Photo Manfred Hermeling
D-6166 Grunau Baby III.
Little Baby Grown Up
By Paul Steinig
Translated by Peter van Montfoort
What the VW was among motorcars, or the Ju-52 among aeroplanes, was the Grunau Baby among gliding aircraft - an epitome of Quality and Performance.
From birth right up to its pinnacle of fame, I have grown up with it, and therefore I would like to tell its story.
It starts off in the year 1931. Gliding was still in its infancy at the time, and a sport for some freaks and dare-devils only. Although training courses existed already, flying was carried out with some very primitive gliders. The activity was still expensive, and those attracted to it were mostly people with a small purse. People were forever trying to construct an aircraft with minimal means, but which should nevertheless be able to satisfy all demands.
Although everybody understood that this wasn’t really feasible, this still remained the only possible course of action. By enclosing the cockpit, or providing an enclosed fuselage to their contraptions, gliders were created which for years to come provided the opportunity to qualify for the C-certificate (5 minutes duration).
To bring relief to this poor state of affairs, Segelflugzeugbau Edmund Schneider in Grunau/Rsbg built a glider suitable for the smaller purse. It was a simple design, with its wings placed on top of the hexagonal-sectioned plywood fuselage. Basically, it was a scaled-down and cheaper version of earlier gliding aircraft built by this firm, which already had proved themselves.
At last the moment had come that this new "bird" could be test-flown. As an instructor at the Grunau School of Gliding, I had since long been personally selected to perform this action. I was very apprehensive to find out how everything would function. The great sense of expectation preceding every first flight of a new aircraft, now had me in its grip too. Although every part had been painstakingly calculated and tested, the new Baby had never been airborne yet. This was going to happen now. The aircraft had been transported to the southerly slope, and was now assembled there. At the edge of the forest, from which normally pupils and their gliders were launched for their A-trials (30 seconds straight-on flight ) now stood the Baby, to show that it could do more than 30 seconds of flying.
Everything went off smoothly. Right from the start the white gracious bird of plywood, glue and linen soared across the meadows and did not seem willing to go down again. It flew at least 3 or 4 times as far as the school-gliders, since the terrain was sloping down a little, which apparently was already enough for the Baby. Afterwards, everybody was satisfied with this success. But the new Baby had to show some more. How would in fly in gliding? If I remember rightly, still on the same day the wind veered to south-west, the right direction for the C-slope. It also increased in strength. Could anything be more obvious than that the new Baby had to be tried out there and then?
So I got ready for take-off again, and flew across the north slope towards the C-slope. Straightaway and effortlessly I gained height there, and soon I was flying happily to and fro at 200 to 300 m over the ridge. The first one-hour-flight for the infant had to be performed there and then.
Nearly half an hour must have passed, when I saw another aircraft appearing below me. It was a glider of the "Falke" type. Obviously, I had to get in contest with it. This was the opportunity I had secretly been hoping for, namely to show what capacities the Baby had in stock.
However, it never came to a duel. However much the Falke tried to come up to the same level as my Baby, it didn’t succeed. At least the sinking rate of the new Baby was clearly less than that of the Falke. Its pilot clearly disliked scratching around under me al the time, and soon flew back to the hanger on the south slope, obviously realising there was no prospect here.
After I had flown my first full hour, I returned straight back to the C-slope. There I learned that Wolf Hirth had been flying in the Falke. Directly after he had heard that the new Baby was flying over the C-slope, he had been intent on a comparison with the gliders operated by the school. Consequently, he had gone straight to the Galgenberg, and had started in the Falke.
In this way, the new "Grunau Baby I" had together with its first flight simultaneously set its first step into the limelight. Its future progress seemed assured. Nevertheless, this prototype didn’t grow old, for soon a Baby II was created out of the Baby I. This one should be even better.
As far as I remember, the wingspan was stretched a bit and the ailerons extended, so that it would even in the most turbulent weather react fast and sure to control movements. The fuselage too got a more elegant design and a larger cockpit. Now pilots of over 1,70 m length would fit inside as well.
