Compiled by Ben B. Schenk
Translation Peter van Montfoort
To obtain a proper overall view of the origins of the "Grunau Baby", and of its growth into a widely popular glider, it is best to start with looking at the first attempts at ridge soaring at the Wasserkuppe in the Rhön.
Shortly after the end of World War I, in 1920, the first of a series of annual gliding competitions took place here, at the initiative of Oskar Ursinus. The reason to concentrate on unpowered flight in particular, was the simple fact that this provided the only opportunity to get airborne without contravening the prohibition on powered flight, as instituted by the Allied Powers after the 1914-’18 war.
During the course of the first Rhön Competition, many people realised to their delight that one of the oldest dreams of mankind - to fly like a bird - could now, even without an engine, be fulfilled in a most satisfying way. This enchantment was carried home by all participants, and in this manner enthusiasm spread rapidly. Soon afterwards it was to be discovered that good conditions for ridge soaring were not exclusively to be found near the Rhön.
The Gliding School at Grunau
Close to the idyllic little town of Hirschberg the Riesengebirche dominates the panorama. It stretches out in an almost north-south direction. Near the first summit of the Bober-Kartzbach Mountains lies the ribbon-shaped village of Grunau. At the time, the village formed part of the district of Liegnitz in the state of Lower Silesia. However, some twenty-five years later - at the end of WW-II - it was turned into Polish territory. On present-day maps it is now to be found in the south-western region of Poland. The name of this hitherto insignificant little village of less than 2,000 inhabitants was to get widely known in the years between both world wars, both for its Gliding School as well as for being the birthplace of this very successful glider.
It all began with a number of former WW-I pilots, who had united themselves in a local branch of the Bund Deutscher Flieger. In Grunau, they met regularly in hotel "Zur Post". Many a pleasant evening was spent there, not only recollecting their own war experiences, but also enthusiastically discussing and commenting on the successful gliding flights of those days, at the Rhön and Rositten. During these lively discussions, Walter Blume, a WW-I pilot from Hirschberg, commented that during the course of his gliding experience in the Rhön Mountains in the early twenties, he had already discovered that nearby another very suitable terrain was at hand. To the north of the Hirschberg Valley, where the slopes of the Bober-Kartzbach Mountains began, ridge soaring should also be possible.
This idea set into motion a train of actions, resulting in the procurement of an old exhibition-hall at Görlitz, by the local branch of the "Bund Deutscher Flieger". In co-operation with the "SchlesierGruppe" of the then "Deutschen Luftfahrtverbandes", this building was re-erected at the foot of the Schiefer Mountains, at the eastern perimeter of the village. In this shed, room for a workshop, office and shelter for various flying clubs was created. And so, in the summer of 1923, the birth of gliding activities at Grunau took place.
It was still impossible at the time to lease the necessary fields, so the very modest elementary training could only take place in late summer and autumn, after the crops were harvested from the fields. Notwithstanding this minimal local experience, it was soon decided that the Galgenberg (Gallows Mountain), with its flat summit at 561 m, would be a better location for further activities. Is was situated east of the Schiefer Mountain, and its slopes running south, east and north would constitute far more suitable training grounds. But then, there again a hanger with workshop and room to assemble aircraft had to be built. And for this, funds had to be raised.
It was a local doctor, Dr. Med. Weingärtner, who proved to have the right connections to further these ambitious plans. Having more than once enjoyed the hospitality of a count, the Reichsgraf Schaffgotsch, as a member of his hunting party, he knew that the count was always interested in ways to stimulate matters of general interest. In due course, he succeeded in winning the approval for these plans of both the count and his estate-manager, Geheimrat Kreutz. This resulted in the donation of 40 cubic metres of timber, representing a considerable value in those days of wild inflation.
This timber was traded in for a dismantled exhibition hall in Frankfurt/Main.
After transport, this hall was re-erected at the foot of the Galgenberg. Several more donations were received - among others from the building contractors Heinrich Weist and Straupitz - allowing further expansion. In this first hanger, the later flying schools would come to reside.
At the inauguration, where many guests of honour were present, the pilots could demonstrate their first training glider, the "Stoppelhopser".
The names of Edmund Schneider and Gottlob Espenlaub are to be recorded here as being the first constructors and flying instructors. In 1923 these glider pilots – both qualified joiners of Schwabian origin - moved from the Wasserkuppe to Grunau. In these days, Grunau became the third important location for the gliding sport, and in the course of time it would surpass both former locations Wasserkuppe and Rositten in importance.
