How I Learned to Fly: First — And Almost Last — Flight

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During early WWII, in Canada, teenage members of an Air Cadet Squadron built and flew an English designed Dagling Primary Glider ... .

TrainingDuring early WW II I lived in Canada where I was a young teen age member of an Air Cadet Squadron. We built and flew an English designed Dagling Primary Glider. We towed the disassembled glider on a trailer behind a 1928 Packard roadster to a rather steeply sloping hill that had a flat area going back for a couple of hundred yards from the crest of the hill. I would guess the height of the crest above the meadow at the base of the hill was roughly 125-175 feet with about a one-in-eight gradient.

The glider was assembled at the base of the hill and then towed to the top of the hill by a stripped down Ford Model T car. Meanwhile, the Packard roadster was jacked up and one rear wheel was removed to make room for the installation of a plywood drum that would receive the rope towline as it wound in.

Because of the layout the winch operator could not see the glider when it came time to go. A system of flag signals was used. A wingtip runner would select one of three different colored flags based on the degree of competance of the student. One flag color would signify a beginner (me) and the signal would be relayed by a second flag man at the crest of the hill to the winch operator down in the meadow at the bottom of the hill.

The beginner was then given a tow at a speed just fast enough to have aileron control. This would allow the student to learn to balance the glider as it slid along through the grass. The tow of course was terminated well before the crest of the hill. The second different colored flag would be used for more advanced students that would give them enough speed to lift off and fly in ground effect for a short spurt—again stopping before the crest of the hill. The third and final colored flag was used as a signal to all that here we had an accomplished aviator type who was to have bestowed upon him a tow that would truly launch him so that usually by the passing of the crest of the hill the glider would have I guess perhaps two hundred feet agl—and then would continue the climb to perhaps a release of three fifty or so above the base of the meadow. No soaring ever took place—it was all down hill literally.

When my turn came for my initial "indoctrination tow" there was a screw-up in the flag signalling or interpretation thereof. I got the number three type tow—a most hearty send off sent me swooping over the brow of the hill. I vividly recall the sudden sweeping panorama of the meadow below and the tiny (to me darn tiny) winch/car below.

The glider was pitching and porpoising in what I now know was the product of PIO. I do not believe I released the tow, I think it released all on its own—-probably because of the degree of pitch- up I was attaining. Right after the release, the glider mushed toward a series of stalls and somewhat partial recoveries—all made almost tangent to the face of the hill. Somehow the wings stayed fairly level and the stalls were not deep enough to precipate a spin entry—all luck, NO skill!!

The arrival at the base of the hill was strong enough to break almost all the landing wires that radiated to all points of the structure from a central king post mounted above the wing center section.

This adventure was my first instructional (??) session, my first solo flight and only accident that I will admit to in over fifty five years and fifteen thousand logged hours! Incidentally, the broken landing wires made from about 1/8" piano wire were replaced from a big roll of wire in the rumble seat of the Packard, the airframe was tweaked back into rig and was flying again within an hour or so!!