It’s a clear summer’s day and Roleystone man Norm Bloch is doing what he loves best, flying his glider. Something he does most weeks in retirement. Whether flying jumbo jets for Qantas in a busy career or flying gliders, Norm is at home in the sky.
“My parents were from Europe, Mum was Belgian and Dad English and, after World War II, we went to Capetown, South Africa for a few years where I was born in 1961,” Norm tells Have a Go News.
“We moved to Australia in 1970.
“I was building plastic aircraft models aged five. When I was about 14 there was a glider display at Garden City shopping centre with people talking about gliding, so I spoke to them. That was the first gliding club in Perth in those days, but it didn’t last long after I joined.
“I started flying there, chalking up about 16 flights. When the club folded members were shared between the big clubs and I ended up at Narrogin Gliding Club. I flew solo on my 15th birthday which was rather ironic…you could fly gliders but you couldn’t drive a car.
“When I was 17, I started power flying, flying gliders previously gives you quite a reduction in flying hours required for a licence. Starting as a kid helps too. My parents were really supportive and I got my commercial flying licence aged 19 flying single engine aircraft and, in the next few years, twin engines to mine sites for crew changes.”
Norm undertook these flights for four years and Qantas was recruiting. He had wanted to join Ansett which, he says, in hindsight was lucky given the pilots strike of 1989 and when it closed down in 2001.
“I joined Qantas at 23 and was a second officer on jumbos, Qantas only had jumbos so I went from 14-seaters to jumbos in one big hit. We were allowed to land on simulators but not the real thing.
“Flying for Qantas we were a relief crew so we didn’t take off and land but we were able to relieve crew so that the captain and co-pilot could have a break on long flights.”
After three years Norm was promoted to co-pilot, then moving to 747 400s, flying them for a year. Because he joined Qantas at the start of a big boom he was promoted to captain in eight years, commanding 747s at the ripe old age of 31 and moving back to jumbos when he was 38.
In those days Qantas had not yet merged with TAA, so Norm did international flights for the next few years flying to many cities in Japan, Tahiti, Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Auckland, Christchurch and Hong Kong enjoying the water on either side of the runway approach at Kai Tek airport. He also went to Sydney, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Bombay and Seoul.
Norm says there were few because Qantas always looked after its aircraft well.
“The worse was weather related, landing in Hong Kong in a typhoon. Believe it or not Perth is one of the worse places to land at night because of turbulence. In summer, we get 40 knots of crosswind at a few hundred feet altitude but it is calm on the ground.”
Norm left Qantas in March 2020 after 36 years when Covid hit and he was offered a voluntary redundancy.
“I was turning 60 and would have to give up international flying at 65, although on domestic routes you can fly forever. I could see it would take a few years for things to return to normal and I would have to change aircraft.”
Sitting next to his glider at Beverly, Norm says he is looking forward to another day of gliding and returning to national competition after a few years of Covid restrictions.
His gliding record speaks for itself: His best flight this season is a whopping 788km. In 48 logged flights between October 8, 2021 and January 29, 2022 with a total flight distance of 21,409km he smashed national speed records, making him the fastest glider pilot in Australia in six categories.
He also won the WA State Gliding championship at Cunderdin in January.
A natural born aviator who loves nothing better than being up among the clouds.