After Espenlaub left for Kassel in 1926, a third Schwabian - Wolf Hirth - took over management of the flying school. Edmund Schneider however married a girl from Grunau, and set up home here. In 1928 he also founded his glider factory "Edmund Schneider Segelflugzeugbau Grunau" (ESG) there.
The actual gliding field was situated on the flat summit of the Galgenberg, with hangars and the restaurant "Proske". The western slope - also called the ‘C-slope’, because C-licences were gained here - was a little further away and was to have its own hangar later on. From the village, a footpath ran to the 561 metres high Galgenberg. The buildings for the flying school and the workshops were situated at the beginning of the footpath.
In those days, individual design and increased wingspan were employed to improve flight characteristics for competition purposes, just as they are now. This caused excessive costs and was therefore exclusively within reach of very well to do people. On the other hand, all that the majority of common glider pilots wanted simply was to fly.
Paul Steinig, flying instructor at Grunau and in 1986 80 years of age, wrote in the Schlesischen Fliegernachrichten:
Edmund Schneider’s creation
Edmund Schneider recognised the need for small aircraft at a modest price, and developed a glider that represented a good compromise between price and performance. He intended to also create the possibility to build this aircraft as a club-venture. Based upon this idea, the "Grunau Baby I" was developed in the winter of 1930/31. Experiences gained with the "Wiesenbaude II" were applied in this design, and it was test-flown by Paul Steinig. The latter reported in the ‘Schlesische Fliegernachrichten’:
In the year 1932 Schneider also designed a glider named Senator, with a wingspan of 13.4 metres, which was very similar to the Baby. It was mentioned besides the six Babies in the 13th Rhön Competition. Tragically, an unaccountable dive, possibly caused by the pilot becoming unwell, ended fatally for both pilot and aircraft. The wingconstruction proved too weak to endure the ensuing strain, the "Senator" suffered wing-failure, and pilot Herbert Rhò diger from Liegnitsch lost his life. Strength and dimensions of wings and fuselage were determined empirically at that time, according to the judgement and experience of the constructor and/or builder. Strength was not yet founded on the result of statistical calculations. Edmund Schneider drew the only just conclusion from this accident, and appointed a young Breslau engineer, Emil Rolle, (who also had a considerable part in the development of the "Motor-Baby") to fill this lacuna. Together they agreed on establishing a safety-factor of 8 for the "Baby". Since then, no more wing-failure has ever occurred with any Schneider design. On these principles, the "Grunau Baby II" with a wingspan of 13.5 metres was designed.
(In 1950 the Dutch National Aviation Laboratory made an interesting load proof on the wings of a Bauling Baby, the PH-85. As a result, a safety factor of almost 10 was found.)
Wolf Hirth has often been named as designer of the "Grunau Baby". Schneider himself had made a prospectus of his glider-factory, in which he said that the glider had been designed in co-operation with Wolf Hirth. According to his son Harry however: ‘This was done to improve sales, because my father had not established a name yet, while Wolf Hirth was already well known as head of the Grunau Flying School.’
Nevertheless, it is obvious that by their constant utilisation at the flying school, the aircraft were in fact continuously being tested. In close co-operation with the school, results of these practical experiences were incorporated in the design of aircraft then under construction. Later, the importance of this was rather overrated, and since then some people have named Wolf Hirth as the designer.
The "Baby" had already been completed when Wolf Hirth saw her for the first time. It is however without question that the results of the daily practice in Wolf Hirth’s flying school have been incorporated into Schneider’s further production. Hanna Reitsch, born in Hirschberg, in her book "Fliegen, mein Leben" ("Flying, my life") confirms this.
Also, an article by Wolf Hirth himself in the ‘Schlesischen Heimatkalender’ of 1959 about the flying school at Grunau states:
The modest Edmund Schneider certainly deserves this enlightenment.
Soon, the "Grunau Baby" became the conception for safe and benevolent flying characteristics. But it also proved its suitability for extraordinary achievements, such as the world-record duration-flight of 36.5 hours on August 3rd and 4th, 1933 with a self-built "Baby" by Kurt Schmidt in Korschenruh-bei-Königberg. Another highlight was the world-record height-gain of 2,200 metres on February 17th, 1934 by Hanna Reitsch. With its small wingspan the "Baby" was also well suited for training in aerobatics. Wolf Hirth about this:
The "Grunau Baby" in all of its variations was of an easy to build and solid design, consisting of spruce frames and ribs reinforced with birch plywood, and covered in fabric. The construction was glued together with either Kaurit or caseÎ n adhesive. Aircraft, in which the latter glue was applied, were to survive the years only when stored under very favourable conditions. The wing section showed a thick profile, Gö 535, with a torsion member in front and a reinforced part in the middle, to house the air brakes. Everybody was most enthusiastic about its flying characteristics.
