waco cg 4 cargo glider history

The CG-4A Glider

Cornish Pump and Mining Museum
Kent Street
Iron Mountain MI 49801
906-774-1086

 

During World War II, Americans produced the most formidable glider force in the world. More Waco CG-4A gliders were built at the Ford Motor Company plant in Kingsford MI than anywhere else in North America.

The gliders and allied airborne forces spearheaded all major invasions and operations of the war
starting with the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A restored World War II Waco CG-4A, manufactured at the Kingsford Plant, is located in our Museum.

"The intrepid pilots who flew the gliders were as unique as their motorless flying machines. Never before in history had any nation produced aviators whose duty it was deliberately to crash land, and then go on to fight as combat infantrymen. They were no ordinary fighters. Their battlefields were behind enemy lines."

"Every landing was a genuine do-or-die situation for the glider pilots. It was their awesome responsibility to repeatedly risk their lives by landing heavily laden aircraft containing combat soldiers and equipment in unfamiliar fields deep within enemy-held territory, often in total darkness. They were the only aviators during World War II who had no motors, no parachutes, and no second chances."
General William C. Westmoreland, U.S. Army, Retired

 

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The 15-place CG-4A glider's wingspan was 83.6 feet and its overall length was 48 feet. In the CG-4A, the floor was made of honeycombed plywood, a construction technique that provided strength with minimal weight. The load-bearing capacity of the floor enabled the CG-4A to carry 4,060 pounds, which was 620 more pounds than the glider's own empty weight.

The entire nose section (including the pilot's compartment) of the CG-4A swung upward creating a 70 x 60 inch opening into its cargo compartment. This made it possible to quickly load and unload the glider. Types of cargo were fighting men, a jeep with radio equipment and driver, radio and operator plus one other soldier; two soldiers and a jeep trailer loaded with combat supplies; a 75mm pack howitzer with 25 rounds of ammunition and two artillerymen; a small bulldozer and its operator.

The CG-4A could be towed at a maximum safe speed of 150 miles per hour with a gross weight load of 7,500 pounds. It was often towed at a slower speed of 110 to 130 m.p.h. The gliders were usually towed behind a C-47 tow plane on a 300 foot nylon rope. 1" in diameter.

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Communication between the early gliders and their tugs was a telephone wire wrapped around the tow-rope. These lines often shorted out while being dragged along concrete runways during take-offs. Two-way radios eventually replaced this system.

The instrument panel contained an air speed indicator, an altimeter, a rate of climb indicator, and a bank and turn indicator. All of these instruments had originally been manufactured for use in powered airplanes where engine vibrations would keep the indicator needles from sticking. The glider pilots flying their vibrationless aircraft frequently tapped all indicators to be sure they were giving correct readings.

The outside appearance of the CG-4A gave an illusion of simple construction. The final production models actually contained just over 70,000 parts.

A total of 13,909 CG-4As were manufactured by 16 companies during World War II - more than the number of B-17, B-25 or B-26 bombers; P-38, P-39 or P40 fighters, or any of the C-46, C-47 or C-54 transport airplanes manufactured during that same time period.

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Unlike powered airplanes that could either be flown directly overseas or shipped to distant ports fully assembled on the decks of aircraft carriers, gliders had to be shipped unassembled in wooden crates. Just one CG-4A glider, for example, required five enormous wooden crates to be shipped overseas. And again, unlike powered aircraft, which were ready for combat almost immediately upon reaching their destinations, the relatively delicate gliders required several days to be gently unloaded from cargo ships, uncrated, and painstakingly reassembled before they were ready for their test flights. This time-consuming shipping procedure was to be a source of considerable grief for the Allies throughout the war.

The Iron Mountain Iron Museum has a great video on the manufacturing of the CG-4A gliders. It shows these huge crates being shipped out by train to a staging area before transport overseas.

The CG-4A glider came into its own on D-Day with the invasion of Normandy. Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of German-occupied France started on June 6, 1944. Operation Overlord was launched from the sea against one of the strongest armies in the world, inside the most elaborately equipped defensive network ever created.

By February of 1944, a total of 2,100 crated Waco CG-4A gliders had been shipped to England from American factories. The only people left to assemble them were untrained British Civilians. The results were disastrous and in October, the IX Air Force Service took over and managed to put together 910 Wacos by the middle of April. With only five weeks remaining until D-Day, the glider shortage had barely been conquered in time.

Almost all the gliders used in Normandy in June were lost.

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The gliders lost at Normandy were replaced by Americans working furiously at home and by our IX Troop Carrier Command in England. The manufactured and assembled gliders by working as many people as possible in three shifts to meet the demand. By Sept 15, the IX Troop Carrier Command had 2,160 gliders. On the evening before the attack on German occupied Holland, there were only 2,060 glider pilots so the co-pilots became pilots. The pilots knew that if they were incapacitated during the four-hour flight across the water to their objectives in Holland, there would be no one on board qualified to conduct a safe emergency landing.

Many of these gliders were lost in the invasion of Holland.

Americans continued to manufacture, assemble and fly gliders until the end of the war in May, 1945.

American glider pilots fought and gave their all in the European, Pacific, and China - Burma - India Theaters during World War II.

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General Williams, commander of the IX Troop Carrier Command, signed an order on July 5, 1945 authorizing the award of the Air Medal to each of the glider pilots who participated in the Normandy assault landings. The citation accompanying the order was worded as follows:

"The magnificent spirit and enthusiasm displayed by these Officers combined with skill, courage and devotion to duty is reflected in their brilliant operation of unarmed gliders of light construction at minimum altitudes and air speeds, in unfavorable weather conditions over water, and in the face of vigorous enemy opposition, with no possibility of employing evasive action, and in their successful negotiation of hazardous landings in hostile territory, to spearhead the Allied invasion of the continent. Their respective duty assignments were performed in such an admirable manner as to produce exceptional results in the greatest and most successful airborne operation in the history of world aviation."

Visit the Glider Display and see the restored Waco CG-4 Glider at the

Cornish Pump and Mining Museum
Kent Street
Iron Mountain MI 49801
906-774-1086

Museum hours are 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday and 12 noon to 4 pm on Sunday,
from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Other times by appointment.

Iron Mining Museum

The Cornish Pump

WWII CG-4A Waco Glider
built at Kingsford MI

   

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Credits:

Top picture, Building the Gliders, the U.S. Air Force
Second picture, Unloading a Glider, from the Mining Museum Exhibit, courtesy of the Menominee Range Historical Foundation.
Third picture, Glider Under Tow, from the Mining Museum Exhibit, courtesy of the Menominee Range Historical Foundation.
Fourth picture, Attack on German Occupied Holland, the U.S. Air Force
Fifth Picture, Troops Landing by Glider, from the Mining Museum Exhibit, courtesy of the Menominee Range Historical Foundation.

Much of this information found in Silent Wings by Gerard M. Devlin, St Martin's Press, New York 1985

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