by John H. Campbell, Ph.D. Michigan
1985 (hence sample highlights mainly from UM)
Soaring Coach at Michigan ('83-'85), Princeton ('85-'87), Penn State ('88), Colorado ('92-'97)
The very first wave of collegiate interest in gliders started around 1909, and resulted most notably in the first Intercollegiate Glider Meet, hosted by Harvard on Memorial Weekend, May 28-30, 1911. The contest was sanctioned by the newly-incorporated "Intercollegiate Aeronautical Association", founded by a Penn graduate student. At that time, aeronautics was just emerging as an academic discipline out of naval or mechanical engineering, and student laboratory work was at the cutting edge of research. Since engines were prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, the focus was building airframes for gliding. The IAA recognized two categories of flying machine, "body-control" (hang-glider) and "mechanical-control" (sailplane). Glide ratio was the prime figure-of-merit at Harvard's Squantum field in 1911, and the host had built an elaborate swiveling ramp from which competitors could consistently launch into the wind. MIT brought the biggest team, made the largest number of flights, and was the winner of the body-control class. Tufts won the more prestigious mechanical-control class, and the Cornell glider was judged the most promising and well-made design (it looked much like a 1912 Curtiss pusher with no engine).
It was Robert Beverly Evans (Michigan '30), the "Father of College Gliding", who instigated the second and largest wave of college soaring in the USA, during the "Golden Age of Flying" of the 1930s. In this period, one-quarter of all glider clubs known to SSA were affiliated with colleges, and many future aerospace leaders first got their wings in campus-built gliders. Michigan alum Ed Replogle estimates that a fifth of all American glider pilots were trained at Michigan and MIT alone, and both schools won the "best team" trophy at the National Gliding Contest in Elmira.
The "Glider Section of the Aeronautical Society of the University of Michigan" was not only the prototype of college clubs that Bob Evans hoped to franchise, it was the first chapter of the "National Glider Association" founded in June 1928 by Bob's father, Col. Edward S. Evans. Aviation was poised for big things in 1928 following Lindbergh's famous flight, and especially among "air-minded youth". Col. Evans, chairman of the conglomerate Detroit Aircraft (Ryan, Stinson, ...), was impressed by the accessible glider training done in Germany, and seized on it to feed the desire for flight among young people--his future airplane customers. He imported one of each of the 3 German glider types, a Zoegling (primary), a Prueflung (secondary), and the Darmstadt D-1 sailplane. In the Fall of 1928, the Zoegling was exhibited in the lobby of the East Engineering building at UM in Ann Arbor, and the "Glider Section" soon had 100 members, mostly undergraduate students, many times more than the existing "Balloon Section" and later "Airplane Section" of the aero engin club. Among the new members were Milton Staughton (Aero GS), and Roswell "R.E." Franklin (ME faculty), who felt they could build better gliders. Together with Wally Franklin (RE's young brother) and assorted talent from campus, the eventual results were the "Dagling" primary, the "Texaco Eaglet", the Franklin PS-2 and the Franklin Glider Company of Ypsilanti, MI. With an inside pipeline to NGA homologation, the USA's first A soaring badge went to Stoughton, and the first B to Wally Frankiin. In 1933, the Michigan Club had two PS-2s, one of which was flown by Stan Smith (Aero Junior) to win the National Gliding Contest and the Edward S. Evans silver trophy. At that same contest, the UM team won the honors for best junior pilot and best team. Starting in 1934, the UM club became emancipated from the Engineering school, and flew as the campus-wide "U of M Glider Club" by auto-tow from Ann Arbor airport. Yearbook pictures appeared faithfully in the Michigan 'Ensian through 1941, showing alumni such as Floyd Sweet (SSA President), Ed Replogle (barograph maker), and Fred Tietzel (Ohio State Soaring Club founder)..
Clubs at many other schools signed on to the NGA plan following the pattern at Michigan and, in some cases, due to direct evangelizing by Bob Evans, who went on campus tours in 1929 and 1930 and got himself interviewed on radio. His first-hand experience included several weeks at the Wasserkuppe in the Summer of 1928, while he was on a Junior year abroad at Lausanne, Switzerland. His father had said "learn everything you can about German gliding" and he came back to the USA with an A badge and reams of literature and blueprints. There is a famous exception to the national wave of NGA- inspired glider clubs started ca 1928, and this precursor was once again on campus. Wise heads at MIT recognized the importance of the German glider experiments from day one, namely the first Wasserkuppe meeting of August, 1920. The star of this meet was the "Schwarze Teufel" glider from the Aachen University group led by Wolfgang Klemperer and advised by none less than Theodor Von Karmann. Thanks to this inspiring machine, the Wasserkuppe contest became an annual affair and, by 1922, MIT had geared up to go take part itself. The "MIT Aeronautical Engineering Society", led by pilot Eddie Allen (later chief test pilot at Boeing), flew the holy mountain and was there to witness the breaking of the hour mark by college gliders built at Aachen and Hanover. 1922 was also the year soaring grew up by breaking out of Germany. Not only did USA and Russia come to visit, but there were major contests in France (Clermont-Ferrand) and England (Itford) that Allen was able to observe as well.
