What do the de Havilland Vampire and the Slingsby Sedbergh have in common? Well, for one, they both have a number of wood components, and two, they are both World War Two designs! Yes, the prototype Vampire flew in 1943 (see diary) and the prototype of the aircraft that was to become the Sedberg flew in 1944. The Slingsby Sailplane Company Ltd of Yorkshire had, before the war, been manufacturing under licence a single-seat German sailplane called the Grunau Baby. When the RAF found it needed an initial two-seat training glider, it seemed obvious to Slingsby's to just 'grow' the Baby. Admittedly, the first one they built, from a design by Fred Slingsby with a 50 foot wingspan and side-by-seating, wasn't completely satisfactory and was put in store until the end of the war, but it had potential.
Eventually,in 1947, after increasing the wingspan to 54 feet and making other design changes the RAF decided to order 95 of the developed version as the TX.1 (company model number T.21B), for use by the Air Training Corps to give cadets initial flying experience. The sailplane was all wood, covered with fabric (usually Madapolam as used on the Mosquito and Vampire fuselages) and then covered with red oxide dope followed by a layer of aluminium oxide paint to reduce UV damage, before being 'finish painted'. It could be either air towed or, more usually, winch launched. Its performance wasn't necessarily of the highest, and it did make odd creaking noises as it flew, leading to its acquiring a nickname - 'The Barge'. The never-exceed speed was 105 mph, the rate of sink was 175 ft/min and the maximum glide ratio was 21:1 - all figures were better than those for the Grunau Bab,y from which it was derived.
The official name of the T.21B, was, however, Sedbergh, the name of a well-known English 'public' school, dating from 1527 (for my American reader, where you see 'public school', read 'private' - yes, I know...). This conformed to the current RAF policy of naming training aircraft after schools or colleges, or a name with some educational connection , e.g. Harvard, Magister, Master, Don, Dominie, Tutor, Provost, Proctor, Balliol, Cornell, Oxford, Yale etc.
As well as the contract for the Royal Air Force, Slingsby's also sold the T.21 in Malaya, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and Holland, for a total production of 226, with the last one rolling out of the works in 1966.
The Air Cadets, or more formally, the Air Training Corps and the CCF (Combined Cadet Force, mostly based on ‘public schools’ in Great Britain) are given the chance to experience flight at one of several sites across the UK. A combination of Air Experience Flights and Volunteer Gliding Schools provide powered flight and unpowered flight to cadets, with a typical VGS being staffed by a combination of RAFVR(T) Officers, Civilian Gliding Instructors, and Flight Staff Cadets, all of whom provide training for cadets. In the past this used to be accomplished using Chipmunks and Bulldogs for the powered element and Sedbergh gliders. In the 1980s, the Royal Air Force, which both owned the aircraft and provided the engineering support, decided to acquire 100 German-built tandem-seat Grob 103, of glass fibre construction, as the Grob Venture TX.1, their wooden-framed gliders having reached the end of their useful lives. The old, and much-loved Slingsby Sailplanes-built Sedberghs, with their open, side-by-side cockpit, were sold off; many of them ending up in Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland and as far away as Australia.
No. 621 VGS (after a long and happy association with Weston-Super-Mare, which lasted 50 years) is now based at Hullavington Airfield, Buckley Barracks, Wiltshire, along with No. 625 VGS, which moved down from South Cerney in 1992 when their site was handed over to the Silver Stars, a military freefall parachute display team. They are equipped with Viking T Mk 1 gliders, finished in white with orange markings, typical of the Viking fleet. As well as this, their WW2-vintage L-type hangar also houses the aircraft of No. 621 VGS Historic Flight. Amongst these you will find a most impressively restored example of the Slingsby T.21 Sedbergh TX.1. This lovely wooden-framed glider is painted in the typical red/white and grey scheme of the Sedbergh fleet, and has a special Royal connection. It was in this very Sedbergh, WB922, that Prince Andrew, who went on to fly helicopters operationally with the Royal Navy during the Falklands War, first flew solo with the Air Cadets.
All in all, the Viking might have the more sprightly performance, a better glide ratio, and the ability to gain height faster in a thermal, BUT, the creaking, stately progress across the sky of a Sedbergh has a magic all of its own.
Ah, yes, and the glider hiding shyly in the background, tucked underneath the curved concrete beams of the L-hangar, is ZE993, a Grob G-103, Viking T.1, the successor to the Sedbergh.
One other thing that the Vampire and the Sedbergh share? After their Service life was over, they are still being carefully preserved and flown for all to enjoy!