1958-1963 Beginnings

According to a club information sheet printed in 1965, the White Sands Soaring Association started with a meeting among 8 people from Alamogordo and Holloman Air Force Base on November 6, 1958. The club didn’t actually get off the ground until the following year, when charter members chipped in to buy a glider and a towplane. Interestingly enough, when the members came up a little short on cash, an ‘interested non-member’, Mr. Yacubian, loaned the club $500 interest free to get over the hump. Thank you Mr. Yacubian, wherever you are.

After reading about the trials and tribulations described in the old meeting minutes and correspondence, I’m amazed it’s lasted this long. It takes a lot of hard work and finagling by a lot of people to keep it together through the ups and downs. We must really like to fly.

The letters that follow describe the first flights in the spring of 1959 and the acquisiton of the first glider and tow plane.


IN THEIR OWN WORDS…


June, 1962 – Alamogordo Airport terminal building
Left to Right: Howard Ebersole, Hal Latiolais, Jim Pankey,
Terry Grange, John H.I. Morse III, Fritz Utech, Jim Riva

The following is from a letter written by Larry Edgar to Howard Ebersole with his recollections of the beginnings of the White Sands Soaring Association


“Regarding the history of the start-up of the White Sands Soaring Association, I have looked up the recordings in my Pilot Flight Log Book and dug out a little in my aging mind, very little.

The results, the following information:

It was in the spring of 1959. I was working as a Senior Flight Test Engineer for Convair. We were doing armament firing tests on the F-102. A co-worker said he heard that I could instruct glider pilots and why not start a glider club.

If enough fellows were interested we could look into the possibilities. Most important was a field where we could operate. Glider towing, with an airplane, is not allowed by some airports as it can interfere with aircraft. I thought about the flat area just north of the White Sands. It is a large flat area somewhat like the dry lakes in California which were always popular for gliding.

Of course, that area’s use was on the Holloman Base so glider flying would be curtailed and limited by base tests, perhaps gliding just on weekends. I checked with the base commander and he said that it might be possible. He said the club would have to get a one million dollar liability insurance policy. With that and the restrictions, forget it.

Shade is where you find it.
In this case, it’s under the Timm

There was an airport just north of town and one west of town, on the north side of the road to the base. We ended up flying on this last one. I do not have the name of it, my log-book just says Alamogordo local. At that time, 1959, there was not much gliding going on in New Mexico. The FAA Rep, in Albuquerque, was very negative in our wanting to start a club. For instance, we obtained an approved Schweizer tow hook and installed it on Joe West’s Cessna 170. Joe was very helpful and generous with allowing the club to use his plane. The FAA Rep made us fly the airplane up to Albuquerque and demonstrate that the tow hook could drop the rope even though he came through Alamogordo at least once a month.

On April 10, 1959, this FAA Rep was at our airport to watch a demonstration glider flight. Before I made this flight, he asked a lot of questions. For instance, who was going to be the glider instructor? When I said I was, he wanted to see my glider instructor’s license. I showed him my commercial glider license which I got on May 24, 1940, signed by Orville Wright, no less. He signed all glider pilot’s licenses issued during those years. I instructed both civilian and military glider pilots. When I told him there was no such thing as a glider instructor’s rating and that a commercial glider pilot was permitted to fly gliders for hire and instruct; He said, “Show me that in the regulations”. Which I did. Instructor rating came later.

Next, he started asking about the actual glider flying. He asked, “What if you have just
taken off on a tow and the tow rope breaks when you are only about 150 feet in the air, what are you going to do?”.

I told him that I would land, which of course, was not the answer he expected. So, I told him, I would use my best judgment in landing in the best possible spot ahead. He bugged me some with questions where I was showing him it was in the rules.

Finally, I made the demonstration flight which was nothing but a takeoff and landing and the tow plane dropping the rope on the runway. He seemed satisfied. He wasn’t easy to deal with. When we had club members ready to take the flight test to get a glider rating, he would not ride in the glider. He watched the flight from the ground.

TG-3 on final

When the Alamogordo Municipal Airport opened across the road from the field we were using, we moved our club operations to it. Continental Airlines had flights landing at Alamogordo; these were from Denver, Albuquerque to El Paso.

The FAA said we could not take off or land a glider when a Continental flight was scheduled to land or take off. I told him we could abide by that rule. I was sure of this as my power flying in that area convinced me that there were strong thermals. If you watched the Continental schedule, you could meet this limitation. We got along well and remember no conflict.

