By Andre Venter
Magalies Gliding Club is situated at Orient Airfield approximately 50km west-northwest of central Johannesburg and 65km southwest of central Pretoria just a few kilometres from the quaint town of Magalies.
I arrived at the airfield very early on Saturday morning expecting lots of activity but it seems the glider fraternity isn't too keen on the cold, and boy was it cold. Fortunately hot drinks, and by that I mean coffee and tea, and fast food were on sale to warm the soul a bit.
A few of the pilots were getting their aircraft out of the hangars, hangars that have quite a history as I was later to find out, as the organisers were preparing for the day ahead.
The first aircraft to get airborne was one of the many SF-25 Motor Falke that were there for the event. A safety briefing was held and members were given specific areas to take control of, who was flying what and who doing the necessary controls of where they had to be.
An introductory flight in Motor Falke or a conventional glider was a mere R1500 per person in an attempt to lure new people to gliding and hopefully join the Magaliesburg Glider club. Over the course of the day, fifteen people were taken for introductory flights some showing a keen interest in perusing a GPL in the future.
While I was wandering around the field I was given a short History of the Magaliesburg Gliding Club and the hangars that are situated there today.
The Club has around 200 members and a summer weekend will typically see between 100 and 150 starts, including visitors. Flights of 300 km are regularly achieved and some of the competition pilots have achieved 500, 750 and even 1000km flights from Orient. MGC is very fortunate to enjoy some of the best thermal soaring conditions in the world, and most flying days produce powerful thermals of between 1 and 5 meters per second climbs to as high as 18000 feet. Orient airfield lies at 5100 feet above mean sea level with two parallel 1500m long grass strips laid out 18-36, a cross runway of 700m (11-29) and an emergency strip of 500m.
A short strip, parallel and to the east of the two main 18-36 runways, (36RR) is used exclusively for winch launching and all glider circuits are conducted to the west of the field, while power circuits should be to the east.
The club fleet consists of 3 Grob G103 Twin Astir’s, 3 Grob G102 Astir CS’s, 1 Jeans Astir, 2 SF25B MotorFalke Motor Glider, and 1 Lambada Touring Motor Glider, 1 Piper Super Cub (180 hp) and a Cessna 182 tow Plane. A winch is also available which enables launches to 1500 ft or more.
In addition to the Gliding, the club offers a fully equipped clubhouse, accommodation, walks and cycling over 235ha of fenced-off land, ideal for a family outing.
The original Magalies Gliding Club was a combination of two Gliding Clubs. One is the SA German Gliding Club based at Robinson Lake in Randfontein and the other, is Pretoria Soaring Club originally based at Wonderboom, then later at Brits. The amalgamation of these two Clubs was concluded in October 1972 and Magalies Gliding Club was set up on the current airfield at Orient.
Magalies Gliding Club (Operations)in its present form (MGC) came about as an amalgamation of the two Gliding clubs west of Johannesburg, namely Magalies Gliding Club (original) at Orient and the Witwatersrand Gliding Trust (WGT).
WGT was based at Donaldson Dam near Westonaria, having moved there from the old Baragwanath airfield at what is now the Aeroton Industrial area Many of the hangars started their journey from Bara to Donaldsons and later to Orient.
Development of the Bekkersdal township next to the airfield required that WGT move yet again. They considered two options, one to build a new airfield further to the west or to join Magalies at Orient airfield, the latter was chosen.
The merger was concluded in 1993 with the name, Magalies Gliding Club being retained. To differentiate the name from that of Magalies Gliding Limited, the ‘new’ Club was given the rider ‘Operations’.
The airfield has a history in its own right. The original property was bought by Hans Kuster who had envisioned a Gliding facility safe from landlords and owned by the glider pilots themselves. The property was sold as shares to MGC members, although not all of the members of the Club are shareholders, and this became Magalies Gliding Limited. The company is active and functions separately to MGC (Ops). The Club as an entity is also a shareholder. More land was purchased over the years to facilitate the lengthening of the main runways to the South, 36 – 18 L & R.
The airfield infrastructure and hangars, some Club owned and the others Privately owned, have been built up over the years to what exists today as the magnificent facility known as Magalies Gliding Club.