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

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 agemember of an Air Cadet Squadron. We built and flew an Englishdesigned Dagling Primary Glider. We towed the disassembled glider ona trailer behind a 1928 Packard roadster to a rather steeply slopinghill that had a flat area going back for a couple of hundred yardsfrom the crest of the hill. I would guess the height of the crestabove the meadow at the base of the hill was roughly 125-175 feetwith about a one-in-eight gradient.

The glider was assembled at the base of the hill and then towed tothe 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 tomake room for the installation of a plywood drum that would receivethe rope towline as it wound in.

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

The beginner was then given a tow at a speed just fast enough tohave aileron control. This would allow the student to learn tobalance the glider as it slid along through the grass. The tow ofcourse was terminated well before the crest of the hill. The seconddifferent colored flag would be used for more advanced students thatwould give them enough speed to lift off and fly in ground effect fora short spurt—again stopping before the crest of the hill. The thirdand final colored flag was used as a signal to all that here we hadan accomplished aviator type who was to have bestowed upon him a tow that would truly launch him so that usually by the passing of thecrest of the hill the glider would have I guess perhaps two hundredfeet agl—and then would continue the climb to perhaps a release ofthree fifty or so above the base of the meadow. No soaring ever tookplace—it was all down hill literally.

When my turn came for my initial “indoctrination tow” there was ascrew-up in the flag signalling or interpretation thereof. I got thenumber three type tow—a most hearty send off sent me swooping overthe brow of the hill. I vividly recall the sudden sweeping panoramaof the meadow below and the tiny (to me darn tiny) winch/carbelow.

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

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

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