ChicagoLand Glider Council 


60 Years ChicagoLand Glider Council

(Excerpts from an article published in SOARING, Dec 1993/January 1994)

by Simine Short

One young German-born Chicagoan, Joseph P. Steinhauser, had been interested in aviation since 1913. Every now and then, while working full-time as an airplane mechanic, he gave gliding more thought. In 1928, he designed and built his 40-foot S-2 (CAA registration 572K) primary glider. It flew successfully at Ashburn Field, even though Steinhauser used, what was considered by aviation experts of the time, a radical wing design. The first flights of his little ship went well, but soon Steinhauser realized that he needed to get other people involved. He had to create interest so that he could have helpers for the launching process.

In the early 1930s, gliding was considered by many people a very unsafe sport. Would-be pilots simply had no proper guidance. They built their ships without proper knowledge of materials and then ventured without much training into actual flying. Accidents with fatalities were common occurrences, making ugly headlines in local papers, and giving soaring bad publicity.

This group owned several Mead and one Franklin utility glider, but no high performance machine until Joe Steinhauser went to Germany to buy the best ship available for demonstrating the art of soaring. He bought a Wolf (production No. 4) sailplane from the Sport Flugzeugbau Gšppingen, owned by Wolf Hirth and Martin Schempp (later Schempp-Hirth Flugzeugbau). Painted in a cream color with light blue trim, it was registered in Germany as D-CHICAGO, later registered in the United States as G-14829. The Wolf came to its new home in Chicago late in August 1935.

Good publicity came from this higher performance sailplane. In October 1935, Steinhauser caught the attention of downtown Chicago, when he was aero-towed to the Loop and then soared for about forty minutes in his D-CHICAGO over Grant Park, before heading north over Lincoln Park and landing on Montrose Beach. Needless to say, the newspapers gave him headlines Gliding Over Loop . . . , Plane minus Motor Tests Currents Amid Skyscrapers . . . , Human Hawk Soars Silently Over the Loop . . . , Lands Safely on Beach . . . , etc..

To promote soaring beyond the Chicagoland area, Steinhauser bought plans and the manufacturing rights to build the Wolf and a 2-seat Gšppingen Gš-2. He set up a shop, Soaring Flight Association, at 3347-49 Southport Avenue and flew at Stinson airport. The goal was to build gliders. A busy winter season was lying ahead for his new business, as well as for the Soaring & Gliding Club of Chicago. Now practically everyone can learn this greatest of all sports, easily, quickly, cheaply, and safely. Gliding is destined to become in a short while, the biggest thing since the advent of the automobile. It is going to put America in the air and make glider pilots by the thousands, who, with a little more instruction, will be able to step into the "flivver" plane, which is just around the corner. This write-up was taken from the Club flyer produced for the Happy-Landing Festival, the final soaring event of 1935. The club called itself the most progressive and active organization of its kind in Chicago and suburbs. It offered a complete flying course in motorless aircraft, together with a comprehensive ground school and shop work on gliders and soaring planes. Entrance fee was $5, and monthly dues were $2, plus a flying fee of $1 per hour.

In October 1936, an informal soaring meet was held near Benton Harbor, Indiana, with members of four glider clubs participating. One of the subjects discussed was the formation of a Gliding Federation where clubs of the greater Chicagoland area would be represented. Shortly thereafter, on January 17, 1937, seven glider clubs with about sixty pilots united to form the ChicagoLand Glider Council (Figure 5). The clubs which joined in the Council were the Gage Park Glider Club, Soaring & Gliding Club of Chicago, the Soaring Flight Association of Chicago, and the glider clubs of Glen Ellyn, St. Charles, Hammond, South Bend, the Purdue University Glider Club at Lafayette, Indiana, and the Tri-State College Glider Club at Angola, Indiana. The papers for the incorporation were signed by the founding members who also agreed to serve as directors: Joe Steinhauser, Joseph Smith and Wayne Thomis, of Chicago, and Guy C. Weber and Clemens W. Luebker from the South Bend Glider Club. Thomis had done much to promote soaring and gliding as the Aviation Editor of the Chicago Tribune. Weber and Luebker had renewed interest in soaring along the lower shoreline of Lake Michigan in 1935 when the director of the Indiana State Dune Park invited them to try out the dunes. They soared over the sandy hills within ten miles of the location used by Chanute just forty years earlier.

The founders of the ChicagoLand Glider Council stated: There are many small groups, some with only three or four members and operating only one glider, who have not the experience nor the money to be as active as would be possible if they were part of a larger association. The Council will make it possible for them to pool their efforts and thus accomplish better results. This not-for-profit organization intended to encourage motorless flying by sponsoring regional contests, setting soaring records, and encouraging sailplane construction. An ambitious goal was the building of an airport for soaring only.

The first Annual Chicagoland Soaring and Gliding Contest was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, 1937, along the shores of Lake Michigan (Higman Park), near Benton Harbor. Contemporary newspapers reported that twenty or more clubs were expected; pilots and ground crew will total more than 100 persons, according to the Medical Examiner for the United States Bureau of Air Commerce. Unfortunately, lack of favorable winds hampered flying and the contest was canceled and re-scheduled for the fall.

