As with most other forms of aircraft technology the world of gliders has changed significantly in the last half century. The relatively high drag fuselages and low aspect ratio wings, and the wood frame with fabric covering used on most of the sailplanes at the 15th National Soaring Contest is definitely old school compared to today's sleek foam, fiberglass, and carbon fiber airframes that have been computer optimized for drag reduction, speed, and lift generation. Dr. Paul MacReady and son Paul, Jr. were on the scene way back then, and then again in the 20th National Soaring Contest in November 1953 Air Trails and the 21st National Soaring Contest as reported in the December 1954 edition of Air Trails.
15th National Soaring Contest
Elmira's Thermals Smile on the Contestants of the 15th National Meet and Elect a New Champion
Soaring pilots flew a total of 10,320 miles, made 629 take-offs and enjoyed the hospitality extended to them and their crews by the citizens of the town during the competition. Although meteorological conditions were not as good as those encountered last year in Texas, only two of the twelve days were unsuitable for soaring. Nevertheless, the meet proved to be highly successful. Much of this was due to the revised and improved contest rules which eliminated both duration and altitude from the point award system leaving the contestants to compete for distance alone. Points were given for flights only beyond 25 miles and the point award fund, totaling $3,700, was divided according to the point value of a contestant's five best flights. In order to qualify, the final score of the pilot could not be less than 25% of the average of the three highest contestant scores. Another innovation was the fund of $1,000 set aside by the Elmira Area Soaring Corporation, sponsors of the meet, as travel pay for pilots coming from points located beyond a300-mile airline distance from Elmira.
Father and son team, Champion Paul MacCready, Jr., and Dr. MacCready who was his crew chief.
The contest always attracts pilots who enter less for the serious competition than for the fun of flying and the personal satisfaction of having participated in the most important soaring event of the year. Two classifications were established which graded entrants as "Contestants" or "Participants." While Contestants had more privileges and were eligible for point award money, Participants were given prizes for special activities such as altitude, spot landing, duration, speed dashes and aerobatics. For the most part these events centered around Harris Hill and afforded the spectators a fine view of sailplanes in action.
Another event offered for the first time was the Aerobatic Championship for which $500 in prize money was donated by the local Henry B. Bentley Post, American Legion. The winner was Kim Scribner, master pilot for Pan American Airways. He executed rolls and flew inverted while still in tow and was the only pilot to do the difficult outside loop after releasing from the tow plane.
Total prize fund in money and merchandise distributed to contestants and participants was $12,500 - the largest yet - and practically every pilot took home some sort of reward.
The 70 contesting pilots who brought 50 sailplanes to Harris Hill were whisked into the air every day as soon as contest meteorologist Barney Wiggins compiled the daily weather information. His unerring judgment as to where best thermals were to be found and what direction to take in order to obtain best performance, was largely responsible for many of the very good flights made by the contestants.
Back to its home town of Elmira, N. Y., came the 15th National Soaring Contest, having splurged last summer with Texas thermals at Wichita Falls.
Although from standpoint of soaring, the weather was far from sensational, thermal conditions were sufficiently good to carry sailplanes with fairly heavy wing loadings to distances of more than 150 miles. The best flight of the meet was made by Paul MacCready, Jr., of New Haven, Conn. Piloting his Polish built, red and white Orlik sailplane, MacCready landed at Middlefield, Ohio - 222 miles from Harris Hill. This was the first long distance flight into the West made from Elmira. Earlier, MacCready made a "goal" flight of 167 miles to Trenton, N. J. to win the prize of $250 offered by Michael Stroukoff, President of Chase Aircraft Corp.
MacCready, through his clever flying, then advanced from second to first place, which was held in the beginning by the veteran soaring pilot John Robinson, three times National soaring champion. MacCready cinched the championship with his flight to Ohio, piling up all his points on the first five flights, not one of them being under 140 miles. Next best . flight in distance was made by Robinson who soared 178 miles to New Midway, Md., in the famous Air-100 sailplane (Feb. 1948, Air Trails) lent to him by the French Embassy. Don Pollard of Roanoke, Va., reached Altoona, Pa., 142 miles from Elmira, taking third place on his points. Other notable fights were made by Eastern Airlines captain Fritz Compton of Miami - 163 miles; Ray Parker of Twenty Nine Palms, Calif. - 146 miles; Bill Coverdale of Chattanooga, Tenn. - 143 miles; and Steve Bennis of Sanford, Fla. - 128 miles.
Despite the fact that Harris Hill is a one-way field, with a runway less than 2,000 feet in length, five tow planes relegated to the task of launching sailplanes did a fast and efficient job of towing. On one occasion, 39 gliders were sent on their way in one hour. The smooth operation drew high praise from the Swiss, French, British, Hindu and other foreign observers who viewed the contest.
Considerable interest was shown by the spectators as well as pilots in the daily Air Force show during which a CG-15 cargo glider was snatched from the ground by a C-47 transport. Upon release, the heavy glider went through a series of aerobatics, which drew gasps from the crowd and officials, ending with a spot landing back on Harris Hill. Another daily spectator event which attracted wide attention was a parachute jump by Dick Ward from a two place Pratt-Read glider flown by Richard McGrath of Elmira, Air-to-ground radio broadcasts through loud speaker system, from both Air Force glider and the Pratt-Read furnished additional interest.
The graceful Kirby Gull flown by Emil Lehecka of New York starts out on a cross-country flight. This is a fine example of superior home-built craftsmanship.
The gang at the 15th National Soaring Contest.
