FULL-SIZED gliders on aero-tow or circling for lift were a common sight near Heston Aerodrome, London, when I was a lad in the early 1930s. It was a new craze for those who could afford it and it came to us from Germany.
At this time I came across a series of model gliders at a local shop. They probably came from Japan and cost 3s, 6d, and Is. This was the best I value for money the hobby ever gave me. They were made of thin wood, were silver tissue covered, both sides, had RAF roundels, and came with flying and stunting instructions.
The wings of these catapult gliders were parallel chord with rounded tips and the fin was fashioned on that of the unmistakable AVRO 504.
There were also other, perhaps similar but much dearer, gliders in the shops with USA markings and "Spirit of St Louis" emblazoned on the wings. They were much heavier and, for me, flew less well than the cheaper series, of which I had several.
In August 1933, I moved a short distance to Hayes, Middlesex. Looking for a field to fly my Warneford Demon and FROG Interceptor I chose by co- incidence a field in Bourne Avenue now covered with houses, Where Hayes and District MAC were holding their first meeting. Here I became a fetch-ermite.
The club applied to Fairey's to fly from their Great West Aerodrome, and when permission was obtained many more joined including W.E Evans, a veteran modeler (elderly to me!). , Not only did he possess a power model (15cc Atom) but he was mad keen on gliders, of which he had two or three.
W.E Evans was also the holder of the British hand-Launched glider record of 3min 10sec, which remained unbroken from 1930 to 1940. The model of about 50in spans and carried small forward fin. The fuselage was L² /100 and it was launched from Ivinghoe Beacon. When he retired he gave me this model which I lost!
It was not until 1940 that we beat Evans's record when on
the same day two Hayes members, Spratley and Youhill, found conditions ideal
and beat four minutes with models of 7ft or 8ft span. But at this period the
SMAE was in a state of wartime chaos and their efforts were un rewarded.
Evans also promoted flying from the flat with 100ft versions of the bungee lines used by RC glider flyers today. As on the slopes, we used converted rubber models, adding hooks and weighted nose blocks. I can remember a few purpose-built gliders. These customarily followed full-size practice, with gu1l wings of high aspect ratio. They were of about 5ft span and performed less well than our conversions!
Our neighbors at Ealing were flying converts like us, and a Mr. Maw by advertised and sold one as the "X" plane, with a British record of 36min to its credit. The Harrow club built larger models, also gull-winged, which were more successful than ours. There must have been considerable interest in gliders throughout the country, unknown to us, as the SMAE glider event of May 1938, the Model Engineer Cup, attracted 27 entries and was topped by E Chasteneuf of Blackheath.
Plans and kits of the Chasteneuf model were sold as the 20-Minutes
Glider by Premier Aircraft Supplies of Hornsey Rise. However, there were few
plans or ideas offered by the Aermodeller. The first I can locate is the Seagull
(AM, July, 1937) by Francis Hughes Who promised a series of articles on the
The next was an offering (from Italy?) of a 6ft 4in Kirby Kite. Both these designs were very unsatisfactory, but the Stothers Glider which followed was a good subject, apart from that funny wire device which carries the hooks and which spoils an otherwise useful model.
The King Peter Cup was the first international event specifically
for gliders and it had peculiar rules drawn up by the F.A.I. without thought
for the practicalities of scoring or processing. A British team was selected
through a decentralised contest and the trials proper at Fairey's on the day
following the Wakefield team selection.
Six members of the Hayes' club competed in the decentralised competition: D Self, Youhill, R Sprat1ey, A Minion, Frank Brench, and me. Of these, Youhill and Minion went through to the centralised trial and Minion made the team. However, his model, a planked, overweight Wakefield with in- creased wingspan and two tow-hooks, was not our best and was too small to utilise the length and weight of the 656ft line!
Youhill was unlucky. His consistent flights fell victim to the complications of the duration and distance rules and were somehow awarded other entrant who made the team.
He flew a practical model of about 7ft or 8ft span, weighing about 2lb. It had medium aspect-ratio wings, a boxy fuselage with a partly exposed air wheel, and a small mirror on each side intended to flash in the sun. He also had a good, solid winch which he got in much practice.
At the trials there was an easterly wind which carried the models out of the field, over a canal about 2Oft, wide and 3ft deep. I spent my trials on the far side of this, picking up all the flyaway's, and so had the opportunity of having a good look at all the best models! The one which impressed me most was the rather strange "Flying Pump Handle II by the Northern Heights member A Cox. It would be quite a challenge to build that fuselage!
I also recall a massive scale gilder of llft span which was launched from a huge winch. The owner, G Reynolds, brought along a full-size aircraft to follow it, but it was not needed
Top place in the British team went to R Galbraith who hooked a big riser which took the whole line straight up overhead. His model was also derived from a redundant Wakefield -a streamlined Dream with curved-back tips on wing, tail, and fin.
