News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

June 18, 2007

Historical Perspective: Pilot, under vigilant eye of FBI, made trip to Terre Haute

During a three-week stretch in late June and early July 1937 — 70 years ago — world gliding champion Peter Riedel was an American idol.

Performing at the eighth annual National Soaring Contest in Elmira, N.Y., sponsored by the International Soaring Society of America, Riedel’s astonishing rolls and loops while piloting a Rhonsperber Sailplane amazed spectators daily.

Four years later, Riedel was under the vigilant eye of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its zealous director J. Edgar Hoover while making a cross country auto tour which included a stop in Terre Haute to visit with some new relatives. Accompanied by his new bride, art teacher Helen Klug — a Terre Haute native, Reidel was on his honeymoon.

Born in Saxony, Germany, in August 1905, Riedel was raised by an uncle after his mother committed suicide in 1914. In 1920, he attended his first glider championship meet at Wasserkuppe, taking with him an unfinished biplane glider of his own design.

He continued to compete, soon earning the confidence of philanthropist Karl Kotzenberg. As a result of that friendship, Riedel’s college education at Darmstadt Technical University was paid for and he earned an engineering degree in 1927.

Riedel trained to be a commercial pilot, securing a license in 1928, but jobs were scarce. Instead, he went to work for meteorologist Walter Georgii at Darmstadt Research Institute for Soaring Flight, conducting scientific tests. He stayed for six years.

Beginning in 1930, Riedel’s research flights were instrumental in the discovery of the up-current fields under cumulus clouds. He developed “cloud-hopping” to achieve spectacular gliding heights and distances. He also established innovative methods of thermal soaring without assistance from clouds.

Peter continued to engage in competitive gliding, establishing a world distance record of 142 miles in 1933 and winning the Hindenberg Cup at Wasserkuppe.

Reidel was primarily responsible for the popularity of gliding in Germany. By 1937, Germany had 50,000 glider pilots compared to only 500 licensed pilots in the U.S.

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