THE Schweizer SGS 2-8
Or the Life and Times of a TG-2,
by Jeff Byard
There were many types of aircraft serving in World War II that received little or no recognition for their role in the war effort. Most of these have since been long forgotten. The Training Gliders or TGs are certainly among these forgotten aircraft. None of the TGs ever fired a shot in anger. In fact they never fired a single shot. Even though the TGs never saw any combat they trained thousands of pilots who did. Many of these pilots were never to return home. In May 1990, I completed the restoration of one of these gliders, a Schweizer TG-2. This is a brief history of the TG-2 design, a quick story about my glider, and a short description of the project.
During 1940 and 1941, Germany had taken the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael, invaded the Low Countries and France and had taken the island of Crete. All of these military assaults were spearheaded by a new and secret weapon, the glider. Because of these stunning German victories, the Allied Nations saw an immediate need to form their own gliderborne forces. Not having any gliders or glider pilots, the U.S. Army Air Force approached several civilian sailplane manufactures to provide training gliders for the new military glider program. All of these first training gliders were slightly modified versions of existing civilian sailplane designs. One of these sailplanes was the Schweizer SGS 2-8, designated as the TG-2 by the USAAF. Foremost among the other civil designs to be pressed into service as training gliders were the Frankfort Cinema designated as the TG-1 and the Laister Kauffman LK-10 designated as the TG-4.
The SGS 2-8 was designed by Ernie, Paul and Bill Schweizer at the Schweizer Metal Aircraft Company of Peekskill NY. The first 2-8 was ordered by the Metropolitan Airhoppers Glider Club of Long Island NY in the fall of 1937 and was completed in June of 1938. The second 2-8 was delivered to the Soaring Society of America at the 1939 National Soaring Contest in Elmira NY, to be used for promotional and demonstration purposes. These first two gliders were built in the Schweizer family barn at Peekskill. With the urging of the Elmira Association of Commerce, the company moved to Elmira in December of 1939. The remainder of the 2-8s (both civil and military) were manufactured on the second floor of the Elmira Knitting Mill Building in the Elmira Heights area. It was at this time that the company changed its name to the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation. The first 12 gliders were built for various clubs and individuals mostly from the North Eastern United States. Dick and Dave Johnson were among the first buyers of the 2-8s. Dick says that they bought their glider for $250.00 less instruments and trailer and had their choice of colours. The Johnsons took their 2-8 to California where they used it for passenger hopping and instructing while they attended college in Pasadena. The remaining 45 gliders were built for the military as TG-2s for the USAAF and as LNS-1s for the Navy and Marines (there were three XTG-2s, thirty-two TG-2s and ten LNS-1s). Seven of the original 12 civilian SGS 2-8s were either sold to or conscripted by the Army and became TG-2As. The Johnson's 2-8 became one of these TG-2As. Three of the original twelve 2-8s were sold as kits to the National Youth Organization and designated as SGS 2-8As. The SGS 2-8/TG-2 design was certified by the CAA in May of 1940, using the #3 glider that was built for a group of Bell Aircraft employees.
The all-metal design of the 2-8 was a departure from the usual wooden glider construction of that time. It has been rumoured that some of the design details (rudder and ailerons) were influenced by the Go 3 Minimoa which had made its appearance on the Harris Hill soaring site near Elmira at about the same time that the 2-8 was being designed. The 2-8 used what would become the classic Schweizer style of aircraft construction. The fuselage is a welded 4130 chrome-moly steel tube frame with wood and/or aluminium stringers, covered with fabric. The wings are of the aluminium "D" tube type construction with fabric covered trailing edges. One feature unique to the 2-8/TG-2 is the extensive use of Parker Kalon (PK) screws rather than rivets in most of the aluminium structures. The tail surfaces and ailerons are also fabric covered aluminium structures. This general type of construction was used by Schweizer Aircraft up through the mid 1980s in their SGS 2-33s.
Although there have been many notable flights in 2-8s, there is only room here to mention a few. In 1939, during the 10th National Soaring Contest at Harris Hill, Lewin Barringer, using the Airhoppers 2-8, set both the national altitude and distance records for two seat sailplanes (6560 ft. and 101 miles respectively). In 1940, Barringer went on to capture an unofficial world two-place altitude record in a 2-8 on a flight to 14,960 ft. in Idaho. Also in 1940 at the 11th Nationals, Robert Stanley and Ernie Schweizer set the U.S. national distance record on a flight of 216 miles from Elmira NY to Washington D.C.. Following the war, in 1946, Dick Johnson with Bob Sparling as passenger used a surplus TG-2 to set a multiplace distance record of 310 miles that stood for nearly 20 years.