Majority of participating sailplanes were the familiar surplus machines, so popular since the war: Laister-Kauffmanns, Schweizer TG-2s and TG-3s, and Pratt-Reads, some of them dolled up for better performance. The non-military types included two Minimoas, one owned by William Coverdale and the other by Lyle Maxey and Charles Kohls of Detroit. Others included John Robinson's Ross-Stephens Zanonia, MacCready's Orlik, a Kirby Kite flown by Steve Bennis, the Kirby Gull piloted by Emil Lehecka of New York City, Richard Corney's Schweizer 1-21, the Screamin' Weiner entered and flown by Wally Weiberg of Dallas, Texas, Bill Bowmar's Rigid Midget flown by Ray Parker (in which he won fourth place) and the two newcomers, an all-metal Schweizer SGS-1-23 owned and flown by William Frutchy of Elmira, and the Tiny Mite flown by Dick Johnson of California.
The SGS-1-23 at first glance is reminiscent of the 1-21. However, this newer ship, was designed and built especially to take advantage of weak thermals. It has a considerably lighter wing loading than the 1-21 and a stalling speed of only 31 mph, 10 miles below that of the 1-21. The sailplane is all-metal, even to the control surfaces and is practically immune to deterioration due to weather. The wing has a straight planform to about 50% of the span and is tapered from there to the tips. Schweizer took three weeks to build it and the organization feels that it can market the sailplane at a reasonable figure. On the other hand, Tiny Mite, lives up to its moniker. It's a very small all-wood sailplane Having only 84 sq. ft. wing area. It was designed for fast cross-country flights under strong thermal conditions. Inasmuch as the ship weighs fully loaded 630 lbs. and has a wing loading of 7.4 lbs. sq. ft. (considered very high for sailplanes), Fowler flaps had to be incorporated in order to enable the sailplane to make small diameter turns. Unfortunately Elmira thermals were too weak for the Tiny Mite, and this interesting design had little chance to show its worth. Another interesting sailplane was a Laister-Kauffrnann flown by Eugene Miller of Miami, Fla., and Kempes Trager of Detroit, Mich. Miller went to the extreme in streamlining and lightening the ship by cutting off the turtle deck, sealing the glider entirely against air leaks and equipping the cockpit with a bubble canopy similar to P-80s. The revamped LK stalled 12 mph below its stock sister and had a considerably better glide angle and greatly reduced sinking speed.
Judged the best team of the meet, John Robinson and crew chief John Olley. A good crew chief is as important as a good sailplane. Olley is considered the best.
E. J. Reeves, Dallas, Texas, second time president of Soaring Society, watches intently progress of a sailplane.
Evenings at Harris Hill were devoted mostly to the favorite sport of all pilots - hangar flying. Suppers were served by various Elmira civic and social organizations. By far the most important meeting was that of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences attended by such luminaries as T. P. Wright, former Administrator of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, S. Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute, and Roland Rohlfs of first Region CAA, in charge of Personal Flying. Papers were presented by Dr. August Raspet, Director of Research, Soaring Society of America, Dr. Alexander Lippisch, famous German aerodynamicist, Robert Kidder of Cornell University Research Laboratories and others.
On Saturday, the day before the closing of the meet, a special speed event was held. Prizes were donated by Beech Aircraft Corporation for the fastest flight from Harris Hill to Norwich, N. Y., First place in this dash was won by Lyle Maxey flying a Minimoa sailplane; Paul MacCready took second and Fritz Sebek of Homestead, Fla., flying his special LK-10A, placed third.
The final day was devoted to ground activities on the hill. No contest flights were scheduled in order that statisticians and judges could add up scores and determine the winners of the different events in preparation for the awards banquet held that night.
Principal speakers at the banquet, traditionally held at Elmira's Mark Twain hotel, were Maj. Gen. Robert Webster, Commanding General of the First Air Force; Maj. Gen. William D. Old, Commanding General, Ninth Air Force; Admiral A. M. Pride, Chief, Naval Bureau of Aeronautics; Capt. Ralph S. Barnaby, USN Retired; E. J. Reeves, who was elected a second time as president of the Soaring Society of America (the sanctioning organization for, the meet); as well as dignitaries of the City of Elmira.
For amassing the. greatest number of points during the contest, Paul MacCready, Jr., was crowned National Soaring Champion and awarded the Richard C. duPont Memorial Trophy. MacCready collected in the neighborhood of $1,500 of which $410 was point award money and the rest cash prizes for different outstanding flights - for example, $500, donated by Bendix for longest distance flight and $200 for second fastest flight to Norwich.
Francis B. Compton was awarded the Warren E. Eaton Memorial Trophy for his outstanding work in simplifying and arranging the contest rules. The Lewin B. Barringer Memorial Trophy for the best distance flight of the year made from automobile tow was won by Don Pollard who in September 1947 flew from Elmira to Asbury Park, N.J. The Douglas Aircraft Company Trophy for the championship soaring club was presented to the Philadelphia, Pa., Glider Council.
The Northrop Aircraft Co. Youth Award of $100, awarded for the top altitude performance by a pilot under 21, was captured by 17-year-old Richard MCPherson of Elmira, N. Y.
One of the two prizes donated by Air Trails, each consisting of a 350-ft. nylon air tow rope, was awarded to the best team. This team consisted of Richard J. Corney, former National Soaring Champion and Frank Hurtt, who between them shared Corney's Schweizer 1-21 sailplane. The other Air Trails award went to John Robinson for making the most flights.
The Sperry Gyroscope prize, an Altitude Indicator, valued at $577, went to Fritz Sebek for the best altitude reached during the meet. A number of additional prizes were given out during the banquet.
Posted January 31, 2015