OPERATIONS AT SAMLESBURY

Airfields had never been forgotten in our search for a new site, but they did not abound. Warton was busy and Secret. Inskip would have been tried, but the Royal Navy had retained it for non-flying purposes and covered it with tall guyed radio masts for global communications. We must watch keenly, in case they vacate at some future date......it might become valuable for training and aerotow usage, especially during winter days. Burscough was derelict and partly used for other things, while being a long way off, yet too near the sea. Wood Vale ditto, plus quite busy. 

The only other airfield was Samlesbury, between Preston and Blackburn, originally intended for civil operations, but used by English Electric through the war as an aircraft factory making Hampdens and Halifax, then Vampires. By 1960 the Canberra was being made in quantity, and Lightnings starting to appear. The airfield was in regular, if not very intense usage, but like Warton operated as a Secret site.

We hadn't much hope of getting access. However Ivor Stretch worked at Warton in Flight Test Instrumentation, fitting special recording gear in prototypes. He was thus in daily contact with those gods, the brave and fearless test pilots who actually flew supersonic. Ivor was even on good speaking terms with the Chief God himself the famous Roland Beamont. (I am not being disrespectful in the slightest, we all had the greatest regard for Bea. We knew what went into the design of the things, and he had to fly them). Now Bea was in charge of all flying operations, communications flying as well as test flying, and the airfields and everything about them were virtually his. What he said, went, not only at Warton, but, wait for it, at Samlesbury.

Bea was an enthusiast for flying in every form, he'd obviously enjoyed the challenges of wartime, the golden age opened up by the jet engine, but also by little aeroplanes and aerobatics. He often flew the most ancient airframes at Shuttleworth, and he test flew new aero club types many times. He hadn't actually tried gliding, although I'm sure that he would have revelled in it, but test pilots have to be wary of distracting themselves by flying aircraft with quite different handling characteristics from those that they have to fly professionally. Their instincts must not be distracted.

Ivor flew powered aircraft regularly, as well as gliders, and he often got into relaxed chats with Bea about leisure flying, in intervals between more serious concerns. So one critical day Ivor managed to work into the chat some comments about the frustrations at Squires Gate, the lack of soarable air, and the sad end to the Nickey Nook tale. Then led up to query the possibility of access to Samlesbury. To Ivor's delight, if not astonishment, Bea said "I don't see why not" and we took him up on it. The rest of the management could think up plenty of fatuous reasons1vhy not, but Bea usually got his own way. He drew up a list of do's and don'ts, while the rest thought up some more don'ts.

The Security Police would have just said "impossible", but they weren't given the chance, so on the 21st May 1961 we turned up at the gate. Regular shifts of production work happened every Saturday and Sunday morning. It was assumed that workers would spend most of their time watching the gliding club, instead of earning their wages. This was absolute rubbish, of course, they weren't the slightest bit interested, and there were no windows in the hangars. Anyway we were never allowed to launch before the siren went for knocking off, but as a special concession we were allowed in for two hours preparation, at 10.00 on Saturday and l0.30 on Sunday. Actually it took all of that to rig the gliders from storage in trailers, and to lay out the cable and check every knot. We aimed to give "take up slack" while the siren sounded, and to get the second launch before the cyclists crossed the runway on their way to the back gate near Samlesbury Hall.

The runway edges were still surfaced in their wartime manner, with wood chips set in tar. This slippery surface was intended to spare the rubber as tyres touched and spun up on landing, with heavy bombers returning from test flights. This would have been excellent for glider launch cables, if we had been allowed to use it, but sadly it was crumbling, and we were told to only run vehicles on it. We were made to operate on the centre of each runway, which had been surfaced with granite chips rolled into tarmac, the most abrasive surface possible, designed to give maximum braking to any jet aircraft that had to abort take-off, and halt within the runway length. Canberras landed and took of while Lightnings took a short flight to position at Warton, but never landed at Samlesbury. The granite chips played havoc with launch cables, and stranded cable was never an option. We had to use solid wire, piano wire, which is carbon steel pulled through a die such that the carbon grains are stretched out into... carbon fibres !

