A Waco's Happy Ending
How an abandoned World War II glider found love in Long Island.
- By Joshua Stoff
- Air & Space magazine, September 2002
NASM Neg. #2002-3809
(Page 3 of 4)
Walking around the bones of the glider that day, I realized the restoration would be a major project, requiring many years. The parts were badly rusted. Where some of the fittings had touched the ground, corrosion had completely eaten them away. On occasion, when the farmer had needed a piece of metal tubing, he’d simply walked over and sawed a section out of the glider’s skeleton. The tail and wings were gone, as were other critical components. Amazingly, the nameplate of the manufacturer, Ford, was still firmly affixed to the fuselage’s rusted doorframe.
Fortunately, it turned out that the farmer had for some reason stored some of the more interesting glider parts in his barn loft. We climbed up a rickety ladder and quickly discovered wooden troop benches, pilots’ seats, back rests, instruments, wheels, tires, landing gear struts, and several other items.
I quickly made plans to return within the week. Our museum has a corps of volunteers, most of whom are retirees from local aerospace companies or the airlines, and many of whom served in World War II, and I recruited six to help retrieve the glider. I also borrowed a flatbed truck and rounded up an assortment of hand tools. During the next few days, I actually worried that some other museum might come along and scoop the glider up.
To my relief, when we arrived, it looked just as it had when we’d left it. We ended up putting in a long day’s work, cutting down the ingrown trees and slowly easing the rusted hulk in one piece onto the truck. Our volunteers were tickled by my repeated warnings not to scratch anything (I was only half jesting).
Upon unloading the glider at the museum, I attacked the project from two angles. I assembled a crew of about 15 volunteers, who, although questioning my sanity at first, cheerfully agreed to spend several years of their lives working on the project. We also contacted the National Air and Space Museum and obtained copies of the CG-4 “Erection and Maintenance Manual,” as well as printouts of the microfilmed blueprints. With these in hand, I was able to compile a list of the parts we needed—a very long list.
Early on, we decided to restore the glider with only one of its enormous wings. For one thing, that would save a lot of time and money. In addition, we wanted to exhibit the glider as a cutaway, so not having a wing on the cutaway side would enable visitors to view the interior. The decision exemplified a philosophy we had developed at the museum. Rather than just lining up aircraft and putting labels in front of them, as many aviation museums do, we tried to bring them to life. For example, we exhibit our early aircraft in a re-creation of a 1911 air meet, our World War II naval aircraft on an carrier flight deck scene, and our Apollo Lunar Module on a faux lunar surface. I thought that visitors could understand the CG-4 and its mission best if they were able to see it suspended as if in flight and packed with troops, as it would have looked on D-Day. The cutaway side would reveal not only the glider’s internal structure but also a full load of troops and their gear.
Over the next three or four years I conducted a tedious search for CG-4 components, contacting museums, organizations, and collectors from coast to coast. More parts turned up than I expected. A warehouse in Iron Mountain, Michigan, turned out to have a complete and even rust-free tail section. The owner agreed to donate it, and shortly afterward it arrived in New York strapped to the top of a minivan. Complete and original wing spars were found in an old glider factory in Hudsonville, Michigan, and we purchased them for $225. The Silent Wings Glider Museum, then in Terrell, Texas (it since moved to Lubbock), proved extremely helpful. It has its own CG-4 and, happy to see another restored, generously allowed our volunteers to pick through its storage area, where they turned up a treasure trove of wing ribs, tail parts, and many critical metal fittings. Soon the parts were headed for New York in a rented truck. And the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum in Michigan, also in the throes of a CG-4 restoration, agreed to swap its duplicate parts for ours. The trade provided us enough original parts to build all the missing tail surfaces.
Over the years, we made steady progress. A new wooden floor had to be fabricated—quite a substantial undertaking. The fuselage was straightened, sandblasted, repaired, and repainted. Then the steel-tube structure was covered with cotton fabric, which we brushed with dope, a fabric-tightening compound. The tail surfaces were covered with thin plywood and fabric. We had learned that our glider, built late in the war, had never been sent overseas (hence its survival), but for education purposes, we decided to paint it with D-Day markings.