Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Nothing is Impossible" - The Glider Pilot Regiment

In early autumn of 2006 I had a very unique opportunity afforded to me on the occasion of my 70th Birthday by my wife Barb. A trip to Scotland to attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, followed by the Braemar Highland Games at Balmoral, as well as the newly renovated Regimental Museum of the Gordon Highlanders, in Aberdeen. In route I had planned to visit a unique aircraft restoration project outside Shrewbury, England. Courtesy of Major Ray Conningham, Glider Pilot Regiment (Rtd.), then Chairman of The Assault Glider Trust, the Trust’s staff and volunteers, and the Commanding Officer, then Group Captain Paul E. Cunningham BSc (sheer coincidence), and Staff, RAF Shawbury, I was able to get a complete briefing and tour of their entire project. This included taking the pilot’s seat in a fully restored cockpit of a WWII Airspeed AS.51 Horsa MkI Assault Glider. The motto of the Glider Pilot Regiment was “Nothing is Impossible”, and this dedicated group proved it to me again that day; which I will never forget.
Below the detailed drawing of the AS.51 Horsa MK I is a copy of an extremely interesting piece of paper. It is a page out of the Flight Log of Maj T.I.J. "Ian" Toler, DFC, Officer Commanding, B Squadron, No. 1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment. The third entry, dated 17 September 1944, shows his piloting a Horsa (tail no. RN558), with 2nd Pilot S/Sgt Aurthur Shakleton, into a landing zone at Arnhem (Chalk Serial No. 291). There is archival film footage on their take-off as part of the first lift from RAF Manston. He was carrying LCol W.D.H. "Derek" McCardie, Commanding Officer, 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment, 8 men of either B or D Company, a jeep and trailer. As indicated the flight was 2.4 hours. Horsa #291 was towed by an Albermarle MkV, #1772 (P5-R), of 297 Squadron, RAF, flown by Wing Co. J R Grice, OC 297 Sqdn, and took off from Manston at 10:39 on 17 September. The glider was released over LZ "S" at 13:18, and made a successful landing. As was the standard doctrine and training of all British glider pilots, Maj Toler and S/Sgt Shakleton fought as infantry, until being evacuated with the remnants of 1st AB Division on the night of 25 September 1944.
Read more if you're interested on the Assault Glider Trust web site listed in the links. (Click on any image below to enlarge it)
"A Work in Progress" - What a Work!
It's hard to realize I'm actually in the cockpit of a Horsa
You really don't want to pull that, it's the Tow Release Control Lever
Maj Ian Toler DFC with a S/Sgt of the Glider Pilot Regiment
Staff Sargeant Arthur Shakleton
Maj Ian Toler's Flight Log page showing the details of his flight
into Arnhem, 17 September 1944
A 1:72 scale model of an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Mk I
Assault Glider with Maj Toler's Chalk No. 291(not visible)
against an interesting background (author's collection)  

The following video provides a walk-through the interior of the reconstructed Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Assault Glider.

The following is a short slide show taken at RAF Shawbury while the Horsa glider was still there. One of the photographs shows both Maj. Ray Conningham and Group Captain Paul E. Cunningham BSc, standing behind a group of distinguished WWII members (glider pilots) of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Note a couple of the gentlemen wearing  the Order of the British Empire. See;

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