Waco CG-4A at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH. This glider, serial number 45-27948, was built by the Gibson Refrigerator Co. in Greenville, MI. It waa accepted by the U.S. Army Air Forces in July 1945.
Military gliders were used during World War II to insert troops, vehicles and equipment into the fight, often behind enemy lines well in advance of conventional invasion troops. Both the Allied countries and the Axis produced gliders and used them in combat. For the Allies, gliders, their crews and the glider-borne infantry played a significant part in securing victory in Europe. The United States and the British produced most of the Allied gliders used in the war. By the end of the war in 1945, the US had produced 14,612 gliders (all types) and had trained over 6,000 pilots. Thousands of additional gliders were produced and fielded by the British.
After World War II, only one regiment of gliders was retained by the US. Although used in military exercises in 1949, gliders were quickly superseded by helicopters in the US Army. The glider era officially ended when deleted from US Army capabilities on 1 January 1953. The only continuing use of gliders is in a training role at the Air Force Academy where cadets learn the fundamentals of flight in gliders.
The rapid disappearance of gliders after WW II does not diminish their importance in the development of cargo and troop carrying aircraft that quickly followed. The principle of airborne movement of troops, vehicles and equipment was firmly established by the WW II glider team. Advancing technology led to the use of helicopters and fixed wing replacements for the glider, but the ideas sprang from the roots put down by the glider.
Waco CG-4 Hadrian Glider
Interior view of a Waco CG-4A combat assault glider. The CG-4A could carry 13 fully- equipped troops plus a pilot and copilot. As a cargo carrier, its capacity was almost 4,000 pounds. Used late in the war, gliders were generally considered expendable in combat and few efforts were made to retrieve them.
Investigation of glider designs -- engineless planes capable of being towed by powered aircraft -- for the US Army Air Forces began in February 1941. While a number of aircraft companies were interested in the program, and several companies ultimately did produce prototypes, by far the most important manufacturer was the Waco Aircraft Co. of Troy, OH. Waco Aircraft Company was alone in being able to deliver experimental glider prototypes that met or exceeded the requirements of the USAAF.
The most widely employed glider was the Waco CG-4A Hadrian whose flight testing began in 1942 and was first used in combat in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, July 1943. The CG-4A played an important role in Operation Overlord (D-Day landings in France, 6 June 1944), the Battle of the Bulge, Operation Market-Garden and the Rhine crossing as well as in the China-Burma-India Theater and the final glider mission of the war at Luzon on 23 June 1945, among others.
The CG-4A was constructed with a metal and wood frame covered with canvas fabric. It was capable of carrying thirteen combat-equipped troops (plus crew of 2), a 1/4-ton jeep and trailer, or small artillery piece such as the 75mm pack howitzer. The glider was loaded through its hinged nose section. C-46 and C-47 cargo planes were typically used as tow aircraft.
More than 13,900 CG-4As were produced, accounting for most of the glider production by the United States during World War II. Waco Aircraft Company designs were produced by 16 contractors, a wide variety of manufacturers including Ford Motor Company, Cessna Aircraft Company and Gibson Refrigerator Co. in addition to Waco Aircraft itself.