Manfred Radius Interview
(“Sailplane Superstar” “The King of sailplane Aerobatics”)

He has been described as a “Sailplane Superstar” and “The King of Sailplane Aerobatics.”

And for good reason.

Since starting his career flying sailplanes in 1961 at the age of 17 in Hamburg Germany, he’s logged in excess of 5000 flights and accumulated over 2000 hours in at least 60 types of sailplanes.

For years he was the only person in North America who competed in glider aerobatic championships.

In 1977 he received an award as the “Best Foreign Aerobatic Pilot”.

He’s been featured on television shows such as “That’s Life,” “Stunt Masters”, “Magic In The Air”, “Sky Bound”, “Science Of Fun”, and The Aviators. He’s also been featured in the books “Tradition Of Excellence” by Daniel V. Dempsey, The Cannibal Queen” by Stephen Coonts, and “The Flyers” by Noah Adams.

He performed his daytime and night acts at the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace Expo near Melbourne in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001.

In April 2015 he was inducted into the Sun ‘n Fun Flight Path of Fame at the Sun “n Fun International  Fly-In Expo in Lakeland, Florida.

As an experienced skydiver he logged over 1100 jumps in more than 30 years in the sport.

We are talking about Mr. Manfred Radius.

Q – Manfred, let me start off by asking you a non-pilot question. You did grow up in Hamburg, Germany didn’t you?
A - Yes. I grew up in a suburb of Hamburg, Germany.

Q - Would you have gone to see the Beatles when they performed in the Hamburg clubs?
A - No. At that time I was not interested in them I didn’t like that kind of music.

Q - You didn’t like rock ‘n roll music?
A - That’s right.

Q - Did you hear about the Beatles when you were growing up?
A - I never was into it. Of course they had some nice songs, but I wasn’t interested in Rock ‘N Roll. I enjoyed classical music, Mozart, Beethoven,’Strauss. I was in Hamburg and I left Hamburg in late 1969. So, when the Beatles performed there I was there.

Q - It’s just too bad you didn’t go down to one of those clubs to see them.
A - Had I known how famous they would’ve become I would’ve gone. (Laughs).

Q - Do you know scalpers are selling two tickets to see Paul McCartney for $10,000?
A - That’s ridiculous. People who spend this kind of money have too much money. They should be donating more to charitable causes instead of throwing it out of the window like that. There’s not a performance that’s worth that kind of money.

Q - You became interested in sailplanes because the neighbor took you for a ride in one? Is that how you became interested?
A - No. Not a neighbor or a friend when I was a child, a juvenile I used to ride a bicycle a lot. By coincidence I found a gliding club once. I didn’t even know it was there. I just happened to find it. A member of the gliding club told me at the time told me for 10 deutsche mark I could take a ride in a glider. However, I had no money with me. I came back another time with the money and took a ride. That was a lady pilot. I didn’t know her. She was a club member. She took me up in the glider and it was the first time I ever flew in any kind of aircraft.

The club did not have aero tow at that time. They had only winch tow. A winch is a strong engine with the transmission and a big drum mounted on a chassis. The winch is stationary. It’s at one and of the glider port and the cable is put out across the entire field. At the end of the cable the glider is attached. So, when the winch operator gets a signal he starts the engine and pulls in the cable and within seconds the glider has flying speed and it climbs  at a steep angle. Now the height the glider gets depends on the length of the cable but also on the headwinds. Now, in that case we didn’t get much height. We got maybe 1000 feet. After the release from the tow there were no rising air currents so all what we did is the winch launch, circuit and landing. The flight was five minutes at the most. I liked it so much. I was so impressed I joined the club in that was in 1961. I was 17 years old at the time.

Q - Are there any gliders that have engines?
A - Well, basically a glider has no engine. Now, there are different kinds of gliders. In the Second World War, there were military transport gliders. They had no engine and they were towed by big aircraft and they transported troops and equipment and they were towed by big aircraft and released quietly. They flew into wherever they were needed. Now, those are military transport gliders, but there are also hang gliders and paragliders and sailplanes. They all have no engines. Some of those motor gliders are self-launching. They have an engine strong enough so they can launch by themselves and others cannot, launch by themselves. Once there they are up there and assuming the pilot is running out of rising air currents, then he can use his engine and perhaps fly back, back to his glider port.