This explains the remarkably high strength of piano wire........and you thought carbon was a new invention !

Now piano wire is tough stuff, but rather brittle if you kink and bend it (fatigue, you know). This was useful when you had to break off a length, you bent it into a kink, then a few waggles broke it. We used to say that we bit off the ends, but that was apocryphal. The wire was delivered on drums, and tended to fall into coils if it wasn't laid out straight, then if you pulled on a coil it would kink and break.

Kinks usually happened in groups, and hence so did cable breaks......The broken cable then had to be knotted, and at first the only knot that we non-scouts knew was the reef but these rubbed away on the rough surface so quickly that a special joint was invented, More of a wrap, really, you twisted the wires together, then wrapped back towards the middle to protect the bit giving the pull. Rather bulky, played havoc with the winch rollers, and you felt the knot go through, but it lasted about 20 launches before the wire rubbed through and broke. Thus after twenty launches, forty on a twin drum winch, you had to walk the length of the wires and re-tie every knot. Launching ceased for twenty minutes or so, but if you were lazy you got a spate of breaks, kinks and more breaks. This anguish is encapsulated in the Knot Gliding Trophy, awarded for ineptitude or carelessness, a genuine Samlesbury knot, galvanised and saved for posterity. We invented a tool that wrapped the wire tightly and neatly, and we have pictures of this being used, against a background of granite runway surface.

The first visit to Samlesbury was on 21st May 1961, taking the T.21 and Jack's portable winch, made for Nickey Nook. This was a lot of effort for just one symbolic launch. The Olympia went on the 2nd July, and the T.21 on the 6th August. Jack Aked took Sandra McKinnon, climbed from 1150 to 1400 feet, then down to 1100 and back up to 1500 before opening the spoilers and coming down to let someone else have a go ! Only 15 minutes, with no counting the seconds, but a nice taste of joys to come.

A second launch with Peter Jackson logged 12 minutes. A frill club trip the following week achieved merely 16 circuits, there were only six trips to Samlesbury in 1961, with flying at Squires Gate in between. In 1962 the club moved from Squires Gate completely between 22nd April and 14th October, then returned to Squires Gate for the winter.

During 1962 Jack didn't log any soaring until 16th September, when Tony Kemsley took him to 3,000 feet over Blackburn (and take care not to enter that huge Manchester Control Zone! ). But surely the rest of the gang did some ? Not me, sorry, I was still commuting to the Long Mynd, while watching Jack's developments with interest. Migration continued until the last flights at Squires Gate took place on 12th December 1965, then Samlesbury was our sole base from January 1966 until November 1972.

English Electric, which became British Aircraft Corporation, in fact subsidised our operations very generously, by allowing us to fly without paying any rent. They never gave us any money but they refrained from taking any off us, except when we launched a landing light, and had to pay for the repair.

Hangar supervisors became quite friendly, once they realised that we tried to be responsible, and weren't a nuisance. So on Friday and Saturday they started to leave enough space in the hangars, for us to leave the gliders rigged over Saturday night. What bliss ! Then in August they honoured Preston Holidays shut the works down for two weeks and went to Blackpool. They were welcome to it, while we enjoyed 16 uninterrupted days, gliding every day, using the hangars, starting early, and no air traffic control.

Our cable retrieving vehicle was a battered Land Rover, fairly thirsty, until Ken Fixter arrived one day in an even more battered laundry delivery van, our very first diesel engine. Jack Aked talked with the Texaco rep., and got him to admit that central heating fuel was in fact identical with Derv, but with a different dye in it, and no fuel tax. Our operating costs took an immediate dive, and we started to accumulate some surplus cash.

The Fleet of Gliders.

