John Dickenson, the inventor of the first glider with his invention, which is still in good shape today.

The invention that started a world-wide craze

AT SIX YEARS OLD, John Dickenson picked up the phone and called the Australian Air Force to inform them he'd designed a plane that would put the Spitfire to shame.

It could have been a breakthrough for the Air Force if they hadn't just designed something even better themselves. But this is where Mr Dickenson's love of aircraft began.

When he found himself living on the Clarence River, that fascination birthed the first hang glider in 1963.


On the banks of the Clarence River on Saturday, Mr Dickenson's invention was unwrapped and displayed to honour the the beginnings of the sport.

Mr Dickenson said when he was lifted into the air, behind a boat pulled by Pat Crowe, was like having realised his dream.

"The aircraft itself was a dream to fly, you would find it difficult to find any other aircraft as ... gentle, as controllable, with extreme accuracy, it was just pure pleasure," he said.

"It also had the advantage, if you were sufficient about what you were doing, you could use it as a parachute and rock it down.

"(One flight) I was on ... 210ft of rope, and what happened is we flew into a thermal and I went straight up in the air.

"The boat stopped, so I had to rock it down. That is how safe it was, you could use it as a parachute."

The first successful flight of the hang glider was taken by Rod Fuller, with Mr Crowe driving the boat.

Mr Crowe was honoured at the event, with a hang gliding diploma from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Mr Dickenson said he believes in fate and that his education led him to inventing the hang glider. "I was the dunce of Balgowlah High," he said.

"In recent times I did a degree in psychology and my IQ was measured and it was probably double that of any of the teachers.

"But I was kicked out of school at 14 without an intermediate certificate. I now have two university degrees. They used to send me up to the library and hope that I might learn something, I was studying aviation and doing mathematics way beyond what (they taught) in the school."

Mr Dickenson found himself in Grafton as one of Australia's first trained television technicians. "I was invited here to take over the service department of Gus Robertson," he said. "It's fate, I was popped up here to do what I did and then when it was done, I was dispensed with."