BLACKPOOL & FYLDE GLIDING CLUB, 1950
Jack & Audrey Aked had a holiday cottage, "Avon Nook", Well Lane, Larbreck, Great Eccleston distant all of 9 miles from their home 99 South Promenade, St.Annes. The story goes that they were entertaining some of "Jack's ATC staff" at Larbreck, and regretting the loss of the ATC gliding school. Someone suggested forming a civilian club, and started a fund by putting a half crown into a jar (two shillings and six pence, £ 0.125) but now worth £2 or so. In 1949 money was tight, standards of living and wages were much lower than today, and conditions had still not recovered from wartime shortages. Food was still rationed until 1953 ! Buying gliders was going to be quite expensive. But the existing clubs were a long way off, Sutton Bank, Camphill, Long Mynd ; roads were poor and cars primitive.
Jack wrote to the BGA to ask for advice on how to start. They mentioned the Kemsley Flying Trust, set up by Lord Kemsley to provide loans for the purchase of gliders and aircraft. Jacks letter to their chairman, Basil Meads has survived, dated 23 November 1949 :-
" I was Commanding Officer, No. 181 Gliding School 1942 - 1948. The school was suspended owing to the declining ATC population of the "right type" and to a certain extent National Economy. Consequently there is quite a " Gliding-minded " population to draw from. In addition my No. 181 G.S. staff are all very enthusiastic indeed , and have kept in touch with Gliding and Soaring. I am an active member of the Midland G.C. and also a "Private Pilot" (power).
Any advice you can give me will be very much appreciated.
Yours faithfully, #9; J.S.Aked F/Lt."
The reply from Meads was slightly bemused ! He didn't know where to start, so he suggested a meeting. Audrey Aked supported Jack, partly because she feared that Jack might return to his pre-war sport, car sprint racing on Southport sands. His garage had a museum of cars, including a chunky device, chain driven, and without differential on the rear drive wheels. The drive chain ran beneath the driver's feet and seat, without a guard. Audrey probably regarded gliding as much saner and slower.
Jack registered the Blackpool & Fylde Gliding Club in August 1950, which is still our fiscal year, with himself as Proprietor and Licensee (and an indisputable claim to be CFI !) He leased a building on Squires Gate (Blackpool Airport) which had been the Stand Bar when the site had been a horse race course, Clifton Park, from 1912 to 1915. The stand was still there in 1950, steadily decaying, adjacent to the airport management building. The stand was demolished about 1960, and the bar about 1980, but their location can still be seen under the car park.
Jack and Audrey were very sociable characters, not averse to imbibing, and they reckoned that plenty of Blackpool people wished to keep clear of the frantic holiday crowd. They judged right, and The Kite became a thriving social club. Jack put in a lot of effort, employing a steward, but serving behind the bar when it was busy and on the steward's night off. The profit from the operation was used to support the gliding side, keeping subscriptions and flying fees much less than they would otherwise have to have been. Bert was the original steward, who resigned about 1959 when Jack refused him a pay rise. The next steward solved this problem by milking the till, and it took Jack some time to prove it and sack him. Social membership reached 375 in 1952 but it was several years before gliding members reached 30. Did any of "Jack's ATC staff" take part ?
The bar was restored to its original glory, a living museum piece that was quite appropriate, though fussy. We have photos. There was also a tiny snug, and the ground floor was eventually restored into a second bar with "dance floor". This was a preferred location for rowdy parties, stag nights, and bachelor pre-wedding booze-ups. Noise was not a nuisance. The club got something of a name for late drinking, done very circumspectly, however they were raided on one occasion and dealt with severely by the magistrates. A police inspector was due to retire, invited his friends to The Kite, and left some who were not his friends to mind the shop, which they did by mounting a raid ! Jack was mortified, and all but crucified.
Jacks gliding log book includes flights at Camphill on 10 June 1951. Basil Meads was also Chairman of Derby & Lancs G.C., and had invited Jack there to sample their new cheap T.31 two-seater, using the wing from T.8 Tutor, which Jack had flown often. He was thoroughly unimpressed ! They also had a T.21 which Jack flew on the same day. Stay tuned.
Jack saw in the hangar roof trusses the parts of a Dagling nacelled primary glider, now no longer required since they had adopted dual training. In a letter dated 12 June 1951 Jack offered £ 15 for their "redundant primary glider parts". "I understand that quite a lot of work will be necessary to make up a really serviceable Dagling". This was BGA 493, made by Hawkridge as recently as 1948 to an original 1929 design by R.F.Dagnall, based on the German Zogling. Solo training could be very hard on these primary gliders, doing ground slides and hops with raw pupils who had only watched from the sidelines prior to being shot into the air. Heavy landings were frequent, and Camphill was none too smooth either. They made a feature cine film "Wings For Pauline" in which the girl progresses rapidly, while her boy-friend still struggles to keep the wings level on ground slides ( a nasty old-fashioned sexist plot ). Harry Midwood piloted the crazy slides and low hops, on one of their three Nacelled Daglings, then mimed not wanting to sit down in the clubhouse.
When Jacks' Dagling was taken down and looked at more carefully, they realised that one wing had suffered a cracked main spar, that would take more than £ 15 to repair. Eventually the cracked spar was roughly splinted, floor boarding planks were positioned in front of and behind the section of spar between the appropriate ribs, and merely screwed together. The fabric covering hid this for many years, and this story was confirmed when the glider was taken for restoration by a member of the Vintage Glider Club in 1980.
In 1998 I met Eric Gillett unexpectedly, and he told his part in the story. He was a mechanic with Aked's garage from 1938 - 1942, and 1945 - 1954, having been called-up when he was 18. So in 1950 he was prevailed upon by Jack to take a trailer to Camphill and bring the Dagling back to Squires Gate. Up the A6, straight through Piccadilly, arriving a little late, about 01.00, but the reception committe had not deserted the Kite Club! Telling his tale, 47 years later.
The exact date is uncertain. Jack sent his cheque in June 1951, but in July was awaiting Fred Breeze to finish "a spot of work on it." In the summer edition of "Gliding" (Vol 3, No 2) Jack reported in Club News that the Dagling started ground slides in November 1951, but by April 1952 he was arranging for his new Cadet to have the C of A done by Fred Breeze, and mentioned that the problem Dagling still occupied the hangar floor at Camphill. Did it return for another spot of work ?
The Dagling survives in 1998, being lovingly renovated. Ownership and storage from 1954 was due to Frank Gardner, an ATC officer, who housed it in a barn at Warton, then demolished to make room for the Saudis. Then the ATC housed it in their wooden building on Squires Gate. The naked airframe was displayed at a Blackpool Air Show, and a photo taken by Phil Butler, printed on the back cover of the 1975 edition of British Gliders. Even he is fallible, he calls it a Slingsby T.3 (which looks identical). Hawkridge Dagling BGA 493 made 1948.
Then Ivor Stretch rescued it and put it in his garage, 48 Heyhouses Lane, St.Annes, (I helped him move it). Ivor was an aircraft historian, but his garage was not a good long-term store, so he released BGA 493 to Mike Russell at Duxford, who passed it to Peter Underwood at Dunstable, as a long term project to restore this rare bird to flying condition. Such gliders hill soared effectively in the 1930's, and remember that Len Falla did so at Barrow in 1932, to Bronze standard.
When the Dagling appeared at Blackpool Jack had to ensure that it was restricted to ground slides only, never to get airborne, so he used the garage truck as a tow car, a 1926 Austin 16 Burnham saloon cut down as a flat bed. He rigged a rear-facing seat with hand throttle, and controlled the tow speed himself the car driver merely steered and braked as necessary. Gordon Bleasdale did the first demonstration slides on 7thOctober 1951, and Jack started his first group of pupils, one lady and six men. We picture him with a megaphone !
The next major requirement was Jack's instructor rating, so in May 1953 he spent a week at Lasham, doing 43 winch launches in five flying days. He flew Olympia, Tutor, T.31 and T.21, and was checked out by Ann Douglas and Lorne Welch of the BGA Instructors Panel. Thus Jack was able to give the T.31 another fair trial, and this confirmed him in his strong preference for the T.21. Through 1953 Jack pursued a two-seat glider, to be bought with help from the Kemsley Flying Trust, who gave advice on what operating costs would be faced. Prices for new gliders were T.31 £ 550, T.21 £ 950, but prospects for reconditioned airframes occasionally arose, where salvaged major components from crashes were married to other new components at lower prices. Jack also enquired about hire, but Slingsby firmly squashed that one, by quoting high rates.
On the 10th October 1954 Jack took Audrey for a flight, she had been very patient and helpful. Sadly she died a few years later of cancer. Her sister Barbara was very close, and she became a gliding member, reaching solo in the Cadet. Eventually Jack and Barbara married, and she was as supportive as Audrey had been. We award annual trophies in both their names, Jack's for greatest height, Barbara's for progress in early solo flying, which still seem to be appropriate.
John Gibson also had his first taste of the T.21, and the club settled in to dual training. Sundays only; Jack played hockey on Saturdays, and he was the only instructor. We still have the flying logs from 1954 to 1959, plus Jacks' own log books, which make fascinating reading and confirm the worst impressions that have been passed down. Flight durations were not usually recorded, but sometimes the log keeper jotted down the launch altitude and flight time. 2.5 to 4 minutes, or up to 7 when the wind raised them to 1500 feet. On 6 March 1955 Jack caught the clubs' first thermal, gained 350 feet and stayed up for 9 minutes. On the 27th he found 3 up (ft/sec), gained 700 feet and logged 12 minutes 43 seconds, then he capped it with 5 up and rose even with the spoilers fully open, but forced his way down in 8 minutes 40 2/5 seconds. Use of a stopwatch was a carry-over from solo training, when 30 or 60 seconds gained you a badge.
That was the only soaring that year, the rest was slog. Peak launches per day was 29, and they never managed to launch before noon. After 29 Sundays they started to fly on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and then three Saturdays. Total flying days for 1955 was 56. During August they flew on 7 days during one fortnight, giving 140 flights. By July 1955 there were several pupils that were ready for solo flying, so Jack brought out the Cadet again, not flown since the T.21 arrived.
Donald Campbell, the 'Glider Doctor' who travelled round the country, came to do the C of A and found crossed aileron cables in the fuselage, left from a previous unfinished inspection when the cables had been withdrawn. (We still have the aircraft log book.) The Cadet then did 49 flights to take the 1955 total up to 1,028. During August Jack raised the launch fee from 2/6 to 3 shillings (£0.15) but flying time was still free !
1956 and 1957 brought a new development, aerotows. Dennis Westoby had fitted a towhook to an Auster, perhaps for banner towing, but partly with encouragement from Jack. He tried it with the Eon Baby, which had a hook in the nose as well as a belly hook, and then he tried the T.21 which was a bit more tricky with a compromise hook position. However it was good enough for a publicity stunt, egged on by the local newspaper. Jack was towed past the Tower with a second Auster carrying a photographer. The towrope is invisible, and it looked as though the T.21 was soaring.....at about 700 feet.........It was featured by Sailplane & Gliding on the cover for February 1958.
Jack was invited to display at airshows, and he flew an ATC Tutor in July 1947. But when he was asked to perform aerobatics for the SSAFA show in June 1957, he was rather stumped. Jack had never been partial to throwing an aeroplane around, and it wasn't the sort of example he liked to give. So he had to develop a diplomatic bad back, and ask Gordon Bleasdale to display for him. Actually it is said (by Eric Gillett) that Jack really had hurt his back once, during wartime. The garage manufactured shell casings, and Jack was carrying one under each arm as he climbed upstairs, when he slipped. Silly, really, they overhauled cars upstairs, and had a large lift. Anyway we have a nice picture of a grinning Gordon Bleasdale in the Eon Baby, with Jack alongside in flying overalls, leaning on a stick. Gordon performed some loops, steep climbing turns and steep turns, then made a spot landing, and the crowds were satisfied. Gordon had ample experience of aerobatics in powered aircraft, and this was quite tame to him.
Aerotows were rather costly to the usual gliding club member, and Westoby was very disappointed to not recover the cost of installation on his hook. Soaring conditions did not warrant aerotows, nor basic training flights. The same happened in 1962, when Russell Whyham fitted a hook to Jackaroo (four seat version of Tiger Moth).
Jack noted two days of good thermal activity in April 1957, but flight durations only increased to 9.5 minutes with a height gain of 200 feet, or when a wind of 19 knots (???) gave launches up to 1425 feet. In September John Gibson kept the Eon Baby up for 13 minutes. During 1957 they flew on 40 Sundays and 5 Thursday evenings, to total 617 dual and 450 solo launches. One day they achieved their earliest launch time, 10.25 hours, and Jack had to increase the launch fees to £0.175 for T.21 and Cadet, but £0.20 for Eon Baby.
