The 2-8 was originally known simply as "The Schweizer Two-Place" when it first flew in June 1938. When World War Two started the 2-8 became a military trainer for the US Army, Navy and Marines and all existing aircraft were drafted into military service. After the war they were sold as surplus and quickly became sought after in civil soaring for their structural strength, lightness and their rugged all-metal design. The 2-8 became one of the most popular post war trainers in the USA.
A number of two-place designs were demonstrated in the US, including the Gross Sky Ghost in 1932, the Funk two-place and the Bowlus-duPont two place, both of which first flew in 1933.
The first dozen 2-8s delivered went to clubs and individuals and were not certified aircraft at that time. One 2-8 was ordered by the Soaring Society of America for use by their general manager, Henry Wightman, and was flown from the Washington DC area.
At the time of the sale to SSA, Bob McDowell, the attorney who notarized the bill of sale, indicated to the Schweizers that they should move their manufacturing operation out of their father's barn and relocate to the Elmira, NY area. The Schweizers received the suggestion positively as they needed more space to produce gliders, but they had no money with which to make the move. McDowell convinced Elmira Industries Inc, the local business development corporation, to provide space for the Schweizers on the second floor of the Elmira Knitting Mill Building in return for stock in the company. This resulted in the Schweizer Metal Aircraft Company becoming the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, with a sale of shares to Elmira Industries, local businessmen and soaring pilots.
Orders for 2-8s came in from a group of Bell Aircraft employees, a youth group, a number of gliding schools, as well as several individuals.
The 2-8 received type certificate GTC 5 on 28 June 1940.
The type certificate is currently held by K & L Soaring of Cayuta, New York. K & L Soaring now provides all parts and support for the Schweizer line of sailplanes.
Manufactured aircraft are known as SGS 2-8s while those assembled from factory kits are designated as SGS 2-8A.
On August 10, 1941 the AAF issued a statement on the procurement of the 2-8:
"What is probably a record in procurement was established in the case of the contract with the Schweizer Aircraft Corporation of Elmira New York. This contract, covering three two-place gliders to CAA Class 2 requirements, with certain modifications, was signed in Washington DC on June 27, 1941. The first glider under contract has its initial flight test July 2, at Big Flats Airport, Elmira, New York and is now at Wright Field."
In the first part of 1942 General Knudson of the War Production Board conducted an inspection of the Schweizer factory, still located on the second floor of the Elmira Knitting Mill. He looked at the antiquated plant and instructed the Schweizers to "get out of here". He was instrumental in the move of the 2-8 production line to a new plant built for Schweizer Aircraft by the Defense Plants Corporation at the soon-to-be completed Chemung County Airport.
The US Navy and Marine Corps also ordered the 2-8 as a glider trainer.
Because the 2-8 was made from aluminum and steel, which were both declared "strategic materials", a replacement design was needed. The Schweizers designed the SGS 2-12 as a wooden version of the 2-8, incorporating some improvements, such as a lower-mounted cantilever wing to improve instructor visibility. The 2-12 succeeded the 2-8 in production and 114 were produced.
Records held include a flight to goal from Elmira, New York to Washington, DC, a distance of 373 km (232 statute miles) flown by Bob Stanley and Ernie Schweizer.
Dick Johnson set a multi-place distance record of 499 km (310 statute miles) in a 2-8.