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Images of the glider in flight (here, a CG-4 prototype) don’t capture the human drama of a CG-4 mission, as the museum’s finished display does. (NASM Neg. #2002-3809)

A Waco's Happy Ending

How an abandoned World War II glider found love in Long Island.

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WANTED: Waco CG-4 Troop Glider - any airframe components, any condition...

 

THUS BEGAN A SMALL ADVERTISEMENT I placed in a January 1987 issue of the tabloid Trade-A-Plane. I had no idea that the advertisement would send me on a journey that would last 15 years.

I was (and still am) the curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, founded in 1979 to “collect, preserve and interpret the aerospace heritage of Long Island.” That mandate is a bigger job than it might sound like: More than 50 manufacturers have produced air- and spacecraft here continually since 1909. Over the years, we have been able to acquire over 60 craft, nearly all of them local products. But sadly, most of the wide variety of aircraft produced here either no longer exist or are now so rare that we can’t afford to acquire an example.

One of those rare aircraft is the Waco CG-4 troop glider. Early in World War II, the Germans had had success using gliders to land troops in combat zones, so the U.S. Army decided to develop a similar corps for itself. Glider transport had two advantages over parachuting: The soldiers ended up concentrated near a target, rather than spread over the countryside, and the gliders could also be used to transport cargo.

In response to the Army’s decision, the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio, probably best known for its open-cockpit biplanes, designed the CG-4 in late 1941.Weighing 2,400 pounds and having an 83-foot wingspan, the glider was ungainly but robust. In addition to two pilots, each CG-4 could transport 13 troops and all of their gear, or a jeep or light artillery.

Though the war planners found the gliders efficient, the men who actually participated in glider missions found the experience arduous. A Douglas C-47 transport towed the glider on a 350-foot nylon rope; a typical tow would last several hours and be flown at about 100 mph and 1,500 feet. Low-altitude turbulence wore out the C-47 pilots and made the troops in the glider airsick. The landing zone had no air traffic control; once over the zone, the glider pilot would release his craft at about 400 feet, in order to minimize the time that the unarmored glider would be vulnerable to enemy gunners on the ground. In addition, when a large number of gliders were released over a relatively small landing zone, they would sometimes crash into one another, or into trees or other objects.

Nonetheless, the gliders achieved some remarkable successes. During the D-Day invasion, 513 gliders were landed in Normandy, France, and only 11 percent of the troops inside were killed or injured during the landings.

The pilots of these remarkable craft were often students who had washed out of fighter or bomber training. They were, however, trained well enough to make at least one successful landing. Similarly, the gliders themselves were considered throwaway aircraft, used once and rarely retrieved. Of the nearly 15,000 built, only five or six survive.

This aircraft had always intrigued me, and I felt I had to have one for our collection. Of the 16 companies that had produced CG-4s, two had been located here on Long Island—General Aircraft in Queens and Dade Brothers in Mineola, together producing about 1,000. In fact, our museum’s founder was Dade Brothers’ George Dade, and he continually prodded me to locate a glider carcass to restore. After a couple of years of fruitless phone calls and letter writing, I placed my ad in Trade-A-Plane.

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