At the end of the 1941 Nationals, General Hap Amold and his adjutant were picked up at the Elmira Airport in two TG-2s and flown to Harris Hill in order to take part in the closing ceremonies of the contest. All during the war years TG-2s made many thousands of flights, mostly training flights. The majority of training done in TG-2s was conducted at Condor Field near Twenty-Nine Palms in California. Other TG-2 training bases were located at Elmira NY, Wickenberg AZ, Phoenix AZ, Roswell NM and several other locations throughout the U.S. In addition to basic flight training the TG-2 students also learned some basic aerobatics, formation flying, and multiple aero towing. Much of this training was done at night, many of the TGs were equipped with instrument and navigation lights for this purpose. One particularly interesting flight had nothing to do with training. This was a flight made by Major Lewin Barringer with Captain Floyd Sweet. Needing a place where they could speak in private, they took a TG-2 on a ridge soaring flight at Harris Hill. There, in seclusion, the secret plans for the glider invasion of North Africa were discussed. Also During the war the Navy experimented with an LNS-1 as a radio controlled "flying torpedo".
Because of the war time shortage of aluminium, the government would no longer allow training aircraft to be made from aluminium. This cut short the production of SGS 2-8s to only 45 gliders for the military plus the 12 civilian models for a total of 57 gliders. The Schweizers reworked the 2-8 design so that all of the aluminium structures were replaced with wood and made a substantial number of other design changes. This new design became the SGS 2-12, designated by the USAAF as the TG-3 (114 TG-3s were eventually built). With the end of TG-2 production, the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation moved out of the Knitting Mill Building to their present location at the Elmira Airport.
My TG-2 is number 54 of the 57 built and was completed on February 19, 1942. With the shortage of aluminium, and being one of the last TG-2s built, wood was used for the turtle deck frames and stringers instead of the aluminium hoops and hat-sections used on the earlier gliders. The U.S. Army Air Force took delivery of #54 on June 24, 1942, where it was issued a service number of 42 53019 and assigned to the Arizona Glider Academy at Wickenberg AZ. In January of 1943 she was transferred to the glider training base at Thunderbird Field near Phoenix AZ and again transferred in April of 1943 to her final military assignment at Roswell Field NM. By the end of 1943 the military had decided that sailplanes were unsuitable for the training of assault glider pilots and all of the sailplane type of training gliders were eventually replaced and declared surplus. In September of 1944 #54 was struck off charge (with 830 hrs. and 18 mins. of flight time) and turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at Cimarron Field near Oklahoma City for disposition.
All of the training sailplanes were replaced by light power planes that had been converted into gliders. The Civil Aeronautics Administration noticed that Aeronca, Piper, and Taylorcraft were manufacturing airframes faster than the engine manufactures could supply engines. In fact there were dozens of completed airplanes with no engines. The CAA came up with the idea of replacing the engine with a third seat in the nose and along with a few other modifications converting the airplanes into gliders. These "turnabout" gliders were designated as TG-5s, TG-8s, and TG-6s (Aeronca, Piper, and Taylorcraft respectively). This type of glider more closely approximated the performance of the assault/cargo gliders that the students would eventually be flying into combat. An additional advantage of these gliders was that the early training could be accomplished in the powered version of the plane. The transition to the glider version could be delayed until the student had a good feel for flying, thereby streamlining the training process. The instructors that were used to the old sailplanes saw a tremendous difference in the performance of these new gliders. So poor was their performance, the glider version of the Aeronca Defender quickly became known as the "Aeronca Descender".
On December 17,1944, my TG-2, (#54) was sold to a private owner in Mesa AZ for the sum of $512.00. She was assigned a civil registration number of NC 47575 and on January 15, 1945 a Standard Airworthiness Certificate was issued. Within only a few months #54 was involved in a stall/spin accident completely destroying its left wing. The glider spun in at the North Phoenix Auxiliary Field near its old military base at Thunderbird Field. Fortunately no one was hurt. The wing was replaced with one from the remains of serial number 34 (NC 47900) and #54 was able to return again to service within a couple of weeks. For the remainder of the 1940s and the first couple years of the 1950s, #54 remained in Arizona and saw three different owners. During this time it was completely recovered with Grade A fabric and the front canopy was modified into a two piece affair with a fixed windshield.
California soaring sites. During this time the glider was recovered and painted white with orange and yellow trim (see SOARING November 1983, pg 23 for photo). Early in 1961 the Inyo Mono Soaring Association acquired #54 and based her in Bishop CA. The Inyo Mono members flew #54 at the Bishop, Lone Pine and Inyokern airports. By the late 1960s she had accumulated a total flying time of 1400 hours and 23 minutes, and was again in need of recovering. The club members removed most of the old fabric only to find that much more than just a new fabric covering would be required to keep #54 in an airworthy condition. Eventually interest was lost in #54 and it was left sitting outdoors and uncovered on its open trailer for the next fifteen years.
