When I joined the Soaring Society of Boulder about three years ago and took a first tour around the airfield, people introduced me to an odd looking metal two seater, a Schweizer 2-32, one of the kind I had never seen before: “This is our wave ship, 29J. It is very sturdy and is probably the only glider in the world with an own web-address. Whenever you have flown it in wave, give NCAR a call, and they can pull up the recorded data on the computers in the building sitting above Boulder on Table Mountain.” Wow! "NCAR" is the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and looking up to the Southwest, I could see the building.
But before my first flight in 29J I tried the other club gliders and had my first wave experiences in a somewhat bouncy ASH 26E. Together with instructor Al Ossorio, I later learned that performance and flexible wings are useless in wave… On a December day we scored almost 500 OLC points cruising back and forth on the Continental Divide. I was unable to fly the big ship single seated, not just because after some hours of hard work on controls the airbrakes were almost frozen - but 29J is very tail heavy: All the built in research instruments in the glider’s fuselage had caused the CG to shift far back… To be honest, the old Schweizer 2-32 never became my best friend, but its history is amazing! Boulder’s members were recently introduced to it by our club member Dr. Brian Heckman and Dan Breed (NCAR) who had prepared a talk for the upcoming history symposium in National Soaring Museum. That's how we learned about the four lives of Two-Nine-Juliet (N9929J):
In 1966, Kim Scribner a member of the New York based Explorers Club first purchased the two seater. He was looking for an aerobatic airplane. He paid 100,000 Dollars for the ship equipped with all kinds of instruments. The value of the naked glider was roughly $11,000. The sailplane was to be used for research projects, and it was the Explores Club’s only glider project ever. The Explorers Club promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education. Neil Armstrong has for example been a famous member of the Explorers Club. The Kon-Tiki expedition fascinated the world in 1947 and is still well known as an Explores Club project. Kon-Tiki’s leader Thor Heyerdahl therefore received the Explorers Club Medal. And what about 29J?
On June, 1st 1967 she took her first flight in Harris Hill, and from July 1967 to February 1968 she flew the first missions, 11 of them launched in Boulder. Until 1970 the Schweizer 2-32 worked for the Explorers Club but was then donated to NCAR, where she began her...
... Second Life
On Feb 25th 1969, the glider received a new owner. During the following years until 1995, 29J was mostly operated by the Dutch scientist Vim Toutenhooft and Bruce Miller, who both worked with NCAR and did all the research flights.
The new life was very busy filled with wave projects, cloud research, in-cloud observations to explore processes in cumulus clouds and the pilots even performed ascents inside thunderstorm clouds. The two seater provided several advantages as a research platform: It had a good structure to mount instruments, flew “well” with ice, did not have a noisy engine and could fly really slow. Missions were flown in Colorado, New Mexico and Montana. In 1994, an IMAX movie “The Stormchasers” was filmed. By then, Dr. Joachim Küttner a worldwide known wave research pilot, who had participated in the Sierra Wave Project before he came to Boulder and started working with NCAR, had joined Boulder’s soaring club. After the research projects became fewer and 29J was mostly sitting on the ground, he took care of donating it on to the active soaring community on Boulder’s airfield.
In 2002 after some restoring work was done to the ship by SSB members, 29J joined the Soaring Society of Boulder, where pilots enjoyed taking her high up into the wave window over the Rockies. A video shows the 29J first flight after it was restored by SSB. I've heard rumors, that during her first club flight the airspeed indicator failed? The club organized wave seminars, and even instruction could be done with 29J.
Mark Boys and Jeff Kline had a different experience in the metal ship when they tried to fly it to the annual Labor Day Camp in Salida:
“We had to get towed to 13,700ft over the Continental Divide to get away from Boulder and then got really low (~1000ft AGL) a couple of times on the way down to Salida but somehow we found a saving thermal both times and got there with altitude to spare. I remember the folks in Salida were a bit surprised when we showed up in a 2-32! I also remember the underpowered Pawnee had a bit of trouble towing us up the next day. We were skimming tree tops until finding a thermal for the tow plane to circle around in. We landed at Leadville due to some storm clouds developing which made the route back look tricky. Phil Ecklund came to rescue us in his Cessna 210 and 29J sat at Leadville for a week or two until Jeff was able to get back there with a tow pilot and tow plane to retrieve it.” Leadville is by the way the highest airport in the United States. The best place for a wave ship to land and spend some days…
Last year in November, 29J enjoyed its last wave flight. Unfortunately the ship was forced to land out. A strong wave system also provided strong sink, and the crew could not make it back to the airfield.
The pilots were not hurt, but the good old ship suffered some damage and is no longer airworthy. After some discussion the club decided not to rebuild ang had the idea to finish the old Lady so she can retire in honor and be displayed in public. Several museums have announced their interest. We would like to keep 29J in Colorado, where the glider spent most of its lives. One of the ideas is to rig 29J at Denver’s International Airport, following their interesting slogan “Together we soar”.
Meanwhile, she has traveled a bit, flown a lot, and lived in the US.She is happy to now know glider pilots from the US too and says, “they are as amiable as everywhere on the world.” She feels fortunate to have found a temporary soaring home in Boulder, surely one of the best and most scenic places to fly on Earth!
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