Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Douglas Hoinville (1907–1959)

by Sylvia Marchant

This article was published:

Frederick Douglas Hoinville (1907-1959), skywriter and glider pilot, was born on 26 October 1907 at Kent Town, Adelaide, son of Australian-born parents Frederick Hoinville, a cinematographist of Huguenot descent, and his wife Hilda, née Hales. Educated at Essendon High School, Melbourne, young Fred trained as a fitter and turner; by the age of 35 he had worked in numerous jobs and run several small businesses without settling down to anything. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Auburn, Sydney, on 2 April 1937 he married Gladys Thelma Saunders; they were to have three daughters before being divorced in 1955.

During World War II Hoinville was rejected by the Royal Australian Air Force because of a perforated eardrum, a condition which later healed. While lying on a surfboard off Bondi in 1943, he watched a Gypsy Moth manoeuvring above him and decided to learn to fly. He immediately enrolled for lessons, qualified months later, obtained a commercial pilot's licence in 1948 and bought a Tiger Moth aircraft which he named Brolga. Next year he was appointed Sydney secretary of the newly formed Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia. Teaching himself stunt-flying, he became a barnstormer and gave spectacular displays across the country.

Hoinville was also interested in gliding. A founding member (1946) of the Hinkler Soaring Club, he was foundation secretary (1949) of the Gliding Federation of Australia. On 11 January 1949 he broke the Australian gliding distance record, covering 221 miles (356 km) from Peak Hill to Collarenebri in 7 hours 15 minutes. On 5 January 1950 he piloted a glider from Parkes to Greenwell Point, near Nowra, achieving a distance of 190 miles (306 km) in 7 hours 45 minutes, and reaching a maximum altitude of 10,100 ft (3078 m). The flight qualified him for the Gold 'C' award of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. In 1952 he competed in the World Gliding Championships in Spain. A council-member of the Society of Australian Inventors, he was involved in the 1950s in the production of a 'mini-midget' glider, a craft with a wing-span of 25 ft (7.6 m); he successfully tested a prototype in August 1957, but failed to gain financial support.

In the early 1950s Hoinville had revived the art of skywriting and made it a lucrative venture, initially in Sydney. Flying Brolga between 13,000 and 17,000 ft (3962 to 5182 m), he formed words from smoke specially generated from his aircraft. Messages (usually advertisements) composed of letters half-a-mile (0.8 km) long could be read from the ground. Each letter had to be produced in reverse. Hoinville so exploited the winds that, as he shaped a letter, it was blown away from him, enabling him to start the next without moving on. He described his work as 'a mixture of mental arithmetic and split second timing'.

About the mid-1950s Hoinville moved to Melbourne. On 10 November 1956 at Bentleigh he married with Presbyterian forms Grace Mary, née Iggulden, a divorcee and writer; they had a son and three daughters. He was killed on 18 April 1959 when his powered glider crashed at Goulburn, New South Wales; survived by his wife and their daughters, and by two daughters of his first marriage, he was cremated with Anglican rites. His autobiographical Halfway to Heaven (Sydney, 1960) was published posthumously.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Parnell and T. Broughton, Flypast (Canb, 1988)
  • A. Ash, Gliding in Australia (Melb, 1990)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Nov 1945
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 17 Nov 1957
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 Apr 1959
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1963
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 21 June 1978.

Citation details

Sylvia Marchant, 'Hoinville, Frederick Douglas (1907–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 October, 1907
Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


18 April, 1959 (aged 51)
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

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