The second Annual Chicagoland Soaring Contest did not take place until May, 1938. It was to be a preliminary for the National Soaring Meet at Elmira, New York, and the American Open Meet at the Sleeping Bear dunes near Frankfort, Michigan.

The ChicagoLand Glider Council with Steinhauser as President and Bob Blaine, editor of the Air Bubble, the mimeographed publication of the Council, sponsored a Winter Get-Together and Soaring Forum at the Hotel Sherman in February 1939. This mini convention started on Saturday afternoon at 2 PM. There were several gliders on display, and several home-made and commercial movies about gliding were shown. The two guest speakers were from Frankfort, Michigan: Stan Corcoran and Ted Bellak. About 200 pilots attended.

In the summer of 1939, a 116 acre tract of land was to be leased near Glen Ellyn, at Wheaton & Bloomingdale Road. Fifteen area clubs were to use the port and share the expenses. On August 20, 1939, the ChicagoLand Glider Council anticipated a formal dedication of their new glider port. Just a few days prior to the opening, a final check of the legalities revealed problems. Someone apparently had not done the legal homework. A cloudy title resulted in no new glider port for the Council.

The Annual Soaring Forum at the Hotel Sherman was held in February, 1940. Several thousand pilots and would-be pilots attended this convention, and about 250 Middle Westerners enjoyed good food at the Air Bubble Banquet in the evening. Even though the next day, Sunday, was a typical Chicago winter day, more than 5,000 spectators came to watch glider flight demonstrations (spot landing and duration flights) at Elmhurst Airport, Lake Street. Seven sailplanes participated, among them, Steinhauser with a Rhšnsperber (newly acquired from Emil Lehecka), and Theodore Bellak with his Minimoa Dove of Peace.

In the summer of 1940, Joe Steinhauser and Art Hoffman opened a Glider Flying School at Air Activities Airport, now known as DuPage County Airport. The school, called the Motorless Flying Institute (M.F.I.) Research Center, was advertised as Chicagoland's Center of Motorless Flying. Eight courses were offered to appeal to beginners, advanced and transition pilots. Three ships were available, the Wolf D-CHICAGO, the Rhšnsperber, and a brand-new Schweizer 2-8 two-seater. The blue 2-8, also known as the Record Breaker, had just set a new World Altitude record of 20,000 feet and an American distance record with a flight of 217 miles. After buying and truly enjoying the SGS 2-8, Steinhauser became the first Schweizer Aircraft Corporation dealer in the Midwest.

During this summer, Steinhauser also earned his Silver "C" Soaring Badge (U.S. No. 29). A contemporary write-up gives some information about the flight: The Chicagoland pilots are discovering that the air bubbles in their territory are really terrific. Recently Joe Steinhauser flew his Rhšnsperber cross-country for 68 miles, reaching an altitude of 6,800 feet. Stan Corcoran, taking off a bit later, made 48 miles but bettered Joe's altitude by a few hundred feet.

As soaring gained more enthusiasts, the number of sailplane manufacturers increased as well. Chief among them was the Frankfort Sailplane Corporation originally started by Stan Corcoran in Frankfort, MI. In the summer of 1940, Corcoran and Ted Bellak moved to Chicagoland, intending to certify and produce Corcoran's 2-place trainer, the Cinema II. With the advent of World War II, Corcoran obtained a contract with the U.S.Army to produce a military version of the Cinema II which became known as the TG-1A (Figure 9). A total of sixty-two ships, including a combination of civilian, factory built sailplanes and kits, as well as a number of military TG-1A's were eventually built before and during the war at a factory near Joliet. Test flying and limited training was conducted at the Lewis Lockport airport. Corcoran also planned soaring schools in Frankfort and Chicago. After the war, Corcoran followed other pursuits, disbanding the Frankfort Sailplane Corporation. During the 1970s, however, he refurbished a TG-1A to its original military colors and presented it to the National Air and Space Museum where it resides today.

In May 1941, M.F.I. located an ideal glider flying site southwest of Chicago Heights, about twenty miles south of the Loop, conveniently near a railroad station and highways. This was the first certified Gliderport in the State of Illinois and became known as Gliderport Chicago. Here, finally, was a good airfield to be used by soaring pilots only. Four types of sailplanes were available: SGS 2-8's, Wolf, Rhšnsperber, and a Midwest Utility. Three launching methods were employed, shock cord, winch launch and auto-tow. Aero-towing was added later with a Travelair J-5.

Marine Officer training was started by M.F.I. under a Navy contract in the summer and fall of 1941. The training consisted of twenty-five hours of glider flying under the direction of the U.S. Navy. As part of the training, double and triple aero-tows were done over the Chicago Loop district. The 2-8's landed first at Elmhurst. They took off again to make a second landing at Joliet, and a final landing at their home base. Again, this was superb publicity and promotion of the sport of soaring. Additional military training was done at the Lewis School of Aeronautics at Lockport. Here, some enlisted men who were not qualified military airplane pilots were given instruction in light airplanes.