The selected British team was as follows: R Galbraith, Blackheath;
F Wilson, Northern Heights; A Cox, NH; A Minion, Hayes; A Tindall, Lancs; G Clifford, Birmingham; A Weston, Park Mal; G Reynolds, Surrey; H Hill, Lancashire; G Day, NH ; W Oliver, ?; and H Simmonds, Blackheath.
It was intended that competitors should be awarded one point for each metre flown and five points for each second of flight. Binoculars were allowed and the army supplied an artillery rangefinder. But there were major snags. ! The range finder operator often focused on one model while the timekeepers were looking at another.
Neither, of course, could the range finder operator see the end of the longest flights which went O.O.S. So distanced points were just ignored! Some models were timed with binoculars and others were not. Confusion abounded but in the end a team was selected from 83 entries.
Fourth-place Minion's model put in the three highest consistent flights, each over lOOsec, whereas second-place I Wilson had scores of 3l2sec, 32sec, and 68sec, securing his position with that lucky first flight.
Most flyers appeared to have little or no experience with winch launching and the winches often gave more problems than the gliders. The winch mechanisms included a 6in drum in a wheel brace, a bench grinder with a larger drum bolted on to a post driven into the ground, and a huge geared drum mounted on a wooden stool.
One model from Lancashire was completed on the morning of the contest in the caravan of. C S Rushbrooke, no less. The 9ft model lacked nose balance which was supplied in the form sausages!
Amazingly, six days were allowed for the King Peter Cup -two for competitors to assemble; one for model processing; two for the contest; and one for prize giving! I was only interested in the contest flying which took place, like the trials, at Fairey's on the Saturday and Sunday. For me, Saturday morning was part of a 47- hour working week, so I could not get to the Great West Aerodrome until 2pm. But there was little sign of activity and, equally surprisingly, very few spectators. The weather was cool and a moderate wind blew westerly along the line of what is now Heathrow's second runway. Firstly, I looked around the roped-off pens housing gliders from Belgium, Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia- all larger, and so different from anything we had known.
The contest had not been long in progress when Fairey's brought out the prototype Albacore. It was suitably carrying a full 250lb bomb load under the wing, possible to impress the continentals. After it had paraded round for an hour or so the contest resumed.
The first model I was called on to time was a Yugoslav job which became difficult to see it out flew the field. My fellow timekeeper clocked it off, but I was able to see it a while longer through my 2s 6p theatre glasses before I, too, clocked off But behind me a contingent of Yugoslavs with very powerful binoculars were yelling that their model could still be easily seen. There was a protest, but the rules on the point were fortunately vague. In any case, timekeeper’s binoculars were scarce or non-existent. I lost interest in timekeeping from that point on.
On the Sunday I went out of the aerodrome on my bike, Knowing the district well, I was attracted to the idea of retrieving, particularly since the German team manager was offering a reward of 10s (a lot of money then) for each model returned!
It was a three flight competition, but on the Saturday many flyers had not been called on to make their first flight. This was because one of the two rangefinders laid on by the Army for the big event didn't work. However both functioned on the Sunday and flights became more frequent. Several gliders were rescued from an orchard and cabbage fields (none of them, alas, owned by a German!). A large French model with a wing like a Lysander landed bang in the centre of the Great West Road which was busy even then. I rescued this one and put it on the grass verge, waiting for the owner to claim it. Another came over at about 500ft, circling very well. I followed it on my bike down the Hatton Cross and then down Green Man Lane (which was not the way the glider was going). Reaching the corner on the old Staines Road I turned left towards Hounslow and came back underneath the model. It gained a lot of height across Hounslow Heath and although I followed it towards Whitton I eventually lost it. I have often suspected the this was the model which won the cup for France.
Pedalling back empty handed to the Great West Road I spotted another glider, a big one, coming towards me at about 100ft and looking good. It was being followed by two RAF cadets on a motorcycle.It circled along and over the road and came down behind a large advertisement hoarding, landing on what seemed like a nice sandy beach by a large water filled gravel pit. the two RAF lads arrived and took compass bearings for the distance score. Leave it to me, said one as he jumped from a high bank on to the beach. He immediately sank to to his knees in quicksand and had to be pulled out!
We spent a long time salvaging that Swiss model. A small barge or pontoon was found and loaded with oil drums, planks and anything that might be useful in the enterprise, with the old bits of wood we paddled it out over the water, getting as close as we could to the model which was about 10ft from the edge. We pushed the drums out over the sand (mud would be a better description), and bridged them with a plank. I crawled out along it and grabbed a wing tip. The oil drums disappeared, but the glider was rescued undamaged. Returning in triumph to the flying field I handed it to the owner. But he did not seem to get it back and gave me sixpence! Swiss bankers? Pah!
