Spinning in by L. Ron Hubbard (Part 1/4)

Not long before embarking on that Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition, and more or less on the heels of Asia, a twenty-year-old L. Ron Hubbard called a first fateful meeting of the George Washington University Glider Club. Initially, less than a dozen hearty souls replied, while less still turned up at Congressional Airfield for lessons in a Franklin PS2 glider. Just so, the George Washington University Buzzards were born and Ron had taken to the skies.

It was flying as man was intended to fly, “precariously, and by the seat of your pants,” as wits of the day remarked. Instrumentation was crude—an altimeter at best—while crafts were either towed from a bumper or flung from cliffs by means of shock cords. Then, too, let us not forget these were still largely experimental days: Lindbergh had only crossed the Atlantic four years earlier and most of what went aloft was still clothed in dope and fabric secured with piano wire. Nevertheless, sparked by a proliferation of German clubs (where a Treaty of Versailles prohibited power) the glider had inspired much American enthusiasm through the early 1930s. More than a few universities had organized clubs, while many an engineering department proffered new designs. That Franklin PS2, for example, with closed cockpit (as opposed to the primary’s open) and yet suitable for both training and soaring, had originally sailed off a campus drawing board. Nor was it only an amateur sport, and even the likes of Lucky Lindy and Frank “Mr. Pilot” Hawks were not above sailing in a powerless ship.

Ron’s first ascent was typical. On May 6, 1931, under the tutelage of local instructors Glenn Elliott and Don Hamilton, he secured the Franklin’s nose to a Model T Ford, at which point, as he tells it: “the car starts; the rope tightens; there is a cloud of dust where the wingtip dips into the ground.” Next followed sixteen runs at an altitude of twenty-five feet, another ten runs at over a hundred, and eleven slow turns at ninety degrees—all while asking: “What sort of mesmerism does a glider exercise that it makes a man eat, sleep, talk and fly until he is on the verge of a breakdown?” To eventually earn the 385th American glider license, required another fifteen days of formal instruction and a genuinely demanding Department of Commerce exam.

But in either case, he was thereafter regularly seen aloft, “with never a sound but the whisper of wind in your struts and maybe the slap, slap, slap of a helmet strap whipping back up over the leading edge.”

Yet make no mistake, it was dangerous. As of 1931, some three hundred souls had fallen to their deaths in powerless ships, while an earlier attempt to launch a primary glider from George Washington University had sent a young man to the hospital. It was not for nothing, then, Ron presents his “Spinning In.” By way of incidental background, let us add this: Ron’s reference to his first brush with death in the skies appeared in an aviator’s bible known as The Sportsman Pilot, for which he regularly supplied articles as a nationally recognized correspondent. Also from such adventures came the fodder for later fiction published in the likes of Argosy and Five Novels Monthly. Finally, the Port Huron, Michigan glider club had been founded by the aforementioned Phil “Flip” Browning of Ron’s Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition, and of whom we shall hear more in the article to follow.

Spinning in by L. Ron Hubbard


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