It was in the early nineties, on a wet non-flying day that a group
of Air Cadet Gliding instructors from Henlow decided to form a syndicate
and buy a Primary glider. The glider in question was a Slingsby Grasshopper;
a type used in bygone years by Combined Cadet Force (CCF) units all over the
country. The aircraft was in its original silver military colours but
required some serious restoration.
Fortunately there was an aircraft engineer in the syndicate, so in
1993 restoration work started. Although Bob Samme undertook the lions
share of the task, he was not averse to delegating certain duties to
lower life-forms. Brushing Rand-O-Proof onto the Ceconite fabric was
one of those duties.
The finished glider was painted red and white to match current aircraft
in the Air Cadet fleet.
In years gone by, Grasshoppers were handed out to CCF units to fly
on their sports fields - launched by a massive catapult. A student's
first flight was also their first solo. To help the students get a feel
for the machine before they actually flew, the glider came with a tripod-mounted
pivot. When the Grasshopper sits on the pivot and is pointed into a
stiff breeze, movement of the controls causes the glider to pitch, roll
After the tripod experience, ground slides were the next thing students
undertook. The Grasshopper would be staked out and hooked up to the
bungee which was then stretched by two teams of (hopefully) beefy blokes.
When the "pilot" was ready he'd pull the cable releasing the
aircraft and off it would trundle along the ground. Small baffle boards
on the leading edges stopped the glider from lifting off.
In the summer of 1994 we undertook our first ground slides with the
Grasshopper. The dolly was left on, so acceleration after release was
pretty rapid, provoking the first guinea pig to eloquently exclaim "bloody
We had to wait until the summer of 1995 before we could actually fly
the Grasshopper. The first flights were undertaken by David Alexander,
then Rob. With the baffle boards and dolly removed the glider was catapulted
into the air. It was surprisingly easy to fly and David commented that
it was now possible to appreciate how inexperienced school children
could have been able to fly it.
In the years that followed, the syndicate experimented with auto-tow
launches and in 1999 acquired a Vauxhall Cavalier as a dedicated tow vehicle. This was subsequently replaced by
a significantly more powerful BMW. Auto-tow launches certainly heightened
the excitement of flying the Grasshopper, although even from a few hundred
feet it was not always possible to complete a 360 turn before having