Tag Archives: gliders


Stadt Stuttgart-Luftsport-luftverkehr-luftfahrt-92
1929: Erich Bachem’s Stadt Stuttgart: a pilot’s joy

To a technical person who is inclined to listen to rational explanations and to believe their conclusions, the rhetoric of certain present day political leaders can be baffling. Even more baffling is the eager positive response to such demagoguery by a large part of the population. The danger of what may happen next – rhetoric translated into loathsome policy – is frightening.
The lead up to the Second World War has shown us how clever manipulation of the minds of people who are relentlessly targeted by propaganda, will in the end lead to these people applauding anything that is promoted by the voice on their radio. Apparently – and this may be an unexpected conclusion to us, technical people – it is possible to influence the minds of good willing blokes and girls alike in any way that a politician wishes, given enough money and assistance from experts who know social psychology and modern techniques of communication.
In this way a regime with a particular agenda may change the moral conduct of its population. Norms that were for a long time based on religious freedom and universal human rights may be replaced by hard rules like: ‘own-people-first’. War may be declared on other nations, making void all habits of polite co-existence. The own constitution may be re-explained in different terms. Racial suppression may be declared the norm.  Your neighbor may be sent off to a concentration camp and nobody inquires as to how and why.

To limit ourselves to the subject of this blog: early aviation history, here are some examples of frightening changes of moral judgment.
In 1940 the ruling Nazi’s and their sympathizers in Germany applauded the destruction by Luftwaffe bombardment of the city of Coventry in the UK, as a spectacular warning for an imminent invasion.  Equally true, the hurt British took pride in the retaliatory actions of their RAF on the city of Berlin (and who would blame them for that?).
The state of war changes all judgement of right and wrong. It is easy to find more examples.
One may conclude that war erases all civilized premises of ‘having to love thy neighbor’. The new maxim becomes: ‘let them suffer what we have to suffer (and then some more please)’.

1945: Erich Bachem’s ultimate fighter, the rocket powered Natter – pilot’s death trap

The scientist/engineer/technician is told to design superior airplanes and to the Army comes the order to use them as effectively as possible. The new moral standard becomes: ‘serve thy country – try to inflict as much pain as possible to the other guy’.
Or:  war reverses all our moral values, once the other human being has become ‘the enemy’. And apparently this takes place without any questions asked. After a declaration of war, our moral standards change overnight.
As far as so-called  ‘normal’ war goes, a certain effort has been made to set standards of conduct by the so-called Rules of Geneva. Thus, military prisoners shall be treated according to certain humanitarian rules. However, there are no rules with respect to a civil population that has become directly involved in military actions (called ‘collateral damage’ in doublespeak). Indeed, have brutal acts of war, such as the otiose bombardment of Dresden by the RAF in 1945, not conclusively shown that the civil population has become the hostage or even the target of modern warfare?

The superior aircraft and improved weaponry produced for each new war are enthusiastically described in technical publications and hobby blogs such as these up to today and judged purely on their technical virtues, without reference to the dehumanizing effects of war or the suffering of victims. As long as we don’t know the victims personally, we can concentrate purely on fascinating technical matters. Did the crew of ‘Enola Gay’ lie awake afterwards or did they congratulate themselves on a target well located and destroyed?

The human brain has an astonishing talent for partitioning-off the memory areas that contain unwelcome facts. If needed, the facts are explained away by powerful, selective reasoning. German military technical personnel brought to the United States after the war had never heard of the atrocities that happened in the extermination camps in their home country. Wernher von Braun was fully dedicated to the American moon program and did not remember the underground Mittelwerk in the Kohnstein where 5,200 V-2 rockets were built by the SS with the brutal use of concentration camp labor. Disabled workers were executed and cremated on site. [1]

Let us not forget that war is gruesome. Let us be vigilant. Human beings may behave pleasantly under pleasant conditions. There is however little persuasion or rhetoric required to re-program their partitioned minds and turn them into blind, contented wielders of destruction.

Sorry John Cleese (pacifist), but your goose steps illustrate my point somehow

[1] Charles Lindbergh in his “Autobiography of Values” Harcourt Brace Jovanovich:  New York, 1978, 473 p.  ISBN 0-15-110202-3.


