Designers Reconstruct Percy Pilcher's First Glider In Glasgow

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 14 December 2007
a photograph of two men next to a glider contraption in a hangar

© Culture and Sport Glasgow

A reproduction glider marking the life and work of one of the early pioneers of manned flight has been completed at Prestwick Airport, Glasgow.

The glider has been made to the exact plans and specifications of Percy Pilcher – the earliest pioneer of powered flight who conducted many of his early groundbreaking experiments along the Clyde in the late 1890s.

Had Pilcher not been killed in a glider accident, many believe he would have beaten the Wright Brothers to be the first to achieve his dream of manned and powered flight.

Poignantly Pilcher said in 1895: “the history of experiments with flying machines is more or less a history of disasters… but, falls are the first steps to success.”

He died four years later after crashing his record breaking Hawk glider at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. Today he is commemorated as the first man in Britain to design, construct and make successful flights in heavier-than-air aircraft.

a photograph of an early wood and linen hang glider contraption in a hangar

© Culture and Sport Glasgow

In Glasgow he worked as a draughtsman in the shipyards and later became a lecturer at Glasgow University. With his sister Ella, he spent his summers conducting flying experiments.

This particular experimental craft was called ‘The Bat’ and was his first attempt at a glider. It required Pilcher to use his own body weight to control it and the result was a machine that was very difficult and dangerous to control.

The Bat’s best flight was under a minute – for the time a massive step in the pursuit of human flight.

A team of engineers at Prestwick have spent the last ten years working on the reproduction by studying Pilcher’s original drawings and period photographs.

They built a model and conducted digital imaging to compare the drawings to the old photos to produce a machine that is not only as close to the original glider as possible, but also gives us a greater understanding of Pilcher’s experiments.

It has been constructed in a workshop on the grounds of Spirit Aerosystems, who have also sponsored the project. It is intended the glider will eventually be displayed in Glasgow’s new transport-themed Riverside Museum, which is due to open in 2010.

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