“Explorers Sailplane” – The four Lives of Two-Nine-Juliet



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):

First Life

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.

IMG_0193, by ReinerThe 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.

Third Life

We might need some oxygen today...?

We might need some oxygen today...?

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.

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IMG_0198, by Reiner


Ready for research

Ice crust on the wings

the working Lady

Toutenhooft and Miller

29J could fly any mission

followed by a Blanik

This old Lady hass seen some rough air (by Reiner Rose)

Jochen tries to fly high (by Alex Hoepner)

Fourth Life…

Sailplane037 - CopyThe 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”.

Elke Fuglsang-Petersen

Elke Fuglsang-Petersen started soaring after she finished her school and college education and found herself locked into a small office for the next 45 years. In German soaring clubs she met a lot of new friends, enjoyed a great way to get out, could see things from a different angle, and gained a better overview.

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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  5 comments for ““Explorers Sailplane” – The four Lives of Two-Nine-Juliet

  1. Ted Frost
    June 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Great to learn the history of a glider I flew many times as a member of the SSB.
    During one spring check with Elliot I requested spin practice. We tried to spin to the right but, when the right-turning stall broke we suddenly found ourselves rapidly rolling left and entered a left spin. 29J’s heavy left wing, the product of previous research instrumentation, prevented us from spinning to the right.

    On another occasion while flying solo one July I flew her to Mt Evans and back. Lots of great flights and memories!

  2. Frauke Elber
    June 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    During the time when Vim Toutenhoofd flew the ship, he did some thunderstorm research in it. These flights are documented in a movie. I think the Soaring Museum in Elmira has a copy of it. Vim reported about that research project at the scientific soaring symposium 1971 at MIT. It would be nice to have that film with the ship to show part of its history

  3. June 2, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Hello Frauke:

    There is some interesting history that I lived through in summer of 1972. I had the privilege to be invited by the late Doyne Sartor to take part in the “Hail Research Experiment” with my LS1b sailplane. While Vim Tootenhoofd, the hippy Dutchman, climbed into the developing cumulo-nimbus. I soared at the base to measure the atmospheric electric field; not to forget Ted Cannon who sat in the rear seat of two-niner-juliet and shot pictures of rain droplets with a camera that was mounted on top of the canopy. Later in July, as Vim was on a mountain hike, I flew the 2-32 over the continental divide and back to Boulder to measure thermal activities. All data were transmitted to a mini computer in a trailer. The story is too long to tell here, thus, send me your e-mail address and I will be happy to give many details of our adventures including running away from a developing tornado. A final note: I have a copy of the 16 mm movie “Two-Niner-Juliet” as well as some of my own that I intend to digitize this summer. In the meantime, you may visit my website at http://www3.govst.edu/wrudloff/wkr.htm

    p.s. I got to know Dr. Kuetner through Hanna Reitsch and met him many times during OSTIV conferences.

  4. September 26, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    My first field project, way back in 1991, was the CAPE (Convection and Precipitation/Electrification) project in Cocoa Beach, FL with N9929J. I was happy to see myself in picture three above (Bruce Miller walking the wing, me near the cockpit). Thinking of the flying Bruce did during that project still makes me smile.

    One story I recall was that Bruce received a clearance to climb and maintain FL2??…he was climbing in the thunderstorm and accepted it as another research aircraft was above him. He used the dive brakes to maintain the altitude, but ice built up and the dive brakes iced open…so much for that mission. As soon as he exited the storm the ice melted and he got the dive brakes closed and made it back to Patrick with no further excitement.

    I have a crew picture from that project at http://www.colorado-barrs.com/misc/N9929J.jpg. From right to left (as well as I can remember): Bruce Miller, tow pilot, Jeff Bogen, Dan Breed, post-Doc researcher, and myself. Apologies to those I don’t remember names for.

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