The Grunau Baby now presented itself to the world as Baby II on its rise to fame. Everyone who had flown it, was enthusiastic about it.
It was the trainer and glider for home-building as well as for club-service. And its price was uniquely cheap for such a capable aircraft. Segelflugzeugbau Schneider flourished again, and all those who witnessed this, rejoiced with them. Now this former member of the Aviation Police - who idealistically had dedicated himself to the building of aircraft - finally met with success after the lean years.
The Grunau School of Gliding soon re-equipped its air-fleet with this new training aircraft, and with the consequent improvement of results, became the prime catalyst for its triumphal tour. Soon, Grunau Babies were flying over all slopes in all parts of the world. When in the course of the advancing development of the art of aerobatics, trials were made to perform these figures with gliders too, and the Grunau Baby also took part in it.
Perhaps it is better not to record here, just how far some people went in this process. But since the event is still such a clear and happy memory, I will - although it is forbidden and not suited for imitation - disclose it here.
The sweetest fruits in the history of mankind have always been those forbidden. It had stung me for a long time already, that I had never yet made a looping in a glider, while I was forever reading in sporting magazines about other people who had. But these people had aircraft specially built for that purpose, or perhaps more courage. Yes! That must have been the main reason. The complete determination to do it had been lacking.
I mastered the looping like in a dream, so often I had practised it in my mind, and considered it in all its parts. In my mind, I heard the increasing rush of air during the dive, and felt the exact moment I had to pull the stick back to initiate the backward swing. I knew it would grow mouse-silent when I had the earth on top of me. I knew that I would then vertically rush towards the earth, and that in this dive I would hear the air rush past again, I knew all that.
I knew that the Baby would stand up to this stress, but the connection between brain and hands had not been made yet. The switch had to be actuated, the connection made.
And this day came, because it had to come. The courage had to be assisted, and that happened without my intention.
Wolf Hirth, then the new Chief Instructor at Grunau, had invited all instructors to a house-warming party and -meal in his new home in Hirschberg. It was a sociable gathering, and of course as we drank a bit, life grew increasingly more enjoyable.
I stuck to "Danziger Goldwasser", not only because I liked the little goldfish in it so much, but simply because I liked the taste best.
For whatever cause or reason I still had to fly that afternoon, I can’t remember any more. Anyhow, I took off for a towed flight from Hartau to Grunau. With malice aforethought, I had myself towed up higher than usual, and above the village near the flying school I disengaged. My mind was made up. Today it had to happen. Daring is halfway to winning. I didn’t want to loose any precious height with further deliberations. For a looping I needed all of it.
So I pressed the nose down and went ahead. The airspeed increased rapidly, the pitch of the air rushing by changed from humming into singing, now it should be right for the over-turning. Quickly I pull the stick toward my belly. The Baby curves upward, the earth disappears, and I am looking into the boundless spaces of sky, now below me. But involuntarily, my eyes are searching for a fixed spot, and when I look up now, I see the earth again. So, half the turn has succeeded. I keep holding the stick to my belly. I still have sufficient speed, the controls are still responding, I am still sitting firmly on my parachute although I am standing on my head. The Grunau Baby rotates further in its circle. Now, the earth approaches me again, and soon the first looping is completed.
Everything had come out like in my dreams. But what else could it have done, after so much "spiritual preparation"?
But only once proves nothing. And because it was so pleasant, a second looping was set in, and then a third, because all good things come in threes. I was still rather high above Grunau, and wondered how I could have lost so little height with my loopings.
When I looked towards the school-buildings and the village again, I saw that my performance had not gone by unnoticed. Most of those standing there looking up must have seen my caprices already, but also many must have arrived recently - so I felt - and were also hoping to witness a looping performed by a glider.
These hopeful, begging, invisible eyes I simply could not resist, so I threw in an extra, and made a fourth looping before I flew back to Hartau airfield, relieved and happy about my succeeded show.
It was a great relief to me that it had now been proven that aerobatics with the Baby were possible.
