100 years of planes in Gstaad

  26.07.2022 Archiv

In winter 1922, the Aero Club of Switzerland organised a beginners' course for unpowered flight with in Gstaad. This was the first official glider plane event in Switzerland and the course finished off with a competition.

How the Matten ski jump became an airfield.
Back in 1921, gliders were launched from an elevated site. The higher the site, the longer the glide. But for a beginner's course, an obstacle-free area with a low altitude was preferred, so the Matten ski jump at Eggli was chosen for the event.

The Gstaad Tourist and Hotel Association (GST/HGS) was very interested in the course, in the hope that the sport would catch on and attract more glider pilots to the Saanenland. (This eventually did happen – albeit decades later.) The HGS was so eager that they offered to provide free accommodation and meals for the course instructor and the participants during the course from 15 February to 15 March 1922.

At the closing date for entries at the end of January 1922, four participants had registered with their own aircraft for the course:
– Francis Chardon, a postal clerk from Bern, with a hang-glider biplane.
– Jakob Spalinger, technician from Dübendorf, with a two-seat glider (biplane and monoplane)
– Hugo Schmid, engineer from Zurich, with a hang glider monoplane
– Thuner Gleit- und Segelflugverein (Paragliding and Gliding Club Thun) entered with a monoplane glider and pilot Albert Cuendet.

The daredevil postal clerk that won
Francis Chardon began assembling his biplane hang glider on 19 February 1922, which proved to be too heavy and unsuitable for flight. With the help of the instructor, he hastily built a new hang glider in the simplest possible form and began training immediately.

In this plane Chardon completed 51 competition flights and remained aloft for a total of 617.9 seconds: an average of 12.1 seconds per flight. A glance at the photos from back then shows that Chardon must have been a bit of a daredevil but it paid off as he won the competition.

A professional pilot came second
Albert Cuendet, a trained mechanic was a factory pilot for known aircraft manufacturer Louis Blériot since 1913. Cuendet was one of the first pilots in the world to fly loops. From 1918 to 1933, he worked as a single-flight pilot at the Swiss construction site in Thun. The Thun glider impressed in Gstaad: the spectators were thrilled how the glider slid down the slope on its skids, took off with ease and flew in elegant curves towards the landing field. "It's possible that a popular winter sports device is being created here!" wrote competition director Robert Gsell. Albert Cuendet landed the Thun glider in second place with 17 flights and a total flight time of 371.5 seconds.

Gliding in Saanen today
It was not until the 1930s that it was discovered that the Alps were indeed the perfect gliding terrain. The Saanen airfield, which is today used for gliding events, was built during the Second World War and used by the Swiss Air Force until the 1980s.
In July 1947, the first modern gliding camp was held in Saanen. Various gliding groups from the Swiss midlands enjoy being able to fly in the Swiss Alps in summer. Year after year, the elegant gliders over Saanen and Gstaad are an unmistakable sign that summer has arrived.


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