Never heard of it! How many pilots have taken their first faltering steps into the wild blue yonder not knowing that they would be landing on what 500,000 people probably think of as Hallowed ground? Glastonbury? Pah! Doesn’t even come near the Isle of Wight festivals. About this time, a few likeminded individuals were looking to the skies and wondering how they could get some pieces of alloy tube, wire and plastic into the air……… with them dangling underneath it!.
In 1973 a hang glider known as a “Grasshopper” appeared on the Island, owned jointly by Steve Medland of Totland and Peter Cole of Ryde. They had received basic training from the manufacturer Ken Messenger and were improving on this. Russ Potter purchased a “Wasp” in February 1974 and, in the process of looking for a suitable site to throw himself off, came across Steve and Peter. They joined forces and through the NHGA (National Hang Gliding Association), made the acquaintance of Peter Scott, Les Pakes and John Cleaver, soon after this, meeting up with Jonathon Nuttall and Terry Connelly. Mike Hyde and group joined them for a short period.
Les Pakes and Leo Hill (Very apt name), both of Britten-Norman had said that a number of employees were interested in Hang Gliding and were considering forming a hang gliding section within the Sports and Social Club. Those flyers that were not B-N employees were divided on the benefits of such a club and felt, if they were not careful, all the groundwork of finding sites and developing landowner relationships etc. could quickly be swamped or undone.
Britten-Norman was producing the “Islander” and “Trilander” aircraft, the Islander probably being the most successful of British light aircraft. Anyone interested in a history of aviation on the Island should read “Wings over the Island”, The Aviation Heritage of the Isle of Wight. It does not deal with Hovercraft or Airwave for some reason; presumably these are outside the scope of the book but it still makes interesting reading. You’ll probably find it on sale in the “County Press” shop.
During 1974 B-N interest flourished and a meeting was arranged to discuss the formation of a B-N Club and the indications were that 30-40 people would attend. The non B-N flyers were invited and felt it prudent to attend so that, at least, they could make their points of view known and perhaps have some influence over the meeting. The venue at The Propeller Inn, Bembridge, was very well attended with the Club being formed that evening. Des Norman agreed to be president: Leo Hill Chairman: Peter Scott Treasurer: Les Pakes Secretary: Steve Medland Flying Instructor and Russ Potter Site Management, though soon after Peter and Les reversed roles. Trevor Hutchins is still a member of the IWHGC and was one of those original few that formed the Britten-Norman Sky Surfers. This was the first Hang Gliding Club on the Island.
Things looked promising with £100 made available to the Club from the B-N Sports and Social Club so that Aluminium tube could be purchased to make a start on the large number of gliders predicted from the new B-N membership. Leo and Les made great efforts in organising a registered fund raising scheme to boost Club funds and very pleasant social evenings were had during this period. In reality very few gliders eventually made it to the hill, enthusiasm waned and B-N members became the minority of club members. Leo flew until he had what was probably the first serious accident on the Island. He broke his ankle and spent 25 weeks off work. Les Pakes was building a revitalised “Quicksilver” in 1975; it wasn’t a case of nipping over to Airwave in those days. The Club carried full insurance thanks to the organisation of Reggie Spooner representing both the Club and the B.H.G.A. as its official insurer.
At this time ominous noises were being made about hordes of gliders on limited mainland sites causing consternation to the local flyers who now found that their quiet local sites were overcrowded and landowners were withdrawing permission to fly. Organisation had to come quickly or all would be lost. The B.H.G.A. was formed from the National Hang Gliding Association and British Kite Soaring Association. Clubs were formed and respect for “other peoples sites” began to improve. It was felt that here on the Island it could be controlled if it was played carefully. The Club would need to attract any potential flyers and so discourage the “independents”, although most of the members felt that they were still “independent” and did not relish the thought of regulation. (Nothing has changed there then!)
A number of the members began to feel that the B-N connection was holding the Club back as potential pilots thought that it was an exclusive membership. The Club needed a name to promote the “Island” club. They needed a name that did not run the risk of advertising a commercial product and one that everybody could be associated with. It was felt that the Club should identify with All hang gliding on the Island, to which all members could refer any problem, local or national. The Club to have its finger on the pulse of hang gliding generally, especially as Reggie Spooner attended most National Committee meetings and Peter Scott attended A.G.M’s on the Clubs behalf.
In 1976 Russ Potter wrote a proposal to change the name of the Britten- Norman Sky Surfing Club and after a meeting at Bembridge Airport on Friday 7th May 1976 it was decided to rename the Club “The Isle of Wight Hang Gliding Club”.
The Club’s main training site was Compton Bowl, arguably the best training site on the Island but not used by the Club anymore. Successive generations of gliders became more efficient and training became organised and taken on by schools rather than Clubs. Mike McMillan formed “High Adventure” in 1982 and it was to become one of the most successful schools in the country, the Bowl still being used today for training paraglider pilots. Another early training site for hang gliders is Warren Hill at Little Atherfield Farm, still owned by Club pilot and retired farmer David Hearn. David does B&B nowadays and is the Clubs resident Paramotor pilot so, if you are involved with this branch of the sport, you know where to stay.
Mike was a very committed hang glider pilot and is very well respected in the Hang/Paragliding world having flown for the British Hang gliding team in European and World events. He was instrumental in the laying down of many of the training procedures for hang and paragliding. His background is in sailing and what he doesn’t know about the weather isn’t worth knowing so, in 1996, he was asked to help coach Meteorology for the Olympic sailing squad. Check out www.freedom-sailing.demon.co.uk Many local pilots are involved with the sea, if it isn’t sailing then it’s windsurfing, surfing or kite surfing so if you are coming over on holiday, bring your gear. You can sling a mountain bike on as well, if you have the room!
So how was performance back in those days? In 1974/5 the Club champ. Steve Medland managed 16 minutes but over in Hawaii the World record was 10 hours 47 minutes, Brian Woods held the UK duration record at 8 hours 26 minutes at Rhossilli and Ken Messenger held the British altitude record of 12,700ft. I bet Steve was just as chuffed as anyone though; it was still a young club. And the price? In 1976, if you weren’t into lashing something up yourself, then £315 including 25%VAT! would buy you a brand new, Rogallo-winged Cobra glider, including some training on how to fly it!
A mention must be made of Robbie Stokes, Hang glider pilot and falconer. Robbie was made an Honoury Club member for his efforts in finding and testing out new flying sites and for showing our early members the delights of cliff flying. We hardly give it a thought today but in the 70’s it was rather daunting to progress from “The Bowl” to an attempt at staying aloft on those White Cliffs so Robbie’s enthusiasm and guidance opened up another aspect of flying for many Club members. Through Robbie we have had a good relationship with the Sky Surfing Club that exists to this day.