M.Simons The World's Vintage Sailplanes 1908-45
THE BABY ALBATROSS
Hawley Bowlus’ Baby Albatross became one of the most famous and popular sailplanes in the USA. It was much influenced by its German equivalent, the Grunau Baby. The wing was similar, having the Goettingen 535 profile, single
spar, and plywood covered ‘D’ nose with a single strut. The fuselage was quite different, however. The pilot was enclosed within a plywood pod and the tail was mounted at the end of a duralumin tube 12.7 cm (5 inches) in diameter. The elevator was all-moving with a large rudder mounted on a small fixed fin. A landing wheel was provided, the lower end of the wing support struts being attached directly to the brackets holding the wheel axle, as on the old Albatross. Like the earlier type, the first Baby had aerofoil-sectioned struts with ribs and fabric covering like extra wings.
The cockpit was large enough for most pilots and had a wheel or ‘spade grip’ control column. The Baby could be flown without any canopy at all, or with an open ‘dog collar’ canopy and windscreen, or with a fully enclosed transparent canopy.
In 1938 the sailplane was advertised in kit form. The kits offered outstandingly good value. The wing spars, nose ribs, fittings and plywood ‘D’-nose covering came already assembled, with a set of made-up rear ribs ready to be glued on, an auxiliary spar, aileron spar and all necessary metal fittings, glue, tacks, bolts, control pulleys and rods. The fuselage pod was supplied as two half-shell plywood mouldings with all the required internal frames, seat supports and wheel assembly, ready to be fitted. The tail boom was machined at the attachment points and was fitted with pulleys and castings for bolting onto the pod frames. The rudder, elevator and struts were also largely prefabricated.
The plywood skins were mahogany, the fuselage pod halves were mouldings done on a form under pressure, one of the earliest uses of this method. Bowlus sold more than 170 kits. Of these about 50 are known to have been completed and flown, and there would surely be a good many more. What became of them all is unknown.
Among the notables who began to build their reputations in the Baby Albatross was Richard Johnson who at the age of 17, with his brother Dave, entered a Baby in the 1940 US Nationals. He finished third. Johnson’s Baby Albatross was lost in 1942. Making a climb in cloud, the instruments failed and Johnson quickly lost control, the Baby Albatross broke up, and he had to save himself by parachute.
Other Baby Albatross sailplanes continued in service. The distinctive shape of this aircraft became widely known. A few were still flying in 1980.
The Bowlus Super Albatross, of which only two were built, was a combination of the Baby's fuselage with the outer wing panels of the Albatross of several years earlier. One of these, built by Howard Kelsey, had a fixed tailplane with elevator instead of the all-moving surface of the one built by Bowlus himself. Kelsey also fitted flaps for approach control.
Baby Albatross: Span, 13.56 m. Wing area, 13.95 sq m. Aspect ratio. 13.2. Empty weight, 136.2 kg. Flying weight. 229.3 kg. Wing loading, 16.4 kg/sq m. Aerofoil, Goettingen 535 at root tapering to symmetrical tips. Best glide ratio, 1 : 20. Minimum sinking speed. 0.69 m/sec. Permitted speed on tow, 105 km/h.
Super Albatross: Span, 13.21 m. Wing area, 11.61 sq m. Aspect ratio, 15.02. Aerofoil at root, Goettingen 549 with symmetrical tip. Washout. 6 degrees. Empty weight, 197.3 kg. Flying weight, 292.5 kg. Wing loading, 25.2 kg/sq m. Best glide, 1 : 21.