The Cadet had a flat tyre one day. They tried solid wire on one drum of the winch, but the drum flange distorted, and on the same day the Austin got bogged down in mud. Some things never change......Did I forget to mention that they fitted a second drum on to the Wild winch ? They also made a massive enclosed trailer for the T.21, which survived to reach Chipping, but was damaged in a gale, and put on a bonfire.
Alec Lunn appeared after he retired from RAF service. He had served at Bicester, and serviced RAFGSA gliders, so as a skilled craftsman he was a real asset to the club. For many years Alec worked professionally on glider repair and maintenance, from a Nissen hut on Squires Gate, between the Perimeter track and the railway, opposite Pontin's, which was still visible in 1993.
Soaring conditions didn't improve much, although perhaps they were getting better at using what did arrive. Bill Dodds got a good "C" badge. Shirley Clapham held on to some zero sink and drifted across the Old Links golf course towards St. Annes, to achieve 10 minutes, but she was refused the badge because she had not visibly climbed above her launch height. In the circumstances this seems to have been unduly harsh. One day Jack climbed to 1,300 feet through a mysterious hole in a cloud sheet..........
From 1951 to 1959 Jack Aked took charge of every flying day, and flew every time that the T.21 got airborne, he took his responsibilities as proprietor and guarantor very seriously, especially for the five years when they drank to pay off the Kemsley Flying Trust loan. He never allowed first solo flights to use the T.21, but used the Cadet and then Eon Baby. This led to some difficulty, because Jack worried about the belly hook on Eon
Baby, which might induce a sudden nose-up attitude on take-off. So your first solo had to be on the nose hook, intended purely for aerotow........ A low launch was guaranteed, with the glider bucking badly if you pulled the nose high.
Eventually even Jack had to loosen the reins, as operations grew, and Jack appointed three Assistant Instructors to take the P.1 seat, Gordon Bleasdale, Shirley Cooper and Ken Cooper. Then on Friday 27th March 1959 came the real red letter day, when gliding took place in Jack's absence. Was this Good Friday ? On the 27th September 1959 the club made 35 flights on a Sunday while Jack was on holiday......at Nympsfield. But he never admitted that he went elsewhere to get some real soaring, for he didn't like other people evading his clutches like this. Now that we have inherited Jack's log books we can see that he went to Lasham, Cambridge, Nympsfield, the Long Mynd, Booker, Dunstable and Bicester. Some of these were instructor training and check flights, but many were jollies.
Gliding near the coast was never going to give much soaring, cold air off the sea doesn't start convection easily until sunny spots, sheltered from the wind, warm up sufficiently to start thermals. This is more likely over the town, as was confirmed when L.R.Robertson arrived from Camphill on 29th May 1955 in "Peveril", an Olympia 2B. Winch launches had given barely 700 feet in a light off-shore breeze, but the visitor toured the sights before landing, and reported good thermals , but well beyond reach from the winch. This state of affairs has been met more recently by club members who have operated motor gliders, Ogar, RF.5 and Taifun from Blackpool airport. They have often found good to strong convection above Blackpool town.
The club had gone about as far as was possible at Blackpool. The airfield got busier with power traffic, aero club flying, joyrides around the Tower, even some commercial traffic. The control tower had to restrict gliding operations, because the wires were, of course, a real hazard. We thought that they often stopped us from launching much more than was justified, as when an inbound aircraft was reported, and we sat idle for an hour before it appeared. Surely their ETA wasn't that vague, and didn't they have radio ? Some airfield traffic signs had to be uprooted while we launched, then replaced later, so wind changes were tricky. Then expensive lights began to sprout, and the Visual Approach Slope Indicators were the ultimate deterrent, placed on just the best aiming points.
Club Daily Flying Logs, October 1954 to December 1959.
When Gordon Bleasdale read my first draft of the story from 1950 onwards, it brought back so many memories that he wrote his own separate account. This includes so many extra details, and describes the background so well, that his words are here printed as he wrote them.
It would have been possible to merge the two accounts, to cut out repetition, but this has not been done. Please bear with us, and believe that these are honest attempts to describe the difficult conditions under which the club operated in those days. Would you have persevered ? Are you surprised, yet pleased, that they did? Could the Bowland Forest Gliding Club have arisen separately ? We think not...........