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Leinster Leader 14 August 2008
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
The skies above Kildare and adjoining counties are criss-crossed by aircraft on various kinds of flight whether it be the big passenger jets on their approach paths to Dublin airport, or the helicopters of the Irish Air Corps transiting to the Curragh, or perhaps a single engined light plane on a flight from Kilrush, Gowran Grange or Weston. Indeed Kildare has at one time or another been a mecca for aviation sports enthusiasts. In the 1970s the colourful balloons of the Dublin Balloon Club operating from Furness brought traffic on the dual carriageway to a halt as astonished motorists stopped to look. For many years the Falcons parachute club carried out their jumps to a landing zone in Punchestown racecourse while nearby Gowran Grange airfield has been a long-serving glider flying venue.
The aviation tradition in the area goes back decades as evidenced by a report in a Leinster Leader issue of August 1958 headed ‘Aerial Display at Weston’. Contrary to popular belief summers were no better then because the two-day airshow at Weston, just on the Dublin side of the county boundary, was somewhat curtailed because of low cloud and high winds. It was reported that despite the weather large crowds turned out to see the Leinster Aero Club’s display on Sunday and Monday, although on the second day some of the events on the programme could not be carried through. There was another omission as well in that ‘for some unknown reason’ the participation of Army air men had been prohibited by the Dept. of Defence.
Low clouds at Weston on the Sunday made the tasks of pilots and parachutists very difficult and were a disadvantage event to spectators. In their aerobatic displays in Chipmunks, Messrs. Donohoe and Magill kept as low as possible, yet disappeared from sight as they turned the tops of loops.
The demonstration of the use of parachutes in dropping supplies for food, medicines and other requirements in emergencies to isolated groups, which was given by members of the Irish Parachute Club was an interesting feature on the Sunday programme. But even that spectacle was trumped by the daring antics of a French aerial stuntman. Monsieur Rene Vincent hung by one foot from a rope ladder suspended from an Auster, as the little plane bumped along at 80 mph. At the end of his trapeze act the plane climbed higher and Monsieur Vincent released himself and parachuted to the ground.
Aerial crop spraying from a Tiger Moth of Crop Culture (Aerial) Ltd., a demonstration of modern executive aircraft and a mock air raid, culminating in a bomber being ‘shot down’ complete with smoke effects, were some of the other attractions on the programme. Gliding feats were given merited applause, especially the display of the Petrel sailplane, flown by Mr. John Byrne of the Dublin Gliding Club.
Indeed the activities of the Gliding Club merited a separate article in the Leader of that week which announced that the Dublin Gliding Club has been making great progress. With its headquarters in Baldonnel its fleet consists of three aircraft, one of which was a dual-control training model and the others being two single seaters. In addition there were two or three other gliders owned privately by members of the club. Many people in various districts of South County Dublin watched out at weekends for the displays of these streamlined aircraft which in the hands of skilled pilots can perform all sorts of manoeuvres including ‘loop the loops’. Indeed getting the glider into the air provided lots of excitement. At Baldonnel the method used was to tow the glider behind a fast tow car. Attached to a long cable linked to the nose of the glider the tow car races down the runway. With the pull on the glider the pilot can guide his craft into a climbing movement until a height of sometimes 1300 feet is reached after which he releases the tow cable. Once the cable is released the pattern and duration of the flight depends on weather conditions and on the skill of the man at the controls. On a few occasions gliders launched from Baldonnel had stayed airborne for several hours.
Thus fifty years ago spectators were thrilling to the activities of daring men in their flying machines over the skies of north Kildare and south Dublin. Series No. 80.

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' reports on newspaper coverage of aerobatic displays enjoyed by aviation sports enthusiasts at the two day airshow at Weston in August 1958

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