Heritage: The great success of Fairlop’s flight school

PUBLISHED: 10:00 15 April 2018

Boys of the Air Training Corps inspect a Kirby cadet glider at Denham Gliding School, Buckinghamshire. Photo: Imperial War Museum

Boys of the Air Training Corps inspect a Kirby cadet glider at Denham Gliding School, Buckinghamshire. Photo: Imperial War Museum


In this week’s heritage column, local historian David Martin of the Fairlop Heritage Group reproduces a Recorder article published in May 1946.

The Fairlop Air Training Corps (ATC) gliding school achieved such an overwhelming success teaching young cadets to fly, that the Air Ministry strengthened this branch of flying, as qualified ATC Glider pilots will form the backbone of future RAF aircrew personnel.

ATC gliding lessons started at Fairlop during the war. The idea being to train boys with a view to becoming operational aircrew.

Training takes place at the airfield on Tuesday and Friday evenings and at weekends, directed by fully qualified instructors.

Fairlop is one of the more successful glider schools in the country because training is continued in all weathers, whether it be maintenance, ground instruction or when weather permits, actual flying.

There are 40 boys in a class for 4 to 6 weeks depending on the weather. All the lads are as keen as mustard and camp out on the aerodrome each weekend, cooking their own meals, generally roughing it and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Each new recruit starts with ground instruction, which includes taking the Kirby Cadet gliders to pieces and reassembling them.

Next, the recruits go through all the flying routine by moving along the ground in a glider and learning how to manipulate the controls and the general idea of flight.

Gliders are fixed by a steel cable to winches at the other end of the airfield and as experienced operators wind up the winches, the glider moves across the airfield almost completely controlled by the winch.

When the recruit is competent with handling the controls, the winch is wound up a little faster and the glider leaves the ground in short hops.

The gliding is taught in easy stages, higher and higher until the instructor is perfectly sure of his recruits’ ability to handle the machine.

When 100 per cent confidence has been achieved, the recruits are allowed to do their first small circuit of the airfield.

As soon as the glider reaches the required height, the pilot pulls a switch that releases the cable.

He is guided if necessary by signals from his instructor on the ground whom he can clearly see, then the glider flies smoothly around the aerodrome until the pilot lands, always with perfect ease.

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