Pratt-Read LNE-1 glider – a loser in war, a winner in peacetime!
Tags: aircraft, Americus, Aviation, fuselage, Georgia, glider, Gould Aero Division, mountain lee wave, museum, National Soaring Museum, New England Air Museum, Pratt-Read Piano Company, Second World War, sharecroppers, Sierra Wave Project, soaring, Souther Field, TG-32, trainer, two-seat glider, US Army, USA, warbird, Wolfgang Klemperer, world altitude record, WW2
Most of the major powers at the start of the Second World War had either just acquired airborne forces in the shape of parachute infantry and/or glider-borne troops or were preparing to field them as fast as they could be readied. The parachutists or glider forces were seen as have great ‘shock’ value, with the ability to take strong points behind the front lines, and hold these until friendly forces caught up with them.
The United States Navy had determined that there was a possible role for the Marine Corps to assault Japanese-held islands in the Pacific by landing small forces (possibly at night) either to create a diversion, smooth the way for larger units, or perform a specific operation before being withdrawn. It was initially thought that this could be accomplished by using squads of Marines in assault gliders, and landing on the beach. Obviously, there was neither the equipment nor the soaring expertise within either the Corps or the Navy as a whole at this time. In 1942, a quick decision was made to order a two-seat glider for training purposes, and a contract was given to the Gould Aero Division of the Pratt-Read Piano Company of Deep River, Connecticut, for 100 two-seat, ‘side by side’ trainers.
The decision to use a piano company was in line with British practice, as in the U.K. the whole of the wood-working industry was being used in the production of wooden aircraft, as very little in the way of strategic material was used; this was the same reasoning which led to the British Kirby Kite training glider. The new glider was called the PR-G1 by the company, and the US Navy ordered a single prototype as the XLNE-1. The XLNE-1 was of mixed construction, with a welded framework of steel tubes forming the basis of the front fuselage; this was surrounded with strips of wood to create an aerodynamic form, and a tapered, wooden, tube-like rear fuselage attached, giving a ‘tadpole’ shape to the whole. The glider was then covered with fabric, and tautened with ‘dope’. A single, large, central wheel was fitted for take-offs and landings, with a short skid fitted under the nose. There were some initial difficulties in manufacture, and this gave rise to delivery delays against the 1943 Navy contract for 100 training gliders, which were designated LNE-1 by the Navy.
The instructor and pupil sat side by side in plain, moulded, plywood bucket seats, capable of taking a back parachute; since the minimum carried load (including parachutes) was 190 lbs, if you were a small pilot and flying solo, it was permitted to carry ballast in the other seat, if it was well secured (the maximum weight of occupants and parachutes was 380 lbs). There were only six instruments on the simple black-painted instrument panel, which was dominated by a large, centrally located ‘release knob’, painted bright red; the instrumentation was mostly vacuum-driven – the vacuum being supplied by a venturi mounted in a prominent position, above the extensive glazed panels of the cockpit, close to the pitot tube. The instrument panel had been designed by Wolfgang Klemperer, an aviation engineer and noted soaring pilot. Performance was adequate, and the maximum permissible speed of 99 mph was the same whether the aircraft was in a glide, or in a dive with or without the spoilers deployed! Maximum weight was 1,000lb, and the ‘do not exceed’ speed for an aero-tow was 90 mph, and for a launch via a winch or a tow by a car was 72 mph. The gliders were painted all-over bright yellow, and delivered to the Navy.
Suddenly, there was a change of direction. The Marines were no longer to be delivered via glider, but run ashore in platoon strength, landing from the famous Higgins boats, (LCVP, or Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel). With no further use for the LNE-1s, no less than 73 of them were handed over to the US Army, who designated them TG-32 (presumably, Training Glider 32). The crated TG-32s were delivered to Souther Field, Americus, Georgia, a training base about 130 miles south of Atlanta, which was being used to train RAF pilots on the PT-17 Kaydett.
There the TG-32s sat, unloved, unwanted and still in their crates. From 1944 onwards, the gliders were sold as surplus to civilian owners, through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The price was $500, F.O.B Americus, although that price could be lowered, if the buyer was willing to travel to Souther Field, assemble the glider, and have it towed away! The large empty crates that had contained the TG-32s were then sold to local sharecroppers, who used them to make dwellings.
No less than twenty one LNE-1/TG-32 gliders exist, either complete or incomplete. The example you can see here, in the roof space of the New England Air Museum is on loan from the National Soaring Museum, Elmira, New York, and is finished as a Navy machine, although it does not bear its serial – which is 31561.
The TG-32 had one shining moment, and it happened post-war. Two gliders were used as part of the first mountain meteorology field experiment after WW2; it was designed to study mountain lee-wave phenomena, and was centered on the Owens Valley in Southern California, in the lee of the Sierra Nevada. One of the research team was Wolfgang Klemperer, who had helped design the LPE-1. The glider cockpits were fitted out with two 16mm cameras, which took photographs of the instrument panel every 2 seconds (they held film for 1.5 hours). The aircraft had an oxygen supply which gave a 4.5 hour endurance, and a great deal of experimentation could be undertaken during such a sortie, along with investigation of the strong wave generated by the Sierra Nevada. In 1952, one of the TG-32s set a World Altitude Record for two-seat gliders of 44,255 ft. This stood for no less than 54 years.
The LNE-1 – a WW2 aircraft that was unwanted, unloved, but still a record breaker!