The aircraft fleet gradually improved. From 1956 to 1961 we had the T.21 for training, soloed on the Slingsby Type 7 Cadet, and regarded the Eon Baby (British-built Grunau) as our soaring machine. In fact this worked well enough; the Cadet was just adequate for early solo flying, and the Eon Baby would float upwards reasonably well if you found some rising air. It didn't then go very far, but we weren't trying to. Then on the 12th March 1961 Jack took delivery of an Eon Olympia, BGA 1056. This was bought outright, Herbert Liver paid one third of the cost, and Jack (I.e. the bar profits) the rest.

The Olympia was a significant step forward, a sailplane with excellent handling and performance to make it a genuine cross-country machine. Instead of 2.8 ft/sec and 18 to I (Eon Baby), you got 2.2 ft/sec and 25 to 1; 20% less sink and 40% more glide. This really began to give us a good fleet. For first solo flights we started to use the Eon Baby, for the T.21 was never used solo. Jack didn't ever trust us with what he had always regarded as "his" lovely two-seater. Actually the Eon Baby was not entirely suitable for first solos. The belly hook was rather far aft, so that the glider tended to rear nose-up after takeoff, whereas the T.21 was more docile in this respect. Jack feared that somebody might rear and stall upon takeoff, hence he insisted that we used the nose hook for the first few launches. This produced the opposite effect, the pilot didn't dare pull back, having been taught not to, and anyway it caused a severe bucking motion. Launch heights were poor, and first solo flights became worrying for the instructors.

The old Cadet was stored in 1961, and later sold to Northern Ireland, where it was at Long Kesh airfield until this became the site for the Maze prison. In May 1977 it was advertised for sale in the Vintage Glider Club newsletter. "For Sale. Slingsby Cadet with Instructions. No certificate or papers.

�200 or near offer. Apply to G. Adams, 41 Farlough Road, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone BT?14DU." I would be amused to learn what the instructions comprise, but I can explain about the papers. Jack Aked had retained the glider log book, which I still possess in 1998 ! I didn't dare to be seen writing to any G. Adams, so I didn't do anything about it.

In June 1993 we had a visit from Bob Rodwell, who writes wry comments as "Penguin" in S & G. He said that he thought the Cadet might still exist ! So I dug out that 16 year old advert, and wrote to G. Adams, who turned out to be George, not Gerry. Quoted my phone number, and got a call from him ! ! ! ! !

Yes, he was a PFA inspector, and had intended to "put a little engine in it", but he had just sold the Cadet on to a BGA inspector, John Lavery, 08687 - 40179. Alleluia! ! ! I haven't yet rung him, I feel rather bad about this, but I fear a strange compulsion to retrieve the damned thing, to make complete our store of the original glider fleet, Cadet, Eon Baby, T.21 and Olympia. You have been able to see what the thing looked like, for Dave Masterson has had a Type 8 Tutor visible at Chipping for some years, airworthy but never flown. It is due to disappear to a new owner any time in 1998. The Tutor has longer wings, with taper. The Cadet shorter, and parallel chord. BGA 496, see page 8.3 for how Jack bought it from Redhill in 1952, with that advert recorded also.

The next addition to the club fleet was a Breguet Fauvette, in March 1968. This was a step up from the Olympia, very pleasant to fly, and a stunning 30 : 1 glide ratio. With a sexy French tail unit, a V.

This resulted from a very generous gesture by John Gibson, who bought the glider, and allowed the club to operate it for the good of all who could be trusted with it, and as an aspiration for all. Local soaring ranged over an ever-widening field.

A second dual trainer was much discussed, and several options were compared, Capstan, Bocian, T.53, K.13, which was much preferred, but was new and costly. We were offered a Bergfalke 3, and have pictures taken at Samlesbury when we sampled it. This flew quite nicely, and we wanted to buy it, although Ivor Stretch found the cockpit a little cramped. However this was at the time when we were negotiating for our first grant, and the cash was not forthcoming soon enough. Doncaster Sailplanes found a cash buyer, and reneged on our deposit; we had a struggle to get our £50 returned!

