World War II fighter pilot gives Purdue plane, revives flight club

January 13, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University's Department of Aviation Technology will unveil a new Pipistrel Sinus glider that will be used to relaunch Purdue's Soaring Club at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 14) during a luncheon in Hangar 6 West at the Purdue Airport. The glider also will be used to teach student pilots skills not included in most flight training.

The plane, named "Sky Dancer," is a gift from Fred Fehsenfeld, a World War II fighter pilot who flew 86 missions before coming to Purdue to earn a mechanical engineering degree. Fehseneld continued to fly as a member of Purdue's glider club in the 1940s and wanted to help today's flight students experience the joy of soaring that only gliders can provide.

Students who fly the glider also will earn flight hours, which are necessary for certification and certain pilot jobs after graduation. Robert Moser, a continuing lecturer in aviation technology, says while gliders fly differently they share the same components with powered planes.

"You can point to many airplane accidents that have been attributed to a lack of basic flying skills," said Moser, manager of Purdue's flight simulation center and a certified glider instructor. "Flying gliders is very much getting back to the basics of flying and a source of the passion for flight in nearly all glider pilots. This type of flying is new to many of today's flight students."

The glider arrives at Purdue just in time for the fifth anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson," when pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger glided a U.S. Airways Airbus with dead engines to a safe landing on the Manhattan river. Many experts said the Purdue graduate was able to achieve the feat because Sullenberger was a glider pilot and instructor dating to his undergraduate years at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Professional flight and political science major Michael Pence will serve as president of the new Purdue Soaring Club and as a teaching assistant in the course that trains glider pilots. Pence met Fehsenfeld met at a political fundraiser more than a year ago where the older pilot regaled Pence with tales of how much he learned about flying in the glider club even after his extensive combat experience.

"He told me he would donate the plane if I would restart the club," Pence said. "I've had had a passion for flying since I was a kid and everyone I talk to says this is the best way to learn the fundamentals of flight."

Club members will have access to glider resources and a glider flight simulator as part of the new Soaring Center created in conjunction with the Fehsenfeld gift. The center will be housed in the Holleman-Niswonger Flight Simulation Center at the Purdue Airport.

Moser said the club will reach out to soaring clubs in Indiana to help build their skills and their flight hours. They also hope to help with glider instruction.

The Pipistrel Sinus is a self-launching motorized glider that makes for smoother integration with university airport traffic compared to gliders that must be towed aloft. In addition to building critical flying skills, the plane will allow Soaring Club pilots to stage contests testing the members' ability to make cross-country flights with the least amount of fuel.

Fehseneld, who will attend Tuesday's presentation with his wife Barbara, still remembers his first glider lesson at the age of 17 on a more primitive craft.

"My first lesson was terrific, but unfortunately we got too far from the airport and made a forced landing in a cow pasture," he recounted. "My instructor hitchhiked back to the airport to get a truck, and I was instructed to get a stick and defend the glider from the cows as they had a liking for banana oil that was used to glue the glider cloth to the frame."

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296,

Source: Bob Moser, 765-494-8719,   

Note to Journalists: Journalists will have access to the plane, the flight simulator, the donor and students and instructors who will fly the plane. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, 765-237-7296 or     

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