Q - You are based in Canada. How do you get your sailplane to Australia?
A - Well, the first time was in 1995. Federal Express flew my glider in its transport trailer in a Boeing 747 to Australia. I performed a couple more times in 1997, 1999 and 2001. In those times I brought my glider to a shipping company in Pennsylvania and loaded it in a container. So, it was transported by ship to Australia and back. The show in Australia by the way was at Avalon Airport near Melbourne. The airshow was the Australian international Airshow and Aerospace Expo. So, it was a huge event. It wasn’t just an airshow but an Aerospace Expo.

Q - Was it expensive to have FedEx ship airplane to Australia?
A - Well, I didn’t think anybody paid for it. I believe Federal Express had a deal with the airshow organizer. Think the deal was they would be displaying the airplane there, at the Expo. I believe they needed that airplane. I was told at the time it would’ve cost $30,000 to transport my glider by FedEx one way. I do not think anybody paid $30,000. That is not likely. So, they had a different deal. They were bartering.

Q - You have to have a license to fly a glider plane?
A - Yes it’s a glider pilot’s license.

Q - And you have to have so much flying time to get the license?
A - Yes. A 14-year-old is actually old enough to solo a glider. So, you can start training as soon as you fit into the glider, as soon as you’re big enough because if you’re too small your legs cannot reach the rudder pedals. You’re just too small. But, there are 14-year-olds who are actually big enough to be able to fly a glider. At 14 you can actually solo a glider. At 16 you can get the glider pilots license.

Q - Is there a certain number of hours you need to get the license?
A - I think it’s about 10 hours. I don’t exactly remember the requirement. It was a long time ago when I did it in Germany.

Q - What if something goes wrong, are you able to land the plane? Do you have to parachute out?
A - Normally we land our airplane just like any other pilot lands his airplane. We have the same controls every airplane has. We have an elevator for speed control. We have an aileron for banking the glider or keeping the wings level. We have a rudder for yawing the glider. So, we can control our glider.

In order to stay up for a longer time or fly a distance across country we need rising air currents because gliders normally don’t have an engine. The glider is to descending. So we are looking for rising air currents and the most common rising air current we are using is a thermal. Thermal is a column of rising air. Once we have found a thermal we turn and we circle within the thermal so we don’t fly through it. And, we are gaining height in the thermal.

Now, other rising air currents we are using is ridge lift. For instance where there is a ridge and the wind blows against the ridge it gets deflected upwards. This is a rising air current where we can fly as long as the wind blows onto that ridge we can fly. All day long.

A mountain wave. Under certain weather conditions when the airdrops behind the mountain down it bounces up again and produces a wave in this wave  high-altitude flights are being made. Many years ago I had one at approximately 35,000 feet. It was in 1974 I went up to approximately 35,000 feet above sea level. That was near Colorado Springs over Pikes Peak. That was in the mountain wave, the highest you can get in a glider is in the mountain wave.

Now, to answer your question: assuming we run out of lifts or we do not find any more rising air currents - we have to land. Now, it’s a pilot’s job to make sure that we always fly over terrain where we can land. where there are fields we can land. If we don’t make it back to our glider port we land on a farmer’s field. In many areas there are a lot of farmers’ fields where we could land. In other areas there are no fields where we could land. But, we shouldn’t be there in the first place; we shouldn’t be low over an area where we cannot land.

Q - How much work it is there for shows  such as yours?
A - How many shows? It varies. I have now 31 years in the airshow business behind me. I’m now in the 32nd season. Approximately 28 years ago I had 20 bookings a year. Then a couple years 19 air shows a year. However it went down over the years. It went down to 15 to 12 below 10. Now, I don’t have that many shows anymore. This year I believe it’s about 8 bookings. So I don’t have that many shows anymore.

Q - You have such a unique act. You should have more!
A - That is true. You would expect that I would have more. It is unique. You’re right. Most acts perform in motor planes. So, this is very different. It’s a contrast to all the other acts and you would expect that I would get more bookings, but, no. That is it. And, the spectators love my performances. On my website there are a few pages of testimonials. The responses I’m getting from spectators couldn’t be better. Some people like my act better than any other act.

Q - That night act of yours is really spectacular.
A - As a matter of fact I ask a lot of spectators if they prefer my night act over my day and most of them prefer my night performance.

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