The Franklin and I
I was asked to write about the old Franklin Utility (PS2) Glider. I’ll do my darndest, but I cannot avoid writing about myself, because that’s what I can remember (We are talking about things that happened almost 70 years ago). For the same reason my account may lack accuracy. For example some of the names may be misspelled.
WALTER H. Lob
(I warned you!)
I was born in
This book stated that, at the end of World War I the Versailles
In September of 1938 I entered MIT as a sophomore in physics. At the Bursar’s office right next to the Building 10 lobby I paid a semester worth of tuition (can you believe $300?) As I was leaving that office I practically tripped over one wing of a Minemoa that was exhibited there in order to help recruit new members for the Aeronautical Engineering Society (AES). Well, they got me!
At that time the Minemoa, a
German-made sailplane, was the last word in powerless flight. It had a fully cantilevered, high aspect
ratio, tapered gull wing. It was
designed for minimum sinking speed. (Later, the emphasis in sailplane design
shifted to the glide ratio ( L to D) and later still
to the speed at optimum L to D). This sailplane had belonged to a Hank Harris
who, unfortunately, was killed when the car he was driving to tow up a glider
Actually, displaying that Minemoa wing in the Building 10 lobby was a bit of a deception. The sailplane had been declared unfit for flight as the glue had aged to the point of being unreliable.
The MIT AES was the professional society for the Aeronautical Engineering students. As such, it sponsored lectures and smokers. The glider club was a sub-set within the AES which absorbed most of the AES’s income. This was justified because it was the glider club members who did most of the work for the AES. When I joined the AES its president was ?? Sandorf who soon thereafter graduated and was followed by Roger Wheathoff as president and Ted Walcovitch as VP.
I remember Roger Wheathoff as a
remarkable person, amazingly competent both as a leader and as a
technician/mechanic. He rebuilt a
Speaking of rebuilding a wing: The main
spar of a
Then there was the episode with the dope. I forget why, but
at one point the
How do you teach piloting when all you have is a single-seater aircraft?
It’s really no great mystery. What you need is a rugged glider, an airport with a nice long runway, with sympathetic administration and with very little traffic, a tow car, and lots of rope or wire. (We started out using 3/8” ? manilla rope (At one point we talked the Plymouth Cordage Co. into donating some rope in exchange for having “Plymouth Cordage” written in big letters on the side of the glider while participating in the national soaring contest). Later we switched to using 1/8” ? music wire, which is much cheaper than rope but harder to work with.
The tow car was the ex Sloan Lab Chrysler which had been
equipped with a wooden front seat, however no doors, roof, or windshield (I
don’t remember how we passed the
The airports we used at various times were at
The glider was the Franklin PS-2 which had been donated to
the AES by Allaire DuPont after it got damaged in a trailering accident. (Some members of the DuPont family
were great glider enthusiasts; I think that it was they who surveyed the
So, at dawn, (calm air) you put the student into the glider, the instructor in the driver’s seat of the tow car, and some 200 ft of rope in between. Then you proceed to give the student a “ground tow”: Until the speed is adequate for control you have one helper run the wing tip. Another helper steers the tow car from the right-side seat while continuously shouting out the speed. The instructor, while looking back to see what the glider is doing, works the gas, clutch, and gear shift.
The instructor tows the glider at maybe 25 mph., not enough for the glider to become air borne, but enough to steer the glider with the rudder and keep the wings level with the ailerons. At least that’s the theory. Actually, the novice pilot will have a hard time balancing the glider on its single wheel while at the same time tracking an approximately straight course. There’ll be much zig-zagging and bouncing of the wing skids on the ground. But, eventually, after maybe five attempts, sometimes almost suddenly, something clicks and the ground tow straightens out (Whew!) At that point the instructor speeds up to allow the glider to lift off by a foot or so. (I remember that at that point I, at first, felt that I needed to hold everything still. I had to tell myself that the controls still work even though we are airborne.)
After that, things will proceed smoothly. With a longer tow
rope the flights will gradually go up higher and the instructor will signal to
the student to release the rope while airborne, thus experiencing free flight
followed by a landing. If the airport has sufficient width, the student can
begin doing 90 degree turns, then 180s, then 360s. I passed through these
stages in the summer of 1939
Since the tow imparted adequate flying speed to the glider, the student should be able to judge by the feel of the controls and the sound of the wind what proper airspeed should feel like. Wheathoff felt that there should be no instruments in the glider, to prevent the pilot from constantly looking at the instruments and ignoring everything else. This turned out to be a debatable point.
My memory is not too reliable about this, but I think the
Franklin and I went to
I don’t remember why we didn’t have the Chrysler towcar on Harris Hill that particular day in February, but I clearly remember that we talked a sight-seer into giving us a tow off Harris Hill with his car. There was a stiff NW breeze, ideal for ridge soaring. I told the guy that, because, of the head wind, he needed to go just 25 MPH. Well, he felt that if 25 MPH was good, 40 MPH must be better. Neither the Franklin nor I enjoyed an airspeed of maybe 60 MPH, so I released at maybe 200 ft altitude, about halfway down the runway. The result was a landing near the end of the runway, where the hill was sloping down fairly steeply. There I sat, holding the wings level in this strong headwind.
Quite soon a club member came running up from behind: “What do we do now?” “Oh, just push it by the tail” I said. This he did, and with gravity helping, I was flying before you could say “Wow!” Not only that, but with the help of the ridge lift I had no trouble clearing the trees and gaining enough altitude to loop around and make a normal landing at the downwind end of the field.
I swear that originally it wasn’t my idea, but Wheathoff and Walcowitch decided
that the Franklin and I could fly in the ’41 National Soaring Contest at
I really don’t remember much about my first flight in the
contest. I think it must have taken me maybe 12 miles to a field near
In the contest the participants were divided into two classes: Class One for pilots who had a Silver C and Class Two for those who didn’t. Points were awarded for altitude, distance, and duration. Well, believe it or not, I came out tops (by just a few points) in Class Two.
Yes, we had those.
What, No Preflight?
For some reason, preflight inspections were missing from the culture at the AES. Perhaps, because we were constantly assembling the glider off he trailer and disassembling it back onto the trailer it was felt that that procedure took the place of a formal pre-flight inspection.
I remember two incidents:
I was sitting, ready for takeoff, in the
So I got out and tried to find out what was going on.
It turned out that the openings gave access to the bell cranks for the aileron linkages. And at one of the bell cranks the U-shaped aluminum support for the pivot had cracked off so that the pivot was dangling at a crazy angle!
Thank goodness, there was the Schweitzer ground school for aircraft maintenance right in town. They were wonderfully cooperative and helped me make and install a new U under professional supervision.
Another time, I again was sitting in the glider ready for take-off. Another pilot came by and told me to look at the cables that are part of the empennage. I said “Yes, I know, just one strand has failed” (I had noticed this while assembling the glider.) “I’ll take care of this after hours”. He said “Well, just take another look.” So I did and found that about half of the strands had parted company! Another trip to the ground school.
The one thing NOT to do is to fly too slow.
Every student pilot has this drilled into him (her). And yet, I did exactly
that (once). It was at
Here is the reason why I must disagree with Roger Wheathoff’s philosophy about having no instruments in the glider.
One fine summer say we were having a ball flying on
I have mentioned the February trip to
Then we had a new member with plenty of power time but no
glider experience. We figured we could afford to tow him up to maximum
altitude. This I did, and when I next looked up the
Early Fall 1941, I was sound asleep in my room in the MIT
Graduate House – around 2:00 AM I was awakened by a club member who informed me
in time to put out the trailer!
Then there was