When the grant was received we heard of a Blanik from the RAFGSA, although this had been neglected during our initial assessment, it was thought to be complicated with flaps and retractable wheel.

But we dispatched a team to Bicester, who liked it, and so we bought it in February 1971. It had really been thought that we would use the Blanik for advanced training, and not for pre-solo work, however when we got into our stride, we found that we could move our pupils on to the Blanik with advantage, and then let them loose in it for their first solos. If they ignored the flaps and wheel, it flew nicely without any complications. While it could be trimmed, and had a good hook position. Brilliant.

The next acquisition in 1971 was a Swallow as a useful bridge between Eon Baby and Olympia, which could be flown by all when the air was buoyant. Although it had some minor special habits, it was very much liked by the experienced pilots for precise and rapid manoeuvring, so that catching and centring in narrow thermals was often achieved. This aircraft survived at Chipping until 1994, often tucked away in the hangar until one of the old hands needed something to fly when the fleet was frilly booked.

Privately owned gliders eventually started to appear, our first was a K6E bought by Eric Ripley, Jack Crossley, Alec Lunn, Jack Harris, Ron Smith and Alan Jones in July 1972. BGA 1351, carrying contest number 722, and still visible in 1998. Gil Haslam had repaired a Skylark 3, aided by John Gibson, using his greenhouse as workshop. However Gil was not welcomed by Jack Aked, he had wild ideas about how to run a chip shop, and was far too adventurous for Jack. Gil Haslam started a factory in Blackpool, Gilbert's Metals, which grew and grew until eventually Gil sold out and became a genuine millionaire. Jack Aked meanwhile inherited his father's large garage, allowed it to run down, and sold out to much less advantage. So Gil's queries about the finances of the proprietary club, and comments on how to develop an active gliding club were never welcome to Jack, and Gil went elsewhere for more adventurous gliding. Once the Skylark was airworthy, he took it to Walney Island, and the only occasion that it appeared at Samlesbury was on the 8th August 1965, when Gil used it as goal for his Silver C, and to tweak Jack's tail. At that stage Jack was much inhibiting the thought of any cross-country flying, which would take us beyond his control, and was inherently dangerous.......

An Olympia 2b arrived in December 1972, bought by Harold Dunkinson, John Olsson, Norman Brooks and Bob Gordon. This had a slightly deformed nose shape, following repair, The previous owner had cut off the nose, intending to extend it and make a two-seater-,..,...,This was quite impossible, of course, the wings would not stand the weight, and the centre of gravity would be far too forward.

Anyway BGA 1303 stayed around for many years, changing hands easily, and helping pilots to gain good experience. Then an Eon 460 (BGA 1328) was bought in 1973 by Ian Hamilton, Terry Hogben, Harry Hargreaves and Bill Dodds. This was our first private group to form at Chipping.

Steady Growth at Samlesbury.

During our last year at Samlesbury we thus had a club fleet of :- T.21 and Blanik, Eon Baby, Olympia, Swallow and Fauvette. Private groups were being planned, but only starting to appear Operations were thriving, and funds were in surplus. Our soaring success rate had improved, and we probably used most of the thermals that were there to be found. The winch run was quite long on the main runway, and we used this to good advantage, so that circuits started from good heights, giving ample time for instruction, and good chances to centre in any thermal. On any day that looked good, most members expected to have an extended flight. Only the log sheets for 1966 have survived, and these show reasonably satisfying results. Enough soaring to generate enthusiasm, many badge flights, Bronze durations and Silver heights. Flights were limited to half an hour dual, and an hour solo, so that the day was shared equally. Many flights were thus terminated voluntarily.

It would be tedious to list all our flying activities at Samlesbury, as they got more worth-while.

