The Jerk at the End of the Rope
I have allowed myself to be persuaded to write this letter while a few years remain to trigger the memories of older readers. As every good glider pilot and tug pilot knew in WW2, the jerk was always at the other end of the rope. Since the towing days I had completed over 11,000 hours, before retiring from flying in 1964. Looking back it could have only been youthful foolhardiness that allowed the tug pilots to accept frequently overheating engines, dangerously low airspeeds, and blind faith and a handy release knob that persuaded the glider pilots to follow them.. Although I thought little of it at the time, I now consider it was a dangerous activity, and doubt very much that I would have survived all my flying time, if it had been towing gliders.
I am about to reminisce about some 214 jerks felt towing from Brize Norton, Thruxton, Sleap, Hampstead Norris, Earls Colne and numerous other fields from Netheravon to Hurn, Tarrant Rushton to Kinloss. For any readers who want to look back with me I can say that fortunately I recorded all route information of dozens of mass formation glider tows, details of glider retrievals, and the names of 42 glider pilots who flew with me in Whitleys, Albemarles or Halifaxes. Three typical entries in my log book are:- 1944
MAY 12 WHITLEY V 445w SELF 3 CREW FORMATION TOWING HAMPSTEAD NORRIS, CASTLERING NEAR WANTAGE, HAMPSTEAD NORRIS.
JUNE 7 WHITLEY V 292 SELF 3 CREW HORSA LIFT NETHERAVON – TARRANT RUSHTON.
JUNE 7 WHITLEY V 292 SELF 3 CREW S/S HOWE.SGT TUCK-BROWN, TARRANT RUSHTON-NETHERAVON.
At HGCU, ORTU, and with 297 squadron I towed 6 HADRIANS or WACOS, 187 HORSAS, and 21 HAMILCARS. I myself, however only sampled the other end of the rope on three occasions, flying in HORSA 282 with LT McNeill on 29/1/44 at Brize Norton, and again on the same day in the same HORSA with SGT Rice. On 23/5/44 I flew with SGT Downs at Hampstead Norris in HORSA 681.
Of all the tows I did, only two were ‘operational’. The first was on Market 2, 18/9/44, when I released a HORSA flown by S/S Wilson and S/S Woodcock over Arnhem from behind Albemarle V1857 D-. I have tried to trace both these gentlemen these last three years to no avail. I would like very much to hear from them or about them. After the release, someone else’s tow rope barely missed the nose of D-!
The second operational tow was on VARSITY when I released a HORSA flown by two RAF Glider pilots over the Rhine from behind Halifax NA 294H. This time it wasn’t a friend who nearly clobbered me. A bullet passed through the starboard wing missing the main fuel line by one inch!
It amazes me that so many formation tows were made with so few incidents. I thought I might recall two or three incidents that caused the adrenalin to flow. Perhaps some of you reading this will recognize that you were at the other end of the rope.
On 2/6/44, I was flying WHITLEY LA 778 towing a HORSA glider off the ‘short’ runway at HAMPSTEAD NORRIS. It was a hot bumpy afternoon. Attaining less than ten feet on crossing the end of the runway the starboard propeller struck vegetation, blocking the air intake with debris and causing complete loss of power below single engine safe flying speed.. The engine would not feather and unbeknown to me the undercarriage began to drop due to loss of hydraulic pressure. Wallowing like a stuck pig I released the tow rope as did the glider pilot, who skilfully converted speed to height, and turned to a safe landing at an angle to the takeoff path. I saw rising ground ahead and held off to’arrive’ cutting fuel and switches. Seeing I would hit a row of trees at about 50 knots I pushed the aircraft into the ground fortunately stopping in time and failing to catch fire. The crash site at 1547 hours GMT was near COMPTON. ¼ “ref 12 v U 497119. Despite nose, underbelly and propeller damage the aircraft was repaired and finally struck off the register on 28/4/45.
One day, again at HAMPSTEAD NORRIS not long after the above event I was marshaled in a line of tugs in preparation for a mass glider tow. One tug lines up and connects to the glider, as its predecessor takes the strain and rolls for takeoff. I was about number six and our engines were getting very warm in the heat of the July afternoon. I had completed the takeoff checks, when we all got the signal for delay and to shut down engines. The wind was gusting around twenty knots, and it was stifling hot in the cockpit and difficult to hold the ailerons from slapping and banging. After a while I slipped the aileron lock in at the very base of the control column, and opened the escape hatch above myself and sat up in the relatively cool wind. When the order came to start I had difficulty starting one of the engines. I still had not started it when my predecessor was connecting up. This was a major problem for the whole formation. At last it started, and I lined up, connected and took the strain and rolled for takeoff in double quick time. At the first wing drop after take off in the bumpy air I realized the ailerons were locked. No longer could I look out, as I had to bend right forward and down to remove the lock. Good fortune was with me and a lesson in airmanship well and truly learned!
On 17/8/45 I flew to LYNEHAM in HALIFAX 3 MZ637L to do five Hamilcar lifts on test. They were at various weights and I was told the heaviest was at 37000lb.
I remember one takeoff in particular, staggering along at 108 knots to maintain clear flight path finally establishing a rate of climb of about 90 feet per minute. All oil temperatures were at the top of the red, and all cylinder head temperatures at 330 degrees centigrade (max PERM 270 degrees centigrade)
I never did discover what was done with all the figures for those five lifts. I hope they satisfied somebody! Yes, there were many jerks at the end of many ropes !
W.R. WALLACE (Wally Wallace)
Ex F/Lt 138119, 297 Squadron R.A.F.
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