A third surge of activity occurred after World War II, featuring surplus wartime training gliders and GI-bill veterans looking for cheap flying fun. Soaring had been suspended after Pearl Harbor and most private gliders confiscated for a war effort that eventually included the concept of troop-carrier invasion gliders. Just before the end of the war, a large fleet of Cinemas, Pratt-Reads, LK-10s, Schweizer 2-8s and 2-12s had been accrued for training military glider pilots. These were available for a song as surplus after the war. With a TG-3 (Schweizer 2-12), a length of rope and a pasture near campus, a lot of the schools that had featured soaring in the 1930s came back to it. At Michigan, some of the folks involved were A.J. Smith (World Champion), Lyle Maxey (National Champion), and Dewey Mancuso, who later led the SSA's "thunderstorm project" and, developed the first SSA handicap-system for sailplane contests. One of the most well-known sailplane pilots of all time, Paul MacCready Jr., bought himself a Pratt-Read while working on his B.S. from Yale. He was 3-time National Champion while a graduate student at Cal Tech, and World Champion in 1956.
Another wave of activity crested in the late 1960s. Clubs started in the 1960s generally had an academic space-race connection, that is they were usually affiliated with an aerospace engineering department, such as the new MIT Soaring Association, the revived glider club at Purdue, or the suddenly much more popular glider club at Illinois. Of course, the1960s was when interest in gliding was exploding in general: SSA membership went from 1,000 to well over 10,000, and SSA membership increased 21% in 1968 alone (following a Disney movie, "Boy who flew with the Condors", and popular articles in National Geographic and Reader's Digest). The spaceflights of Shepard, Glenn, and Armstrong may have issued in another "air age", it seems, and it was easy to sell soaring as a campus sport. From a demographic or generational point of view, it should be noted that the 1960s was swarming with "baby boom" kids whose parents had been impressed with the air power of World War Two and who pushed their kids into flying. High positions in aeronautical academia, industry, and research were also now filled by the very "air-minded" youth whose careers had been kindled by gliding in the 1930s. For instance, Stan Smith (Michigan '34) was chief of flight testing at Bell aircraft in the 1950s. Paul Bikle (U. Detroit '32) was chief of flight testing at NASA-Edwards.
By the mid 1980s, the college soaring scene had dwindled and mainly consisted of survivors from those research-connected schools. However, Steve Sliwa's success in starting a club from scratch at Princeton in 1975, and my own surprisingly easy resurrection of the Michigan club in 1983, showed that there was a market for a soaring club based on sport and recreation, not tied to job or grant fashions. At the US Air Force Academy, furthermore, where the "right stuff" of soaring had been introduced right off the bat in 1957, the soaring program grew in estimation with each passing year--as engineering laboratory, leadership laboratory, and especially as a cheap and safe way to get many cadets to experience personal flight. In 1981, USAFA decided that a basic learn-to-fly course based on gliders ("Soar-for-all") would be mandatory for all 1,000 sophomores. In this encouraging climate, the Collegiate Soaring Association was incorporated in Princeton in December 1985. Its new paradigm of college soaring was that it would mainly spring out of student-run organizations, recreational sport clubs no different than ones organized around skiing or sailing, peer groups that would facilitate training, field trips, and competition. Every major State University could be a reasonable host for this activity, and symbiotic relationships could easily be struck with glider Clubs or FBOs struggling for members near college towns. Occasionally, certain institutions like USAFA or Embry-Riddle would have a vocational bent to their soaring interest, and they would be welcome in the Association as well. Finally, to seed later growth, some CSA "associate" chapters might be groups of young soaring enthusiasts without official recognition from an academic institution. One way or the other, the idea was to get people into soaring while still young, for more fun and less cost than the activity might ever offer them later in life.
CSA was welcomed as an official Affiliate organization by the SSA in 1989. The national status, the accumulated wisdom and assets, and the institutional memory that CSA offers have succeeded in allowing the creation of over a dozen brand-new college soaring clubs since 1985. This is twice as many groups as had survived from the 1960s wave. The major lesson learned, however, is that the process is one of continuous recreation, not a one-time achievement, especially if clubs lean too heavily on external "hosts" with instructors and equipment. A college soaring club is as likely to disappear as appear in any given academic year.
If you are interested in soaring and you are on campus, you could be the one to start a new club--the fact there is not a club at your campus simply means that no one has tried to run one recently. Precedents abound in yearbooks and campus-newspaper archives everywhere. Several schools, like Cornell, have flown in every era since 1909.