1951: My Last Flight

On the twenty-ninth of June 1951 my active flying career ended with a tight full 360° turn.

The Grunau Baby in a wee turn [Wiki]
As he let me know afterwards in no uncertain terms, my flying instructor, Mr. Lucassen, thought it very unwise of me to initiate that turn right in front of the landings strip at a height of 150 meters. “You could have easily killed yourself”, he said. “I have warned you time and time again that steep turns at that low an altitude are asking for serious trouble. You are an unreliable glider pilot – I strongly advise you to take up other activities in your spare time.”
I could have argued that the landing after the turn had been all right. In fact, my whole flight had been quite successful. After the start, at a height of two hundred fifty meters I had been able to detect at least two thermal updrafts and by circling sharply and timely I had been able to use them to gain at least two hundred meters altitude. I had made my turns tight and had listened intently to the whistle of the wind to make sure I was not loosing speed. For the same reason I had kept the nose of my plane a fixed safe minimal distance below the horizon. I had also looked at my instruments and kept the little ball in the middle. My whole flight went rather well and had lasted a full thirty minutes. Then it was time to land and I misjudged – I came in too high. I decided, wrongly, that one more turn would fix me. The turn by itself went alright and when I exited from it I straightened out and landed in mid-field without having to use the air brakes. So…

Turn Indicator [Wiki]
In my heart, however, I knew Lucassen was right. To be frank, when flying solo, I was always scared of the landing and my pleasure in flying was spoiled by the fear of that what was to come with certainty at the finale: the touchdown. Coming in too low would be a disaster of course. My friend Herman R. had hit a bill board last year while coming in over the provincial road to Maarn. A lot of splintering wood had absorbed the shock and he had lived to tell stories about it. But coming in too high could also be most embarrassing: touching ground at the far end of the field invited acid comments from the ground crew that had to come and pick you up and the long run to the start area while holding up the wing tip  was far from pleasant. Unfortunately, with gliders, once you have started a landing, you cannot abort the approach. Giving full throttle and coming round for a second try was no option. Your approach had to be just right the first time.
So on that fateful day, after having completed my qualifying flight for the C-brevet (which I did not receive), I was much too high for a landing and actually precariously low for loosing some of the height with a nice 360 degree turn. Low turns are dangerous. One might by mistake loose too much height by banking too steeply or slide into a stall.  The stall, if not corrected in time, may go over into a tail spin and a tail spin at that low height would be fatal. I knew Lucassen was right. So I never flew again except as a cattle-passenger in over-crowded airliners.
Ir. Lucassen of course knew what he was talking about. He was fifteen years my senior and a staff member of NLR, the Dutch Aviation Research agency. As I found out much later on the meticulous web site of Herman Dekker, Ir. Lucassen had been in some remarkable crashes himself. On the 21st of October 5 years earlier, he had attempted a cable start with heavy crosswind. To compensate this, the Grunau Baby had banked into the wind with the star board wing tip close to the ground. When he had released the cable from the winch at low height, the sailplane had continued to turn and slammed into the ground. Ir. L. fortunately was unhurt but the fuselage of the Baby had been badly cracked up. So he knew what he was talking about.

The Accident Report of Ir. Lucassen


I took the advice and abandoned piloting myself. I decided not to pursue a career as a commercial pilot. A lifetime later I found in the same excellent database of Mr. Dekker the particulars of a deadly crash of a Dutch glider plane in 1979. The pilot, Mr. R.A.N. 22 years, had started a full turn at too low an altitude (250m) and had not survived. After stalling he got into a spin from which he could not recover. He had been told by his instructor to fly his Sagitta glider near minimum speed and land within a target area. However the weather had been hazy and the horizon had not been visible. Nor had the plane been equipped with an artificial horizon instrument. A deadly pea soup. Mr. R.A.N. died in the resulting crash.

I shivered – Lucassen had been so right – some of us stay better on the ground altogether.

The Sagitta glider crash

see:  http://www.hdekker.info/DIVERSEN/SAGITTA003.htm





I am posting a short biographical sketch of

Willy FIEDLER’s life in Germany


Willy Fiedler was a remarkable German/American aviation engineer, test pilot
and development scientist in Missiles and Rocket propulsion.
He is remembered by many as a cheerful, congenial person who made important contributions in his field of endeavor.