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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 230973
Last updated: 15 July 2020
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Date:12-FEB-1948
Time:day
Type:General Aircraft GAL.56/01
Owner/operator:General Aircraft Ltd Flight Test Department
Registration: TS507
C/n / msn: GAL.56/01
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Lower Froyle near Alton, Hampshire -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Nature:Test
Departure airport:Lasham, Hampshire
Destination airport:
Narrative:
The General Aircraft GAL.56 was a family of 1940s British experimental tailless swept wing glider designs. In July 1943, the Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee was set up under the Directorate of Scientific Research, within the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The purpose was to investigate the future possible use of tailless and tail-first concepts. In 1944, contract Acft/3303/CB.10(c) was issued to GAL for the construction and development of four unpowered proof-of-concept aircraft, three later designated as GAL.56, plus one GAL.61.

The three GAL.56 variants employed the same fuselage design, married to three different wing designs. The fuselage of the GAL.56 was constructed of steel tubes and wooden ribs, covered in moulded plywood sheeting. Accommodation was for pilot and observer, in tandem cockpits. For each variant, the wings were constructed of laminated wood spars and ribs, covered in wood/paper laminated skins. Each wing was attached to the fuselage by a joint via which the dihedral could be pre-set before flight. Elevons were provided to act as elevators for pitch control, and as servo-assisted ailerons for roll control. Two sets of split flaps were installed, of which either set could be selected before flight. A fin and rudder was mounted at each wingtip. The fixed main undercarriage struts, using existing components, were attached to the wing spars, and an extended tailwheel attached to the rear of the fuselage pod.

GAL.56/01: (serial number TS507) Also known as the "Medium-V" version, had a constant 33.5 deg wing sweepback at the leading edge, 28.4 deg at quarter chord. On 13 November 1944, Robert Kronfeld piloted the first flight at Farnborough, towed by an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley.

The GAL.56/01 conducted numerous flights from RAF Dunholme Lodge and RAF Wittering, variously towed by a Whitley, Supermarine Spitfire, or a Handley Page Halifax. After May 1945, research flights continued at Farnborough, and in August 1947 it was transferred to the GAL Flight Test Department at Lasham Airfield, where the GAL.56/03 and GAL.56/04 were already employed for trials under contract to the Air Ministry.

Its flying characteristics proved so bad that test pilot Capt. Eric "Winkle" Brown RN later described it as the most difficult aircraft he ever flew, out of the many hundreds of types that he tested.

On 12 February 1948, the GAL.56/01 was conducting a stalling trial after being towed to 10,000 ft by a Halifax tug. The pilot, Robert Kronfeld, initiated a stall that progressed into an uncontrollable dive that caused both crew to lose consciousness. After a second stall, the glider entered a stable stall with trim set nose-down to reduce stick loads. The glider defied the pilot's efforts to un-stall it, until he raised the flaps and put the nose down into a dive, which proved impossible to recover owing to the trim set. The glider bunted at -5g, and the FTO (Flight Test Observer) Barry MacGowan, awoke to find that the aircraft was level but inverted. He baled out successfully at low level, but Kronfeld died in the crash at Lower Froyle, between Lasham and Alton. As a result of the crash, and persistent stall problems on all tailless aircraft of the period, the research trials were terminated, the two other GAL.56s were transferred to the AFEE (Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment) at RAF Beaulieu, and the GAL.61 remained unflown

According to a contemporary newspaper report (Lincolnshire Echo" - Thursday 12 February 1948)

"PILOT DIES IN FLYING WING GLIDER CRASH.
OBSERVER BAILS OUT.
When an experimental flying wing glider crashed in a field of cattle near Alton, Hants., to-day the pilot was killed outright and the observer escaped by parachute. A girl who saw the crash said, "We heard the machine whistle overhead, saw it stall, and then crash like a stone. At the same time I saw a parachute fall to earth and a man struggling in the middle of a mass of parachute ropes. I ran across to the machine which was reduced to a pile of wreckage, but was too late to do anything for the pilot."

Mr. John Trowler, quarry foreman, of Guildford, said, "The machine came across the field at a terrific rate. The pilot struggled hard to control it, but it turned upside down and dropped like a stone near some cattle."

The observer's parachute did not open until he was nearly at roof top height. The tailless glider - which crashed shortly after being released by its towing plane, was one of three built by the General Aircraft Co. for general research into flying tailless aircraft. The pilot of the glider was Squadron Leader Robert Kronfeld. His assistant, who escaped by parachute was Barry McGowan, of Camberley, Surrey, who was admitted to hospital suffering from shock."

Crew of TS507
Pilot: Squadron Leader Robert S. Kronfeld AFC, General Aircraft Chief Test Pilot (killed)
Flight test Observer: Barry MacGowan (bailed out and survived)

Sources:

1. National Archives (PRO Kew) File AVIA 5/29/W2410: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C6578256
2. Illustrated London News - Saturday 21 February 1948
3. Lincolnshire Echo - Thursday 12 February 1948
4. Sturtivant, Ray (1995). British Prototype Aircraft. Haynes. ISBN 1-85648-221-9.
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Aircraft_GAL.56
6. Flight 26 September 1946 p 327: https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1946/1946%20-%201911.html
7. Ellison, Norman (1971). British Gliders and Sailplanes 19221970 (1st ed.). London: Adam & Charles Black. ISBN 0-7136-1189-8.
8. Brown, Capt. Eric 'Winkle'; Wings on My Sleeve, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, p.158.
9. Pilots Obituary - Flight 19th February 1948: https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1948/1948%20-%200247.html
10. https://web.archive.org/web/20100630230959/http://www.vicflintham.co.uk/post-war-research-aircraft-and-prototypes/Tailless.html
11. https://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/memorial/entry.php?id=181

General Aircraft GAL.56/01 TS507: Gal56-1912-3y KN GAL56medium V 1943

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
29-Nov-2019 18:51 Dr. John Smith Added
20-Feb-2020 17:11 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]

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