The Glider Collection at the Cobb Archive contains Doris Frost’s scrapbook diary, along with other memorabilia related to the era of gliders on the Outer Cape. Our archive staff and volunteers will assist Truro Historical Society members in researching Truro-related historical artifacts, archives, and Truro family genealogy free of charge. Consider becoming a member: Click to join or renew your membership here.
German Glider Pilots Breaking Records (and a Water Tower) in Truro
(click on images to enlarge)
“To Start a School Here in Gliding”
Like an early Agatha Christie mystery, Doris Frost’s diary begins with the story’s characters:
- Captain Paul Franz Roehre
- Dr. Paul Laubenthal
- Peter Hesselbach – Pilot, Darmstadt.
- Frank Blunk – Penny’s representative.
- J.C. Penny – Millionaire backer of the sport.
- Object: “To start a school here in gliding.”
The Inception of A.M.A.C.
After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Germany had to disband their air force and was prohibited from all piloting of military aircraft, with the exception of non-motorized gliders. As a result, Germany began building and training pilots on ‘sailing’ gliders. Glider clubs became an exceptionally popular sport across Germany. In fact, intercollegiate gliding teams were created and frequent competitions were organized between German colleges and universities.
J.C. Penney III, son of businessman and retail mogul J.C. Penney, became enthused with the sport and provided the full financial backing to start gliding clubs in the United States. As a result, during the spring of 1928 a team of German pilots and crew members, along with the glider ‘Darmstadt’, made the trip from Germany to the United States.
The Outer Cape was eventually selected as an ideal location for a glider club due to the high bluffs and strong winds that closely matched the landscapes and winds of the Rhine Valley in Germany.
By July of 1928 James Cash Penney III arrived in Truro, with a team of experienced German pilots, crew members, and well-heeled friends intent on establishing a glider club in the United States. As the team settled in the cottages of Corn hill, The American Mortorless Aviation Club (AMAC) was finally off the ground!
The First Flight
According to Doris’s diary, the Highland area was initially selected by the team for Darmstadt’s launches but was then abandoned because of ‘unfavorable winds’. The gliding team set their sights on Corn Hill.
A crowd of onlookers watched as the crew launched the glider using giant rubber cables. The Darmstadt sailed around the high bluffs of Truro from bay to ocean for a ‘record breaking 58 minutes’. An enthralled crowd of locals and glider enthusiasts cheered the Darmstadt sailing above Highland Links as Fox Movietone recorded the flight for the newsreels.
For newsreel footage of the flight, please click on this link, with permission of University of South Carolina – Moving Image Research Collections: Fox News outtake 0-849 copyright University of South Carolina.
Pilot Hesselbach smashed Orville Wright’s US gliding record of nine minutes and 45 seconds set in 1911.
Another Record Breaking Glide
The next day on Corn Hill, the crew again pulled back the rubber cables and launched the glider over the bluff into the bay winds. To the absolute delight of the onlookers, the Darmstadt, piloted again by Peter Hesselbach, sailed a record-breaking four hours in the air, looping through the wind currents from Truro to Provincetown.
The Smash Up
Unluckily, the Darmstadt ‘smashed’ into the water tower on Corn Hill in August, pausing the extraordinary gliding exhibitions but generating an impressive interest in gliding.
Paging through Doris’s diary, we find saved clippings from Boston and New York newspapers, commemorating the momentous summer season of 1928.
Over the next two years, plans were in place to start a gliding school in Wellfleet; unfortunately, the school never fully materialized due to the effects of the Great Depression.
Photo of Doris Frost and Petter Hesselbach, August 1928
Truro Archives – Glider Collection, Doris Lewis Diary and Scrapbook and other documents
Aerospace Engineering -From Glider to WII Fighter: Lessons Learned from Glider Design
South Wellfleet – South Wellfleet Glider School
University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections