The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 8 Summer 2002
RAF Slingsby T.38 Grasshopper Preliminary Training Glider - 1951
by Ben Brown
The design of the Grasshopper can be traced back to the German DFS.SG.38 single seat primary glider which was built in large numbers in the early 1930s for primary pilot training. The SG.38 was intended for bungee launches, its design being as simple as possible to permit rapid assembly after transportation. In this country plans for the SG.38 were available at the cost of 30/-(£1.50) to enable the type to be build at home by gliding enthusiasts and a number were produced commercially by RFD Ltd during 1930/31 becoming known as 'Daglings'.
Demand for this type of glider grew rapidly and it was put back into production in 1934 by the Slingsby company as the T.2 Primary. These were used by gliding clubs, but by the outbreak of war most were taken over by the RF for used by Air Training Corps Squadrons. During the War many squadrons acquired various pieces of Primarys which they then made into flyable aircraft - usually unofficially.
During the War Slingsbys undertook the construction of the Cadet series of gliders for use by the ATC and these continued in production until the late 1950s/ These were capable of proper flight and so able to provide better experience to young pilots. This was the era of the Cold War and the RAF was keen to promote air-mindedness and decided to increase its help to the ATC and Combined Cadet Force. In 1951 it ordered 65 of an improved version of the Primary called the Grasshopper which married the wings of a Cadet to the fuselage of the Primary. Production continued in the 1950s and a further 40 were delivered.
The Grasshopper was designed to give a feel of flying and only straight and level flight was officially attainable at a height of 3 metres, launched by bungee or winch. Alternatively the Grasshopper could be suspended from a tripod to fly 'free' in the prevailing wind without advancing from the spot.
However, it would appear that more adventurous flights were sometimes undertaken with resultant heavy landings requiring repairs by the RAF who luckily did not ask too many awkward questions. Schools in the area issued with Grasshoppers included Wellingborough School and Northampton School for Boys. With advances in technology the need for basic glider training had disappeared by the late eighties - cadets being able to fly computer flight simulators and the RAF being unwilling to fund repairs on machines which were nearly forty years old.
Sywell often saw flying Grasshoppers when the local ATC or CCF gave them an airing and Primarys were often used during the War at the 'Drome. Many a famous pilot took his first flight in one of these basic but sturdy machines, and no doubt this very machine sent many youngsters on a career path in aviation.
WZ820 was one of the original Grasshoppers produced by Slingsbys being issued to the RAF in 1953. Delivered by road to RAF Locking, Weston Super Mare, Avon. Its subsequent history is hazy and included a visit to Brighton but by 1972 had reached Epsom School in Surrey. In 1974 it has moved to Whitgift School in Yorkshire, then to Eastbourne College in 1977. 1980 saw a move to The Oratory School in Eastbourne and later Lancing College, Shoreham, Sussex. 1988 saw its final flight and it was purchased by a Professor at Lancing College for £10 to save it from the fire.
The aircraft was loaned to the Shoreham Airport Archive in 1995 where it was stored and has kindly now been placed on permanent loan by Mr David Dunsdall to The Sywell Aviation Museum under the custodianship of Graham Levett and Ben Brown. The aircraft was collected in December 2001.
Only the fuselage, rear empennage, rudder and tailplane are stored in the Museum. The wings are presently undergoing repairs thanks to the kind support of Fordaire Aviation at the Aerodrome. The bungee cord and tripod was present with the aircraft and in theory it could fly again - watch this space!
With thanks to the Shoreham Airport Archive, David Dunsdall, Bournemouth Aviation Museum and Rex Ford. Drawing adjacent to this article are reproduced from original manuals and show construction and specifications.