From now on, aerobatics were practised on a regular basis and soon they were shown at flying displays, and eagerly observed. With the Baby not only loopings, but also rolls and inverted flying was performed. With much pleasure I remember a particular flying display, when I was pulled out of my glider afterwards by an enthusiastic crowd, and carried round the field on their shoulders. It happened in Bunzlau, the prominent Schlesian town, famed for it’s earthenware. A full coffee-set for two was the reward for my show, although I was widely known as being a convinced bachelor.
Although the Baby had by now become popular with glider pilots, and the Schneider works had had to enlarge their workshops a few times already, it became time for it to show its capacities in a competition. In the Rhön Competition of 1933 I succeeded with the "D-Sorgenkind" (Source of Anxiety) in completing the first 100 km flight with this "Baby amongst the competitors". It also became the "Day’s Best", as already described in "Rhön - Memories and Evaluation". It had proved to live up to its reputation at that time. Even the gliding expedition of the German research institutes took it with them to South America, where Hanna Reitsch successfully demonstrated it.
Gliding is a fine sport, but very dependant on the weather. Once one has been caught by the virus, one wants to be able to fly all the time, and that can only be done with the aid of an engine, when less favourable weather prevails.
Our Baby was given such help by a small engine, turning it into a Motor-Baby. But apart from that, it still remained a real "Baby". Because the engine was positioned on top of the wing and behind the pilot, driving a push-propeller, little had changed for the pilot. But now one could start without help from ground-crew simply by pushing the throttle forward, and climb with about 1 m/s.
That was all. Because it had two small wheels with balloon-tyres on either side of the fuselage, the landing too was executed as in a glider. With this "reinforced" Baby I have made the maiden-flight and later some research-flights into the Moazagotl (see "Istusring"). The first start from Hartau airfield I remember quite well. After a very short run it became airborne, and I flew my pattern round the field the same as in a Baby. Only the somewhat insufficient cooling often caused some unexpected emergency landings.
A formation flight with three little aircraft from Breslau to the flying display in Lübeck, and back again to Breslau, still sticks to my mind. It was flown in stages, and Berlin-Rangsdorf was an intermediate stop. It was a long trip, but all the way up to Rangsdorf, each of us kept his two companions in sight. But from Rangsdorf on, things changed.
It was beautiful gliding weather, which none of us could resist. Pretty soon one thermaled here and another thermaled there, and it was done with our little formation. Werner Blech, who was one of our party, happened to be of those glider-pilots who didn’t feel quite well until he had stuck his nose into the clouds, so he soon disappeared inside a large "cauliflower". We only saw him again long after we other two had landed at Lübeck. He had been slightly delayed by a little altitude-flight of 3000 m into the clouds.
On the flying display itself in Lübeck, the formation-flying went off quite well. Virtuously, we flew at a moderate pace together, so as not to overheat the engines and cause anyone of us to have to abandon the show.
The return trip became interesting again, because everybody flew the way he had in mind at the time. I chose for the route along the Ostsee coast, going by way of Rügen up to Stettin, then homeward past Kottbus. The first leg led to Stralsund. At low level I passed over the various bath-resorts on the coast and enjoyed the view of all the activity in the water and the often very fine figures laid out with mussels in the sand of the beach. Because low-level flying right over the heads of a crowd is not permitted, I was flying over the water at such a distance from the beach that I could easily reach it, should my engine eventually display a liking to bathing. Thereby I discovered something curious rather unexpectedly.
