The New Plymouth Aero Club had established a Gliding Section prior to the formation of the Taranaki Gliding Club in 1960. This lasted about a couple of years before being disbanded, leaving the gliding enthusiasts bereft.
The Taranaki Gliding Club's first President was Harry Smith who, like many in aviation at that time had had extensive wartime flying. His being in bombers and transport aircraft.
The club operated mainly from the old Bell Block airfield, launching by Tiger Moth towplanes and by a homebuilt winch. The club also took the winch out to various aerial topdressing strips to explore conditions away from the coast.
After Bob Struthers joined the club in 1967 things rapidly progressed as he and like minded members began to "chase things along".
A corner of Leo Wytkin's farm at Kaimiro was leased in 1968 and construction began on a four-vector airfield. The airfield was first used in 1970 and by 1975 was largely complete with a large hangar and clubrooms. A good example of Struthers' lateral thinking was the acquisition of a D4 bulldozer to help build the airfield. Unceasing fundraising activity continued from 1967 through to 1994 as the club sought to gather funds for aircraft purchase, their maintenance and work on the airfield. The accompanying sheet lists the purchase and/or sale of aircraft as the fleet was expanded and improved.
It would be pertinent here to note the profound influence Bob Struthers had on the fortunes of the Taranaki Gliding Club. He lead from the front and as an excellent leader, had the knack of getting people to do things, not for themselves, but for the club. A very good pilot, he gained his Three Diamond Awards for gliding achievements. The club's towplane is registered ZK-RWS as a tribute to him.
The club enjoyed many years flying from German Hill with some exciting flying done, particularly when the SW wind blew and wave flights happened. One day there were ten flights by the two Blanik two-seater gliders to 10,000ft. The panorama of Mountain, the ranges, cloud forms, countryside and coastline was attractive to many.
Over the years, visits to sister clubs at Matamata, Taupo and Waipukurau have proved very popular and club pilots have done extensive flying in Australia. However, whilst enjoying their own flying, club pilots have always maintained a close link with their public, providing trial flights to those who might be "interested in gliding" or to those who "just want a glider flight". Local ATC squadrons were for many years flown from German Hill and latterly, from Stratford.
As a sport, gliding has much to offer, the sheer enjoyment of being at one with the aircraft and the air through which one flies. Then there is the challenge of having to think your way from one part of the sky to another, using rising air to prolong the flight which is simply, the gentle art of soaring, but which can involve critical and continuous observation, assessment and decision making. Make the wrong decision and a landing will be sooner than later.
The lease of the German Hill airfield changed in character during the 1990's and would have cost the club more than it could afford to enjoy the same rights and usage. After a short sojurn at the Norfolk airfield, the Club re-established at Stratford in 2002 and this year has completed construction of its hangar there. In 2011, the hangar extension was added, giving a total floor area of 660 sq. metres.
In contrast to the massive fund raising efforts in past years, the Taranaki Gliding Club has enjoyed patronage from initially Petrocorp, and latterly, The Taranaki Electricity Trust and TSB Community Trust and also Pub Charities. These funds have been applied to aircraft purchase and the hangar construction.
The Club is deeply appreciative of this support since the changing demands of society today, render it difficult, if not impossible to devote time and effort to raffle sales and such like.
Likewise, the support offered by the Daily News, Midweek, Stratford Press and earlier, the Taranaki Herald and along with local radio stations has, over the years enabled the Taranaki Gliding Club to reach out to the wider public. Not surprislingly, the Taranaki Gliding Club is keen to acknowledge the assistance by being open to public interest and enquiry.
The Taranaki Gliding Club looks forward to its flying future at Stratford, both for its pilots and to a role in fostering an interest in aviation among the people of Taranaki.