Electric Flight in Australia


Jack Black - father of electric flight in Australia

Peter Pine
1/40 Kellehers Road
Pottsville Beach NSW 2489
Phone (02) 6676 1437
Mobile (0407) 732 440
E-mail: ppine@northnet.com.au 


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After serving with the RAF during the war, Squadron Leader Jack Black became an airline pilot. He flew for some years with Swissair, and it was during these years that Jack came into contact with electric powered flight.
The Milikty Cup, held each year in Pfaffikon, Switzerland (in memory of Fred Militky, the European founder of electric flight) is fertile ground for the development and spread of electric flight. It was here that Jack witnessed the innovation and development of electric flight which lead to the movement as we know it today.
Jack returned to Australia to fly for Qantas, and brought his enthusiasm for electric flight with him. Jack's home in Lindfield became a popular drop-in centre for the small band of electric flight enthusiasts that developed in Sydney. Jack was always willing to help anyone who showed interest in flying the electric way. Equipment was hard to obtain, and often improvised, but Jack would go out of his way to assist.
In the early 1980s, the Sailplane Expo developed in Armidale, and Jack was a regular attender, always willing to demonstrate electric flight. While Ralph Learmont gave seminars on covering wings in fibreglass cloth, Jack demonstrated electric power set-ups. The photo above was taken at the 1982 Sailplane Expo. Jack is on the left with his large "Pfaffikon" glider powered a Geist 40/16 with 3:1 gearbox, 16x8" prop and 16/ 1200 mAh cells. He delighted in flying this glider to the limits of visibility, catching thermals, and powering home if he was caught short. Accompanying Jack is Ian Avery (centre), who ran an early Australian Electric Flight Society from his home in Kiama, and disseminated a newsletter full of hints for early fliers (one needed a lot of hints to ensure success in those days!). On the right is Peter Cranfield with a twin pusher. Peter was a great encourager, and was the team manager for the Australian team that competed at the 1st Electric Flight World Championships in Lommel, Belgium.
As I leafed through my old Airborne magazines from the early 80's, I found Electric Flight columns written by Jack accompanied by a small advertisement for his electric flight business called "Silent Flight". The April 1983 edition carried a paragraph inviting readers to get in touch with Ian Avery to start the AEFS. The July 1982 column carried a report for an electric flight event conducted at Muswellbrook (Hunter Valley Championships) which said:
"Richard Solomon flew first in the early morning. A blistering climb gave him his 8 minute max on a motor run of only 47 seconds with no discernible thermal assistance, a performance not equalled all day." How things have changed! This just highlights the development of electric flight.
The October 1983 edition of Airborne carried a very sad note:
"These few sentences will be the last I shall write for Airborne on electric flight technology. I now hand over to Richard Solomon. A serious health problem now compels me to re-assess my commitments and to substantially reduce them."
We lost Jack prematurely to a brain tumour. He would revel in the electric flight activity of today, and it is sad that he did not live to see it. Jack's wife, Maree, had a magnificent trophy hand carved, and it is now a perpetual trophy for those who win F5B at the Nationals. The first name on the trophy was Mike O'Reilly, who won the first ever Nationals F3E event (now called F5B) to be conducted in Australia in 1984. Some of the famous names in electric gliding appear on the Jack Black Memorial Trophy.
We salute you Jack for your efforts with early electric flight events! I trust that the trophy, and in some small way, this tribute, will ensure that you are not forgotten.
Footnote - Peter Cranfield has faithfully preserved Jack's 4-motor pusher glider that Jack constructed from a Multiplex Alpha kit extending the wing to some 4.5m and mounting four electric motors on the rear of the wing centre-section. It is planned to rennovate Jack's model and fly it at a future NEFR (National Electric Flight Rally run by the AEFA at Easter each year) in memory of Jack - be there to witness the flight!