Fortunately, Bishop is a nearly ideal place to store a metal aircraft outdoors. I found the TG-2 while flying for a small West Coast airline on an overnight stop in Bishop CA. When I came across #54, she was sitting on her trailer in between an old storage shed and a shop building on the outskirts of town. Surrounded by rusty engine blocks, old truck tyres and other junk, she was a sad sight. I was able to locate the owner latter that afternoon and when I offered to buy the glider his response was: "You can have it! When can you get that &@#$!* thing off my property?". On February 15, 1982 (our 7th wedding anniversary) my wife Pam and I drove for over 8 hours to claim our prize. We spent most of two days just digging out the trailer and getting it moved to the Bishop Airport. After several weeks of spare time work on the trailer I was finally able to tow the glider and trailer from Bishop to our home in San Luis Obispo CA. This was the start of what became an eight and a half-year restoration project.
When I got the glider home and assembled the remains I found that I had an airframe that was about 90% complete and in need of a lot of work. The fifteen years of outdoor storage had taken their toll. The elements had caused some rust and corrosion on many of the metal parts and had completely destroyed all of the wooden parts. If this was not bad enough, vandals had shot some bullet holes through one of the wings, smashed in much of the canopy and had either stolen or broken all of the instruments. I ended up having to replace many of the existing airframe parts because of damage or deterioration beyond repair. I also ended up replacing many items such as control cables, seat belts and other hardware as a matter of precaution. All of the past modifications were returned to original and hundreds of other details were attended to. I used the Stitts HS90X covering process and painted the glider in the original USAAF "Stars and Bars" training colours (using the VSA's colour chips). When the project was complete, I estimate that I ended up putting in well over 2000 man-hours in #54's restoration. On May 23, 1990, number 54 flew again after a twenty three-year absence from the sky.
I now have many enjoyable flights in #54, one being a 20 mile cross-country, and the longest duration being 1 hour and 45 minutes (my backside gets sore after only about half an hour). With help and support from the Vintage Sailplane Association, the Sailplane Homebuilders Association and many of their enthusiastic members, a long term project like this becomes a very pleasant and fulfilling experience. Number 54 is one of only a handful of TG-2s that are known to still exist. I can think of few endeavours more rewarding than returning an old aircraft like this to service. There are a lot more old TGs out there waiting to be found and restored. It's about time that these forgotten aircraft get the recognition they deserve. Lets get them out of their hiding places and back into the air. "Where are they?", you ask. Just like thermals; "THEY ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM".
Schweizer LNS-1 glider
From the National Warplane Museum U.S.A website
Rushing to match Germany's success using gliders in airborne assaults, the U.S. military procured several civilian sailplanes for testing in 1941. Among them was Schweizer's SGS 2-8 glider of 1938, of which 45 were bought for Army (as the TG-2) and Navy (as the LNS-1) service. The 2-8 was a record-setting aircraft that had established national altitude and distance records in a 1939 flight from Harris Hill, near Elmira, and improved on its feats the following year.
Manufactured at the Elmira Knitting Mill in Elmira Heights, New York, the TG-2/LNS-1 was the first training glider to be delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces. Seven civilian 2-8s conscripted for the AAF were designated as TG-2As; all were fabric covered. Their welded steel tube and aluminum framework was rare for a glider, most of which were built of wood.
The U.S. Navy ordered twelve LNS-1 aircraft for a 1942-43 Marine Corps glider training program at Parris Island, South Carolina. Used for primary flight training, aerobatics and formation flying, some of the LNS-1s were later seconded to the U.S. Navy Glomb program for expendable radio-controlled bomber drone experiments.
The need to save metal for use in combat aircraft led to a redesign of the LNS-1/TG-2, using mostly wood. The glider that emerged incorporated several changes over the original TG-2, and was designated as the TG-3 in Army Air Forces service.
Despite the Schweizer gliders' high performance, they were not viewed as effective in training pilots to fly the types of assault craft that were planned for airborne operations, and most were retired from military service before the end of World War II. The glider on display was accepted for U.S. Navy service on January 13, 1942, and was one of the twelve assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps glider pilot training program at Parris Island on April 18 of that year. On June 18, 1943 it was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Depot at Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, and was stricken from service on September 30, 1944.
This LNS-1 is painted in the standard Navy yellow training scheme from 1943, and is marked as it appeared during its USMC service at Parris Island. It came to the museum in 1991 on long-term loan from Robert Storck of Kansas City, Missouri.