Schweizer TG-3 and Bergfalke

On October 10, 1959, the municipal airport put on an air show. I flew the TG-3 glider
in a demonstration flight with loop, stall, lazy eights, etc, landing so I rolled to a stop,
facing the crowd, as one wing lowered to the runway. The crowd gave quite an ovation but what really impressed me was that our FAA Rep came over and said “You glider fellows seem to know what you are doing. The tow and all went well”.

Guess what; after that day, the FAA Rep still would not ride in the glider when giving glider rating flight tests but he started running the wing on the launches. Great progress.

Now for the basics. We purchased a TG-3 Schweizer, WW-II trainer. We drove to El Mirage, California to pick it up. My log shows the first flights that I made with club members:

  • DATE        MEMBER
  • 04-25-59     Lt. McClure
  • 05-31-59     Sam Whitten
  • 05-31-59     Jim Pankey
  • 05-31-59     Joe West
  • 06-06-59     D. Gildenberg
  • 06-06-59     Thom Tomascheski
  • 06-27-59     E. Yung
  • 10-03-59     Roth
  • 12-12-59     Schneider
  • 12-13-59     Gould
  • 03-27-60     J. Riva
  • 04-02-60     Ebersole

On September 13, 1959, Whitten and I flew Joe West’s Cessna 170 to El Mirage, California and picked up a Timm primary trainer with a 220 Continental engine, to tow the TG-3. The Timm and TG-3 were owned by club members. I’m not sure but I think we paid about $1,000 each for the glider and the airplane. Lt. McClure owned his own Bergfalke two-place glider.

Bergfalke and TG-3 over Alamogordo

Enclosed are the only pictures that I have of our activities. Surprised I didn’t have more. Perhaps some of the above members have some.”

“Best Regards to you and the present day club members,”

Larry


On March 19, 1952, at Bishop, California, Larry Edgar flew a Pratt-Read glider to an altitude of 44,255 feet MSL and set U.S. records for absolute altitude and altitude gain in a multi-place ship. The records still stand.

Mr. Edgar was very active in the Sierra Wave Project in the early 50’s and flew with Dr. Joachim Kuettner, a pioneer in the study of mountain wave. You can read about the project in “Exploring the Monster – Mountain Lee Waves: The Aerial Elevator”, by Robert F. Whelan. The book is available through the Soaring Society of America. Another interesting read is “In the Grip of a Whirlwind“, by Carl A. Posey, Air and Space Magazine, June/July 1996.


The following is from a letter written by Howard Ebersole to Larry Edgar.

“….Thanks for your response to my query about WSSA history. There is a lot of interest by club members in the WSSA history.

Enclosed are a couple photos I’ve had. About the PT-23. After the Timm mishap (late May 1960), I bought a tired PT-23 out of Compton, California for $800 on September 10, 1960. On my way back to Alamogordo I stopped by Gus Brieglieb’s place and saw how his PT-23’s were equipped and got a Schweizer tow hook. He also was using metal climb props, or a metal prop that was ground adjustable for climb, and later I bought one of those and got it OK’d by our FAA friends in Albuquerque.

Ed Brandiger helped with the installation of the prop and I think I got it from a crop duster outfit in Hayti, Missouri. I recall the requirement for the prop was for a certain static RPM. Ed and I found it would go faster with a tail wind than into the wind and I think that is what we did for the dumb FAA guy when he came down to look at it.
Whatever it takes…

On January 2, 1961 son Roy and I were on a CAP search and rescue mission in the PT-23 looking for 4 hunters who were overdue in a Piper Tripacer. We had been up around Corona, and then came back and were northeast of Carrizozo on a contour search around a fairly big mountain when the Continental 220 apparently swallowed a valve. Heading for Carrizozo, with a fairly rough engine, it swallowed another and then it really shook. 5 out of 7 ain’t too good! 20 minutes later I landed at Carrizozo and called Ed. He came up in a T-Craft, listened to it and agreed I had a problem. He said, “As long as it held together
for 20 minutes to get here, it’ll probably hold together to get back to Alamogordo, but I’ll take your son with me, and follow you home”. It held together OK, but it was time for an IRAN. Which is what happened during the winter of 1961.

I bought the Timm engine from the club, we overhauled it (Ed and I) and also stripped the
fabric and cleaned up, recovered and repainted the PT-23. It took all winter. The picture of my son Kurt by the PT-23 was when it came out of Ed’s hangar in the spring of 1961, early June.

When I went to Alaska in 1962 I let WSSA use the PT if they would hangar it and
pay the insurance. In 1964 I sold it to them for $2,000. I understand they sold it for $10,000 quite a few years ago. And today, there is a color photo of the same ship, for sale by a guy in Texas for $35,000……

June 4, 1961
Howard Ebersole and son Kurt T-23 after overhaul, repaint, recover, re-engine.