Apart from the benefit of the results of the experience gained by the day-to-day operation in the flying school being incorporated into the design, the inherent safety of the "Baby" may also be contributed to the following design factors:
Later windtunnel research on modern gliders has proved how aerodynamically important this cross-sectional reduction of area really is.
And so, up to the beginning of WW-II approximately 1,000 aircraft of this type have been produced, in the versions IIa and IIb, the latter of which were provided with Schemp-Hirth airbrakes.
During WW-II production was greatly increased by means of the introduction of a three-shift, 24-hour working day. The necessary extra labour force was found by the employment of forced labour, mainly French, as an ex-employee told me during a Baby Treffen in Aachen/Merzbruch in 1997. At that time, three "Babies" were produced every two working days.
A great number of these aircraft were applied for the elementary training of prospective fighter pilots.
The story goes that the final test for these pupils consisted of a dive with the canopy removed, while the pilot had to shoot at a ground target with a pistol. If the target was hit, and the pilot survived, the fortunate pupil was admitted to the advanced training for fighter pilot.
Withdrawal from where it all began
As World War II drew to a close and Soviet forces swept into Germany from the east, the Schneiders were among the many Germans who fled to the comparative safety of Western Germany. Amid the chaos of their battle-scarred nation, the Schneider family (Edmund, his wife and two sons, Harry and Edmund jr.) found themselves in the southern city Stuttgart. Here they located Wolf Hirth whose glider factory had been in nearby Göppingen. Hirth helped the Schneiders to salvage some materials from derelict buildings and erect for themselves a shelter amid the rubble of Stuttgart. For a while Edmund Schneider and his elder son, Harry, found employment with American forces occupying the nearby Echterdingen aerodrome. However, when the Americans learned that they were refugees from eastern Germany, they lost their jobs. Probably, the Americans feared they might be a security risk.
Moving further south to the border of Switzerland, the Schneiders then started a small business on the shore of Lake Constance (Bodensee), building wooden boats.
The years after World War II
Since the conclusion of World War II, Germany had again been subjected to a prohibition order on flying. This time however, there was no exception allowed for gliding, like it had been in 1918. Notwithstanding this obvious drawback, Edmund Schneider spent his spare time designing several sailplanes, in the hope that they might be put into production later.
The "ES-49" two-seater and an improved version of the "Grunau Baby", called "Grunau Baby III", were soon on the drawing board and, when Germany was reinstated into the world of aviation, both were put into limited production by the Schleicher factory.
Thus, in 1951 Edmund Schneider was able to show the "Grunau Baby III" to the world for the first time in Mühlhofen on the Bodensee. It proved to be an enormous success and so, in the fifties alone, some 5,000 aircraft of types IIb and III were built. They were successfully employed in the training of new generations of glider pilots. In this way, built in such large numbers, and distributed so widely, it became the best known glider in those years. Edmund Schneider also released the construction details of the "Baby" for building it under licence, to interested flying clubs. The price for such a licence was then DM 90, -. He had modernised the design, enlarged the cockpit, improved co-ordination of the control surfaces, and added a landing-wheel behind the shortened skate. The construction drawings and building scheme were more conveniently arranged by his son Harry, who reduced the number of drawings from over 70 to a mere 39 sheets of DIN-A1 format.
Leaving the native soil
In the meantime, since 1949 already, the Schneiders had been investigating the possibility of emigrating into India, where they planned to set up a factory to produce gliders. They had contacted some officials in India already, and negotiations were progressing well, when they read a report of the cumuli-nimbus flight made in Australia by Keith Chamberlin of the Gliding Club of Victoria. The Schneiders were particularly interested, because the flight had been made in the "Grunau Baby II" they had sold to the GCV in 1937. Out of curiosity, Edmund Schneider wrote to the club, mentioning in his letter that he was interested in leaving Germany to set up a glider factory elsewhere.
The letter caused more than a little stir among the gliding fraternity of Melbourne, and a number of people immediately began thinking of ways to encourage the Schneiders to move to Australia. Bill Iggulden was the man who saw that Australia would be at great advantage by having an experienced glider manufacturer in their midst to advice the gliding fraternity, even if he could not immediately establish a factory. Consequently, he wrote to the Schneiders offering his help.