The results at Squires Gate and Nickey Nook were listed fully, in order to emphasise how constrained they were. 1966 was the first full year at Samlesbury, Jack having logged his last launches at Blackpool in November and December 1965. The first good thermal day was 24th April 1966, with seven long flights (15, 17, 19, 26, 34, 38 and 73 minutes). Similar days were recorded on 13 occasions, plus 14 modest

soaring days (like 12, 14, 16 and 26 minutes on 5th June 1966). 41 circuit days included many 10 minute glides down from high launches. One memorable day saw us kiting on the wire, the wind must have strengthened after we started, else we wouldn't have. The driver was able to close the throttle to tick-over, while the glider was not yet overhead, and even to de-clutch and apply the brake, without the hook back-releasing. Stanley Race was then amazed to find that the brake was not holding, and the wire was starting to pay out. Dick Seed happily hung on in the T.21 until at 3,000 feet even he realised that enough was enough. Perhaps he remembered that this height was illegal ? Unfortunately...... -the winch engine had stalled, and Stanley couldn't restart it, so when Dick did release, the cable came down in a heap. Unfortunately, there was some north in the wind, they had drifted over Samlesbury Hall, and the wire dropped across the A.677 trunk road. Fortunately into some very tall trees. That cost Dick a pint or three in the Myerscough Arms.

Our core of experience grew steadily, we could attract members more positively, numbers increased and funds accumulated. The social side at Blackpool continued, but withered gently. Jack still passed on the surplus from the drinking side to the gliding operations, but the amounts were not very significant any more, as detailed in an appendix.

We tried to address our basic problems, and one was the constant knotting of piano wire. We often reached 40 launches while the sky still looked good, and it was annoying to have to cease launching for a while. Gordon Bleasdale had visited another site, and seen a butt welding machine operating from a car battery. Frank Pilkington made a clamping device to hold the broken ends in line while they were heated, then they could be pushed together while molten. This lea a rim of metal which soon wore away on the runway, but the heating cycle had annealed the wire, to leave it soft and weak. A further gentle heating cycle was used to harden the wire again. Sadly this brave attempt to mend the wire directly, avoid bulky knots, and speed up the process was never completely successful. No doubt many successful joints became invisible with wear, but often the broken ends were not accurately aligned before welding, and the stepped joint was not fully strong. Breaks still occurred, so we went back to the wrapped knot. Tony Kemsley persevered longest with attempts to improve consistency, and make the process foolproof but even he was defeated eventually.

Rigging from the trailers was also a blight, and we longed for a hangar of our own. We meekly asked what were the chances, and received a generous response. We were allowed to inspect an empty and disused building, an old canteen still visible from the A.59 at the Northwest corner of the hangar east of the short north-south runway. At 42 x 72 feet, this would have housed several gliders, but it did not have a large door, and structural alterations would have been required. Also the next building was too close. Having thought again, British Aircraft Corporation decided to develop it themselves, and it is still in use. Nice try.

Could we build a little hangar ? B-A-C- agreed, and their architects even drew a plan to submit for planning permission. At 60 feet long, with a 30 foot door, we drew a layout for : Bergfalke / K.13, T.21, Eon Baby and Swallow. This was absolutely minimal, and we preferred 60 x 40 feet, able to house also Olympia and Fauvette. The timing was overtaken by the move to Chipping, but it illustrates our breadth of thought, and helpfulness from B.A.C. around 1970.

Since we departed they have allowed the Air Training Corps to move in the gliding school that was originally at Burtonwood near Warrington. They operate motor gliders, originally the Slingsby T.61 Venture (Falke), and later the Grob 109, but have not done any pure glider operation.

SOURCES.

Club Daily Flying Logs for 1966.
Aircraft Log Books.
B & F G C Newsletters.
Sailplane & Gliding Club News.
Peter Moran "A Speck In The Sky" (Blandford, 1987.)
Participants reminiscences. Committee papers.