M.Simons The World's Vintage Sailplanes 1908-45
THE KIRBY KITE
In 1934, Fred Slingsby, with much support from a local landowner, J. E. D. Shaw, set up a glider factory at Kirbymoorside, a small village in the Vale of Pickering. Apart from some 60 or so primary gliders the first sailplane
built in quantity was the Grunau Baby 2. Slingsby decided he would be able to sell a streamlined version and in 1935 designed the Kirby Kite. The wing planform was identical to the Grunau Baby and the tail also was practically the same. Most of the metal fittings and even such components as wing ribs, were similar to those of the GB. The fuselage, however, was much more appealing with a round-backed, ‘inverted pear' cross-section and, instead of the high, narrow neck of the Grunau design, the wing came down to a low pylon, a pad on the leading edge providing a headrest for the pilot.
The Kite drew favorable attention when Slingsby took the first one to the National Competitions at Sutton Bank in late August. The prototype was speedily sold and orders came in for more. The production Kites had enlarged rudders of rounded outline instead of the squarish Grunau Baby shape. They were just what the British gliding movement needed at the time and some two dozen Kites had been built before the outbreak of war in 1939. Many pilots achieved their Silver ‘C’ badges in them. A couple of Kites were exported, one to the USA, and one to South Africa. During the war, five Kirby Kites were used in the early experiments with military towing methods and pilot training. Other tests were made with Kites on tow being ‘attacked’ by fighters with camera guns, to discover how easy it was to shoot down gliders. At the same time, crucial tests were being done to find out if such aircraft could be detected by radar. Gliders with normal metal cables and steel tubular push rods could be picked up on a radar screen, although only with some difficulty. It occurred to the scientists that a glider with no metal parts might be quite undetectable, so a Kirby Kite was built with all the control cables replaced by wooden pushrods. As expected, it proved almost impossible to detect.
After the war, a few Kites remained and were soon again in service with gliding clubs. Some were fitted retrospectively with spoilers, which the originals lacked. In 1945 Slingsby produced a Kite IA, which had spoilers and a wheel, instead of the simple skid landing gear. This version, however, never entered production. Several Kites still fly regularly, including the radar test aircraft with wooden controls.
Kirby Kite: Span. 14.10 m. Wing area. 14.49 sq m. Aspect ratio, 13.8. Empty weight. 137.8 kg. Flying weight. 230.8 kg. Wing loading. 15.9 kg sq m. Aerofoils. Goettingen 535 at root and centre section, tapering to thin symmetrical tips.
The Kirby Kite 1 at Dunstable. This aircraft is believed to have belonged to Amy Johnson, although it had at some time been supplied with a new set of wings. The enclosed cockpit canopy is interchangeable with the original ‘dog collar' and windscreen. Small fairings have been added to this Kite under the wing root, to improve the airflow.
On July 25, 1993 at Brooklands, the site of Britain’s first gliding school, Kirby Kite BGA251 made its first flight in over 50 years; the pilot was Bob Boyd, seen here.
A 1939 Kirby Kite 1 landing at Wycombe Air Park in 1985.
The new Kirby Kite, the first gull-wing sailplane to be built in England. The designer and builder is Mr. F. Slingsby, and the machine was flown by Mr. L. Neilan.
A picture for students of wing design: The Imperial College of Science team’s Kirby Kite at Dunstable in July 1938.
Ted Hull’s Slingsby Kirby Kite I BGA394 on a winch launch.
This Kirby Kite, named Gracias, flew from the Midland Gliding Club at Long Mynd before and after the war. Registration letters, to the disgust of most glider pilots, were legally required for a short period in the mid 'forties but were speedily removed when regulations were changed again. Gracias at this time was painted cream with clear doped fabric. The old-style golden eagle Slingsby transfer had been added to the rudder.
A privately owned Kirby Kite sailplane at the London Gliding Club’s site at Dunstable. Note the gull wing, tapered and washed-out tips, and oval fuselage.
Three immaculate Kirby Kite 1s lined up at Long Mynd. All were built in the Thirties.
Three Kirby Kite single-seat sailplanes at Haddenham (Thame) in 1941.
Mr. J. H. Stephenson is seen above in the Kirby Kite which he previously owned.
R.C.G. Slazenger, in the Cambridge Club's Kirby Kite, rose 7,200ft. in a storm cloud.
Martin Simons in the cockpit of Ted Hull's Kirby Kite at Dunstable. Colors may be judged from Page 72, but by the time of publication a repainting job had been completed. Note the rather awkward aerodynamic trap under the wing root, which some owners filled with homemade fairings.
The first prang in the history of British military gliding - on the roof of the Sergeants’ Mess, Thame, 1941.