Doug Gurney, another Hayes MAC member and my modeling friend, had just passed his driving test and had borrowed his dad's Rover, a massive brut with a large sunshine roof which made it the ideal for chasing models. With this car a willing helpers he followed Cox's "Flying Pump Handle" through Hounslow, Iselworth and Brentford before losing it. After returning empty handed we had a phone call from Chiswick where it landed. Although it was a team competition, this one flight of about eight miles helped Great Britain into second place!
France collected the King Peter Cup, with Germany third. It was a strange result for the German total was better than France's and nearly twice that of Great Britain. Points awarded for distance proved decisive. The next day the teams were transported to Dr Thurston's country house at Bidborough, Kent, and to Penhurst Place, hone of Lord de Lisle and Dudley. There followed a lavish dinner at Grosvenor House, London. presided over by Lord Wakefield. Among the top guests were Colonel Moore Brabazon, Sir Kingsley Wood and the Yugoslavian Minister. That was the way it happened. Yet by the time the Aeromodeller report came out in September we were all separated by war.
Post King Peter Gliders 1939 - 1940 (Hayes)
The King Peter Cup fired us with enthusiasm and we had lots of new ideas to try out in those days just before the outbreak of hostilities. My existing model was fitted with a sensible set of straight taper wings and a lot of flying was done with a very small fins, the object being to get a wandering flight pattern. Frank Bench tried a different concept, very strange a original. But it won the 1940 Thurston Cop contest, the only SMAE competition for glider that year. To fit this large job into his 3ft X 12in X12in box which he strapped to his back while cycling, he used a tow piece 6ft wing of low aspect ratio. the 46in triangular pod-and-boom fuselage stuck out through a hole in the bottom of the box!
Then the bombshell, in September 1939 when war was declared and we immediately lost the use of Fairey's airfield. Club activities resumed during that phoney war period, but we moved our activities to Dorney Common near Eton, chobham Common and Cranford Park. About this time I received three errant models from the King Peter contest which had been found in an apple orchard when the leaves began falling. Two of them were Dutch, of 6ft 6in and 6ft 10in span. The lager model belonged to van Darrlen, their top flyer. the best of the three was an 11ft Yugoslav model. It was a great glider, good on tow, and was lost in lift towards Woking from Radio Hill at Chobham. Alec Wilson claimed the smaller Dutch plane because it had a two piece wing and fitted in his Morris 8. From this he built an 11ft version with a two-piece wing and then lost the original in a pine tree across the railway from Longcross Halt at Chobham.
I gave hangarage to Van Daarlen's 6ft 10in model. It always pulled to one side on tow, and frail hooks, and suffered frequent tail plane breakage. The leading edge of the wing was covered in celluloid back to the main spar, we gained useful experience from these three gliders. Late in 2939 I obtained the remains of a German King Peter Cup model, the D3, which had lain in a field ever since the event. Plans were drawn up and one was flying in January 1940, The fuselage was not changed, but the wing was made two piece with the spars doubled in thickness. It became a very useful and successful glider, particularly in strong winds .Drawings appear above.
Although 1940 was such a turbulent year, the summer is remembered by aeromodeller's as a very good one with several clubs gala days at Epsom, Chobham and elsewhere throughout the country. The SMAE called in all its trophies for safe storage but managed to organize six competitions, the Gamage (open rubber), the Weston (Wakefield), the Flight (5oz rubber), the K.M.A.A., (biplane), the National Cup (team rubber), and the Thurston (FAI glider). [no Open glider].
The Thurston rules stipulated the 150ft line and winch. With a winch you couldn't run! Towards the end of 1940, gliders for over 6ft span were banned by war time restriction. Thus, Alec Wilson's 11ft beauty was grounded for the duration. It also suffered bomb damage in his garage. Chobham Common was being churned up by tank testing from the new factory there. Club members were called up; others had less spare time, and flying mostly continued from a field at Eastcote, near Northolt aerodrome, which we shared with Harrow MAC.
One outstanding event in my memory was the Pilcher Cup of 1943 (SMAE decentralised) for which a large party of Hayes , Harrow, and Pharos members cycled en bloc to Chobham. We found it all sand, dust storms and thermals. We flew from Radio Hill and several models were lost for good, including my German designed FAI. I built a replacement, which I still possess, and this was the model from which the the accompanying drawing was taken. It seems to me that the original was a slope soaring design to which tow hooks were added later as the fuselage was heavy and the wings light. In building mt replicas I used more wood in the two piece wing joined with hardwood dowels and revised the fuselage construction slightly. In spite of its origins it toes well and I hope to see some more replicas around in the future.
The above was writen in October 1949