The fascination with flight began hundreds of years ago, when inventors like Leonardo da Vinci, Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal designed and engineered the first flying machines. These efforts -- and many more -- led to the first powered, controlled flight by Dayton's Wright Brothers on 17 December 1903. Otto Lilienthal, a mechanical engineer working in Germany, was the first pilot of what would now be called a hang glider. He was killed in 1896 when one of his gliders lost lift and went into a sudden dive. Lilienthal experimented in gliding beginning in 1891, and was killed in 1896 when one of his gliders lost lift and went into a sudden dive.
Germany was the cradle of modern glider development. After World War I, German soaring clubs were formed as a subterfuge to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles, which banned German military aircraft. Since treaty restrictions did not prohibit gliders, the truncated Reichswehr fostered aeronautical technology and training programs to develope a cadre of pilots for a future air force.
America's rush to develop gliders followed the stunning success of the German glider assault on the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael in May 1940. Using ten gliders holding only seventy-eight combat troops, the Germans landed within the fortress perimeter, placed demolition charges at strategic points, and disabled most of the Belgian guns and crews in the first few minutes of the assault. Some hours later, the Germans forced the surrender of the fort's 780-man garrison, at a cost to the glider troops of six dead and twenty wounded. In 1941, the German attack on the British-held island of Crete appeared to drive home the new reality of large-scale glider assaults. In fact, the Germans suffered crippling losses of glider troops, gliders, pilots, and tow airplanes, but both Britain and the United States continued to develop similar glider attack capability because it seemed so tactically effective.
Because parachute drops left troops dispersed over a comparatively broad area, the appeal of gliders lay in their ability to deliver larger numbers of soldiers into a smaller perimeter as a more cohesive fighting force. Also, gliders could carry some wheeled vehicles, mortars, and light artillery that could not be parachuted from World War II cargo transports. Essentially, the role of glider troops was to make landings ahead of the ground forces and take enemy strongholds by surprise. Key objectives included enemy artillery batteries, bridges, and choke points along rail or road lines. Still, glider troops carried limited supplies, relying on the main force to relieve them in short order. Glider pilots who survived rotated back to their bases for subsequent missions.
Through a reverse Lend-Lease agreement, AAF units in Britain received some twenty-six hundred examples of the Airspeed MK-1 Horsa, a larger glider capable of carrying up to thirty combat troops or 7,120 pounds of cargo. Like the Waco, the Horsa also had a breakaway tail section and a large cargo door on the port side, just aft of the cockpit. The British craft used a wooden frame construction that tended to collapse and spray dangerous splinters on landing impact. Pilots and troops alike favored the CG-4A, although it had its own history of weaknesses.
The Allied air landings in Normandy in June 1944 were carried out in close tactical collaboration with the amphibious operations. The German reserves were almost completely tied down by the air landings, making it impossible to launch effective counterattacks against the amphibious assault. Consequently, the attackers were able to gain a foothold on the coast and, within a short time, to establish contact with the airborne elements. Among the Army Reservists taking part in D-Day were Lt. Col Strom Thurmond, who landed in a glider with the 82nd Airborne near St. Mere Eglise. Thurmond later received the Bronze Star Medal for his actions during the early days of the Normandy invasion.
Soaring occurs at the US Air Force Academy on a year-round basis. The program is the largest and most active glider operation in the world. Its mission is to form the foundation of cadet exposure to military aviation, build character, and help motivate cadets toward a career in the United States Air Force. The Soar-For-All program provides a motivational experience for all third class (sophomore) cadets. The cadets first experience soaring in the TG-7A motorglider which familiarizes them with aircraft controls, the ever-present checklist, pattern work, and the perspective to earth. Unpowered flight follows in which most cadets have an opportunity to solo in the TG-4A (2-33). Over 25,000 sorties are flown in this beginning program annually. Nearly 1000 solos are achieved each year. It usually takes the average student 12 sorties to solo. Sorties are flown all summer and also during the school year.
Essential to the Soar-For-All program is the Cadet Instructor Pilot Upgrade course. This is a semester long program in which 80 third classmen are selected from almost 400 applications and learn to become soaring instructor pilots. The 80 sophomores are selected based upon their flying ability and other factors which include academic and military performance. After an average of 100 training flights and many hours of strenuous ground school, the upgrading instructors are ready to wear the instructor pilots wings and solo his/her first student.
Cadet instructors are enrolled in one of two airmanship courses. One teaches the 1400 Soar-For-All students each year and the other is charged with turning out 80 new instructors annually. These upgrade instructors must accumulate at least 100 Soar-For-All instructional sorties before they qualify to teach the upgraders. Soar-For-All instructors teach during the academic day and during the summer. Upgrade instructors volunteer their time after school and on weekends. These type of sacrifices demand a lot of time and dedication from the cadet instructors, since most of them are taking over 23 credit hours of academics.
Advanced programs such as aerobatics, spin training, cross-country, wave flying and other special qualifications are granted to those cadet instructors that are motivated enough to give soaring more time than just which is required. All of these programs add up to one of the busiest VFR airfields in the world with 300,000 aircraft movements a year and 33,000 soaring sorties flown annually.
As of February 2001 the Flight Training System Program Office, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio was contemplating the purchase of commercially available gliders and motorgliders for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Specifically, this acquisition will include the purchase of several glider configurations to support various USAFA training program missions. The glider configurations will include a Dual Basic Training Glider, Dual Aerobatic/Spin Training Glider, Solo Cross-Country Training Glider, Motorglider, Advanced Solo Competition Glider, and Advanced Dual Competition Training Glider. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification is mandatory for all but the Advanced Solo Competition Glider and Advanced Dual Competition Glider. The preference is to have one manufacturer for the training gliders and one manufacturer for the competition gliders or one overall manufacturer in order to ensure standardization, minimize difference training, and maximize flight safety. The manufacturer must be capable of supporting the glider(s) with spare parts and data throughout the expected service life. The anticipated service life is projected to be 15 years, ending in 2016.
Additionally, maintenance support may be required to support the fleet. Maintenance support will use existing FAA approved maintenance manuals. Maintenance support of the gliders will be accomplished by licensed Airframe and Powerplant mechanics. No specialized maintenance technical orders will be required. Trailers will be required as standard support equipment for several of the glider configurations. Two-way VHF radios with a frequency range of 118.00 to 136.975 MHz selectable in 25 kHz intervals are required. It has not been decided if maintenance support will be provided with existing USAFA contracts, maintenance support from the manufacturer of the new gliders, or a separate maintenance contract for all new glider configurations. All items provided shall be commercial items and will be purchased under Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12 "Commercial Acquisitions."
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