While I was flying over the water at about 30 to 40 m parallel to the beach, I suddenly observed 1 m ascending on my variometer. I wondered what could cause this, and deviated a little to the left, then to the right, to establish the extent of this upward stream. I could determine that it lay at a very definite distance from the coast. As an old Moazagotl-expert, the idea of wave-wind immediately crossed my mind. Not because of the small water-waves directly underneath me, but more from the steep slopes on the beach, in the lee-side of which the bathers enjoyed themselves. My suspicion was confirmed by establishing the wind-direction, which so far had not much interested me. All little flags on top of the beach-huts were actually pointing seawards as expected. Today I am still convinced I was being carried along the coastline on a "Mini-Moazagotl" then, but at that moment I didn’t have time to hang around much longer, because I still wanted to see Rügen, and my target was Stralsund. Since my course lead me over land again, I gradually climbed a few hundred metres higher, flying past Hiddensee towards the chalk-rocks of Stubbenkammer. After a visiting round I returned to the mainland, in the direction of my destination for that day.
When I still had only 20 km to go, the prop suddenly stopped. The end! Out of fuel, I assumed, or perhaps I had stressed the little engine to much? One thing or the other, now I had to look for a suitable landing-place. A certain meadow looked all right. To land a Baby anywhere never gives any problems, so all went well. But when I got out, doubt came to my mind as to whether I would be able to get out of there again by my own resources. The meadow did not have a stretch long enough even for a Baby, that wasn’t obstructed by clumps of tall grass. To make things worse, it was slightly sloping upwards toward the West, and at the end of it was a tall corn-field that had to be crossed immediately after lift-off.
But first of all, the cause of failure had to be found. It appeared that I hadn’t run out of fuel, but the engine had become overheated. Because there was no village in the vicinity, and luckily enough nobody had seen me, I could look around for the best starting-point without distraction, and then got hold of the tail and dragged the Baby over there. Meanwhile, it had sniffed plenty of fresh air, and was cooled down again. The great problem still lay ahead of me, and was now becoming imminent. Would I manage to get out of here? Or.... but there was no alternative really, it just had to succeed. In the cockpit I made all necessary preparations, to ensure the shortest possible idling time once the engine was started.
Everything went according to program. The engine started at the first swing, quickly I strapped myself in, and then I started full-throttle. My Baby crossed all grass hurdles with ease, built-up speed and came airborne. I imagined I could hear the corn-stalks brushing the fuselage when I crossed the edge of the corn-field, but I had made it.
Carefully I immediately throttled down to just a ½ m of climbing. I just wanted to stay airborne, without the engine overheating. Further, everything went without a hitch. When after some time I had reached nearly 600 m again, it wasn’t far to Stralsund any more. All’s well that ends well. The first day had been exciting and eventfull. Flying on to Stettin the next day went smoothly. On the way from Stettin to Kottbus my little engine didn’t complain either. By now I had learned how it wanted to be treated, and we both benefited from it.
Things went different for my friend Blech however. For what did I see on my way to Kottbus? Down below, in a large field of stubble an aircraft stood. Yes, it was a Motor-Baby! That could only be one of ours.
I had to make sure, and landed beside him, to be of assistance if possible. What I had suspected already, happened to be the case. His engine had overheated, and therefore he had made an emergency-landing. But greater mishap was yet to come. As the engine had cooled down, and we prepared for take-off again, he forgot to take the sparkplug-spanner away from the wing, where he had temporarily put it. As a result of the vibrations during the engine start, it rolled off and fell into the propeller-circle. That effectively put an end to his plan to fly home. I had to go alone.
Since I still arrived in Kottbus rather early, I could after refuelling, still continue my journey to the end-destination Breslau that same afternoon. For the last time I took-off in my Motor-Baby. Directly after the start I turned towards the forest edge on the outskirts of town. Here I could utilise the slope-wind to climb, and throttle down the engine. For if one came through the first five minutes, and then throttled down to cruising power, everything would go right, this much I had found out by now.
It was to become a quit, enjoyable flight home with the Motor-Baby. Little did I suspect it would be my last one in it, since one felt so at ease with it.
Evening calm was in the air as I glided toward the field at Breslau-Gandau in the setting sun.
Later on, the Motor-Baby was equipped with a slightly more powerful engine, but "Gliding with Auxilliary-Engine" ran out of fashion, despite many attempts with other gliders. It remains incomprehensible why this should be, because it really was beautiful.
Even the Motor-Baby failed to open up this avenue.