In 1953, the State of Illinois published a census of gliders, registered in the State. A total of thirty-one gliders were listed, flying at thirteen sites; fifteen of them were operated by Steinhauser. Jon T. Mead prepared a census for the Soaring Society of America in 1980. At that time, for comparison, there were nine soaring sites with a total of 103 gliders registered in Illinois.

Most old-time Chicago glider pilots seem to agree that the Chicago Glider Club was formed in the late 1940s with a war-surplus TG-3, probably operating at Wooddale Airport, west of O'Hare Field. As this area became congested, the group moved to Elgin. In 1959, the group restructured with one section moving north, and the other one south. Ken Flagler and his brother were the spark plugs for the northern section which moved to Chicagoland Airport. The southern group moved to Ed Prosperi's Tinley Park Airfield, southwest of the city. In the early 1960s, the club moved to Clow Airport and in 1972 it settled at its current site, a residential landing area near Channahon, Il.

Cross-country and record flying started in earnest in the early 1960s. Most notable was Harold Jensen's 465-mile flight in 1962 from Clow airport to a farmer's field near Homewood, Tennessee, a record which still stands. As soaring equipment and skill improved, daily soaring performances increased until today, a 500 km triangle speed of 61.7 miles per hour (set by Ron Ridenour in 1988) is the current target to hit. The longest known duration flight within the State of Illinois is held by teenager Joe Walter who flew his 1-26D for 10 hours and 15 minutes on a thermal flight from Hinckley in the summer of 1993.

To provide an entry level point for new pilots to learn the skills and procedures in cross-country soaring, and to offer significant competition practice for veterans throughout the season, theNorthern Illinois Soaring Championships was started by Neal Ridenour and Rudy Kunda in 1989. In this handicap "Sports Class" contest, a task is set on any day when three or more pilots in the Chicagoland area complete the task. Pilots can start from any gliderport and tailor their tasks to their locales, equipment, experience, and available time. Starts and finishes are reported by radio. At the end of the season, each pilot's eight best scores, determine his rank. This possibly unique contest has been won by a 1-26, as well as by 15-meter racers.

Windy City Soaring, Inc. was formed in the spring of 1971 to fill the need for basic training since the Chicago Glider Club promoted primarily high performance soaring. One CGC member, Burt Meyer, gave this much thought; then he and his wife Marcia spear headed a project to provide glider training to the children of CGC members. Several Chicago Glider Club members and one non-member became stock holders of this new venture, called Windy City Soaring. Originally their goal was to teach youngsters the art of soaring and to give college students the summertime opportunity to fly and work at a glider operation. It was originally a share-profit cooperation; the profit was shared between the stock-holders and the summer students. In 1977, Ron Ridenour purchased Windy City Soaring and turned it into an active commercial soaring school. Eventually, an active business of providing rides developed using the 3-place Schweizer 2-32. In addition to classical soaring training, Windy City was able to promote the fun of soaring to hundreds of Chicago area couples who flew in the "chummy" back seat of the 2-32.

A second commercial glider operation, Hinckley Soaring, was formed in the summer of 1973. Founding Father, Al Freedy, is still part of the current operation, twenty-one years later. It is Hinckley's firm belief that anyone can learn to soar and enjoy doing so (see Figure 12). During the 1970s and early 1980s, Hinckley was an active dealer for Schweizer Aircraft and in so doing contributed to increasing the population of easy-to-fly affordable sailplanes in Illinois.

In their twenty year histories, the Hinckley and Windy City schools estimate they have issued more than 1,000 glider licenses to students trained at their schools.

The Illinois Wing of the Civil Air Patrol became active in youth glider training in 1965. Under the leadership of Col. Ray Johnson, this program is believed to be the largest CAP glider program in the country. Approximately twenty glider students are trained each summer at a one-week encampment at Mattoon, Illinois.

The ChicagoLand Glider Council newsletter of January 1975 reports four soaring sites around Chicago and probably 300 live warm bodies, all enjoying the same sport. The sites were Aavang Airport near Huntley, base of the Sky Soaring group; Clow Airport. home of Windy City Soaring; Hinckley Airport, located west of Aurora on Highway 30, and the Chicago Glider Club about eight miles southwest of Joliet. The newsletter described Hinckley as the nesting grounds for a flock of Schweizer birds. It also characterized the Chicago Glider Club by saying that Sundays there look a lot like the nationals -- glass, glass everywhere.

These locations remain pretty much the same today except the Sky Soaring Club has moved to its own site, northwest of Chicago adjacent to Interstate 90 and a newer club, the Park Forest South Aviation Group, flies regularly from the Lake Village airport, just south of U.S.Route 30.

Addendum by editor...

March 3, 2009 - Currently the ChicagoLand Glider Council has over 300 members. There are three "host" soaring clubs which support the ChicagoLand Glider Council through dues from all of their membership. These are Chicago Glider Club in Minooka, IL, Sky Soaring Glider Club in Hampshire, IL, and Windy City Soaring Association in Hinckley, IL.

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