……About once a month or maybe every other month a group of us used to get together and play poker. We would meet at one another’s house, play from 8 to midnight, nickel, dime, quarter, and a three raise limit. A fun thing, mostly social and these are the names I remember. There were probably others, and we usually ended up with 6 or 7 on a given night. Max, was 8 for the table we had. Jim Pankey and Howard Meute both worked at King I, Mission Control at Holloman. Howard was our ( and yours too) next door neighbor. Jim was a GS something, and Howard was a captain in the Air Force, as was Jess “Corky” Totten, who also lived on Jefferson, a few doors north of 1506. George Bonahoom was also Air Force, tho not a pilot; Jim Jo Wilkerson was a U.S. Commissioner for this area (lawyer type) and altho he flew (I think) he did not get involved in the glider bit. It seems to me that I got interested in gliding by listening to these guys talk about it during our card playing. There was an Air Force Lt. Col. named Scott Royce who was also here at that time, and he may have been involved, too. Did you by any chance participate in these sessions?

The long and the short the short of it is that somehow ten of us got together under your guidance, or mentorship and each put $100 in the kitty and you showed up with a TG-3 one day.

You mentioned that Joe West had a Cessna 170. My recollection was that a Marine by the name of Sumner Whitten (you mentioned Sam) owned the 170, and he also worked at Convair with you. Sumner left and took his 170 (or so I thought) and that’s when you found the Timm and we each again kicked in $100 for a total of $1,000 to buy it.

In trying to identify the “original” 10, I can’t recall for sure, as we picked up members and lost members as time went by: Here are the names I remember…..

  • Civilian Larry Edgar (WWII glider instructor; + Bishop Wave & Altitude Record
  • Maj. Howard Ebersole – active duty Air Force pilot
  • Civilian Jim Pankey – WWII B-17 pilot
  • Maj. John Morse – active duty Air Force pilot, WWII B-17 pilot
  • Lt. Col. Scott Royce (also an instructor, more on this later)
  • Civilian Jim Riva (maybe not right at first??)
  • Lt. Latiolais (I think he worked for Pankey at King I)
  • Lt. Terry Grange – active duty Air Force pilot
  • Civilian Eddy Yung (he pranged the Timm 3 June 1960)
  • Lt. Cliff McClure – active duty Air Force pilot, balloonist at Holloman
  • Lt. McClure was part of the USAF “Project Man High”
  • Civilian (former Luftwaffe pilot) Fritz Utech – he also instructed in WSSA gliders
  • Other names from my logbook are: (and they, too, may have been part of the original 10)
  • Gould – I towed him TG-3 solo 18 October 59
  • Tomascheski – I towed him, TG-3 solo 24 Oct 59. He also flew the Timm.
  • Rubadue – I towed him TG-3 solo 24 Oct 59
  • Gould – I towed him solo in the TG-3

Your log lists Gildenberg, Roth whom I don’t recall.

My glider flying started with Lt. Scott Royce on 22 May 1959 in the WSSA TG-3 at Midway Airport (Larry Divad’s airport) west of Alamogordo. We had a 1:05 soaring flight, followed by two 10 minute flights (probably patterns) and then a 10 minute solo check out flight. All in one day, to solo!!!

On the 4th of May, 1960 a Mr. Baird, from the FAA at Albuquerque, blessed us with his presence for a number of flight checks. In my case I became a Commercial Pilot, Glider, authorized to give flight instruction in a glider, based upon him watching me make two flights, the first to 2,000 ft AGL,0+15 minutes, and the second to 1,000 ft AGL, 0+ 10 minutes. Before I took off I asked him if he was going to get in the back seat of the TG-3. He says, “If you think I’m gonna fly in that thing with you, you’re crazy. Pull it up high enough I can see you stall, do a 360 turn each way, and land short of and within 100 feet of this line”. So with a grand total of 29 flights and 14 hours and 15 minutes flying a glider, over a period of one year, I became a glider instructor…”

Cheers, Howard

The Fairchild PT-23

Howard Ebersole left and returned to be a glider instructor with the WSSA. He’s had a lot more than 29  flights under his belt by then. Howard died in 2004.

At the end of 1963, the WSSA had a Schweizer TG-3 glider, and a Fairchild PT-23AE tow plane. The PT-23 would serve for quite a few more years; the TG-3, however, was sold the following year to make room for a Schweizer 2-22 and a Schweizer 1-26.