No rosy picture of immediate prospects in Australia was painted, and it was clearly pointed out to them that Norm Hyde’s efforts to set up a glider factory had already failed. All the same, every encouragement was given to the family to migrate and the eventual future prospects for gliding in Australia were outlined. For their part, the Schneiders realised that with the gradual return to normal life in Germany, there was a good prospect of them being able to re-establish their business in their homeland. All the same, the disruption and horror of the recent war had left them all with an urge to begin life again in a more peaceful environment. They still possessed the spirit of the pioneers, and were prepared to face the unknown future of a life in Australia.
At the time, there was no assisted-passage scheme for German migrants into Australia, and the Schneiders lacked the money for this move to the other side of the world. This problem was overcome when Bill Iggulden offered to pay the boat fares for Edmund and Harry to come to Australia. They arrived in Melbourne in August 1951, complete with a few hand tools, a band saw and a circular saw. Bill Iggulden provided a caravan as a temporary home, and helped them to obtain employment with the Royal Victorian Aero Club at Moorabbin. There they spent their days servicing the club’s fleet of "Tiger Moths". After repaying their loan to Bill Iggulden, the Schneiders were able to turn their thoughts - for the first time since their arrival - to their original goal of setting up a factory to build gliders.
Meanwhile, in Adelaide, John Wotherspoon had established a factory to produce concrete building blocks and tiles. One of his employees was a Lithuanian named Jonas Pyragius, who had been a glider pilot in his homeland, and had been acquainted with the Schneiders. When he learned that they were now in Australia, Pyragius mentioned this fact to John Wotherspoon, who became interested. After some negotiations, Wotherspoon invited the Schneiders to move to Adelaide. He offered them a small workshop, in which to build a high performance sailplane for him.
It was decided to build an improved version of the "ES-49" two-seater, to be known as "the ES-49b Kangaroo". By increasing the wingspan to 18 metres, the glide ratio was raised to 27, making it a very advanced glider for its day. The construction began about October 1952 and the sailplane was test-flown at Gawler on 7 February 1953. It proved very successful and a number of good soaring flights were made during that month. About this time, Ron Willis, from Boggabri in New South Wales, contacted the Schneiders and enquired about buying a sailplane. Wotherspoon agreed to sell him the Kangaroo, and then immediately placed an order with the Schneiders to build another Kangaroo as a replacement.
As part of the delivery of the prototype "Kangaroo", the sailplane was soared by Wotherspoon and Harry Schneider from Grawler to Mildura, a targetflight of 203 miles in only five-and-a-half hours.
The publicity received from this record flight brought the reputation of the Schneiders to the notice of the entire Australian gliding movement, and now their name as Australian manufacturers became truly established.
Edmund Schneider returned to Germany in 1960, where he found employment at the Schempp-Hirth glider factory. He died – far too young – on July 5, 1968 in Ravensburg in his home country. (Born on July 27, 1901 in Rottach/Tegernsee).
In Australia, the factory and other activities are since then continued by his son Harry. From that moment on, their own modern designs appear on the scene. The word "Grunau"no longer forms part of their names, now they are called: "Kookaburra", "Nymph", "Kingfisher" and "Arrow".
For practical reasons, the line of Grunau-designs is discontinued. Because of this, the number of airworthy Grunau aircraft diminishes from year to year.
One thing all remaining "Babies" have in common, they are all kept airworthy with much dedication and flown with great eagerness. Nowadays they frequently meet at the annual Baby Treffen.
The Baby Family
The successful "Grunau Baby" design of Edmund Schneider has inspired many others. Some of the related designs are mentioned below.
Ing. Reinhard designed the "Cumulus", comprising a steel tube structure fuselage, combined with "Grunau Baby" wings. The usual airbrakes in the wings have been replaced by two hinged flaps moving outward, located at the end of the fuselage, underneath the tailplane.
The "Eon Baby", manufactured by Elliots in England, only differs from the "Grunau Baby" by its landingwheel and the fully enclosed canopy.
The Bowlus "Baby Albatross" is still a success in the United States of America. It really is a "Grunau Baby IIa" with a ‘pod and boom’ fuselage, meaning a streamlined egg covered in mahogany plywood around the pilot, plus a slender dural tailboom.
The Kockums Flygindustri in Malmö, Sweden demonstrated on November 12th, 1946 the "Baby-Falken". It has a steel tube fuselage and fully enclosed canopy, with "Grunau Baby IIb" wings.
Espenlaub applied the same idea for his aircraft, with which he aroused the wrath of the DaeC by flying in it before the already announced lifting of the prohibition had come into effect.
After the termination of the ban on flying in Japan, the first aircraft to come out was a variation on the "Grunau Baby" design, with landingwheel but without airbrakes.
Just how many "Grunau Babies" and its offspring have been manufactured is hard to say, but it is safe to assume there must have been more than 5,000 of them.