Harry Schneider has been a key figure in the development of the sport of gliding in Australia over the past 60 years through his sailplane designs and his outstanding ability as a soaring pilot. Harry was born at Grunau, Germany, on 28 October 1924, the son of one of the early pioneers of German gliding, Edmund Schneider.
In 1928, when Harry was four years old, his father founded his glider factory “Edmund Schneider Segelflugzeugbau Grunau” (ESG), and amongst other designs was most famous for his 1930 Grunau Baby. Estimates of the number built vary between five and ten thousand. Grunau was also home to a major gliding school where Harry learned to fly gliders at the age of fifteen.
In the closing stages of World War II, the Schneider family left Grunau as Soviet forces swept into Germany from the east. They ended up in the southern city Stuttgart where Edmund and Harry worked for a short time with American forces occupying the nearby Echterdingen aerodrome. The family then moved further south to the border of Switzerland. The Schneiders then started a small business on the shore of Lake Constance building wooden boats.
In 1950, Edmund Schneider was invited by the Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA) to come to Australia. He accepted and arrived in Melbourne with Harry in 1951. Bill Iggulden – the founding President of GFA – acted as their guarantor. Shortly after their arrival John Wotherspoon, an Adelaide pilot, offered factory space and accommodation in that city so they could build him a high performance two-seat sailplane. The offer was accepted and the ‘Kangaroo’ came into being and at the same time they built a Grunau IV for the Waikerie Gliding Club. Both sailplanes were new designs. Thus began Edmund Schneider Limited. Harry’s mother and brother – Edmund Jr. –migrated to Australia once Edmund Sr. and Harry were settled in Adelaide.
Both the new sailplanes were test flown at Parafield in 1953. John based the ‘Kangaroo” at Parafield and flew it from there regularly until he was made an offer of purchase he couldn’t refuse. A proviso of the purchase was that the ‘Kangaroo’ be delivered to Boggabri in central NSW. A trailer for the ‘Kangaroo’ was not available so, rather than build one, Harry convinced John they should fly it there on aero-tow. On the day of their planned departure Harry reckoned the weather was good enough to soar and nominated Mildura as the first landing point so they launched from Parafield. The flight was completed as Harry had planned and resulted in a new National and British Empire two seat soaring record.
In the early years of Edmund Schneider Limited, Harry and his father operated as a team in the design and manufacture of their aircraft. They worked with the GFA to meet the requirements of the gliding movement. This approach significantly helped the Australian clubs and also enabled private owners to build their designs under licence. In addition to developing state-of-the-art designs and structures, the company even blew its own canopies, something almost unknown in the Australian aircraft industry at that time. They also pioneered glass reinforced plastic construction in Australia.
In June 1957, the factory transferred to Parafield Aerodrome. In 1960, Edmund Sr. returned to Germany where he died eight years later. Back in South Australia, Harry became solely responsible for design and production at Edmund Schneider Limited. He also did the test and development flying of all of the company’s Australian built aircraft.
The side-by-side two seat ES-52 Kookaburra trainer first flew in 1954. Its innovative design facilitated easier instruction, good controllability and reasonable performance which ensured instant success. It was the backbone of two-seater training in Australia from the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s. It was also sold to New Zealand and also built under licence in Brazil.
While the Kookaburra was in full production Harry, with Edmund, designed and built four new types – the ES 55 Gnome, ES 56 Nymph, ES 57 Kingfisher and the ES 52 b “Long Wing” Kookaburra with the 56, 57 and 52b going into production. Harry’s significant cross-country flights in the Nymph and Kingfisher earned him his Gold C with Diamond. During his soaring career Harry held many National records in both single and two seat types.
In 1962, the company released the Harry designed ES-59 Arrow, followed by his ES-60 Boomerang in 1964. The single seater Boomerang featured many innovative design and construction details and was a very strong, high performance aircraft. It ranked with the world’s best high performance aircraft of the time, beating imported 15 metre sailplanes during the national championships in 1966 and 1967.
In 1968, due to rapid growth at Parafield, DCA, under the direction of Don Anderson, moved the entire factory to the western end of Gawler airfield.
In 1969, the ES-60B Super Arrow – a simplified Boomerang suitable for club use was introduced and for many sailplane pilots it became their first single seat type.
In 1968 design and manufacture of a high performance fibre glass two seater – the ES 63 – began and it reached the point where moulds could be made. Unfortunately Eastern Bloc metal two seat sailplanes were being imported at such a low price harry could not match and he decided to halt production. The company survived by importing fibre glass sailplanes – mainly from Germany – and providing a service and repair facility.
The fact that the ES 63 hadn’t flown really niggled Harry and in 1983, his final design, the ES-65 Platypus, was developed. It was a much simplified version of the ES 63 suitable for ab-initio training through to serious cross-country flying. The Platypus first flew during August 1984 and set a benchmark as a training sailplane that had never been achieved before or since. Its soaring performance was significantly greater than design calculations. While thermalling it could out climb any other two seat and most single seat sailplanes and had a glide ratio equal to its best rival.
Harry was approaching his retirement and chose not to spend his retirement funds to facilitate its production.
More than 100 Schneider machines were built between 1952 and 1972, and until 1969 the majority of Australian records were set in Schneider aircraft.
The Australian Aviation Hall of Fame proudly inducts Harry Schneider.