Taking to the air in Dunstable

Laurence Olivier starred in the 1935 film Conquest Of The Air, which told the story of various aircraft pioneers including Otto Lilienthal, a German pilot who famously built an artificial hill near Berlin in the 1880s from which he could launch himself on flying experiments.

Sunday, 18th November 2012, 12:58 pm

Lilienthal, pictured above, died after a glider crash in 1896.

Dunstable firm Zander and Weyl Ltd was commissioned in 1934 to make a series of replica gliders for the film. Their factory was in Luton Road, probably near where the Wickes showroom is now.

This Yesteryear photo, left, taken in 1934, shows men in Dunstable assembling a replica of a Lilienthal glider which was later filmed being launched over the side of Dunstable Downs.

Zander’s single-storey workshop, erected with great consideration for a tree which was already on the site, can be seen in the background.

The founders of the firm, making bits and pieces for self-assembly gliders, were two Germans, Eric P. Lander and Arthur Weyl, who had settled in Dunstable after fleeing from the Nazis.

In 1936 they changed the name of their business to Dart Aircraft and moved to 29 High Street North, in premises approached through the Anchor archway. There they made a powered aircraft called the Dunstable Dart. Despite his opposition to the Nazis, Mr Weyl was one of the German nationals who were interned on the Isle of Man during the Second World War.

He never totally recovered from the shock when police knocked on his door one evening and took him away immediately.

The story of Dunstable’s many aircraft factories is told by David Underwood in the current newsletter of Dunstable and District Local History Society. Non members can read his article on the society’s website, www.dunstablehistory.co.uk.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of the society