Horsa and Waco Gliders
By 1943 Britain and the United States had developed their own fleet of specialized gliders and troops trained to embark from them.

Horsa and Waco Gliders

By Jon Guttman
4/24/2019 • Military History

Airspeed AS.51 Horsa I
Crew: Two
Wingspan: 88 feet
Wing area: 1,104 square feet
Length: 67 feet
Cargo capacity: 6,344 pounds (up to 25 equipped troops; or two jeeps; or a jeep and trailer; or an Ordnance QF 6-pounder antitank gun; or one 75 mm M1A1 pack howitzer with ammunition and a partial crew)

Waco CG-4A
Crew: Two
Wingspan: 83 feet 8 inches
Wing area: 900 square feet
Length: 48 feet 3 inches
Cargo capacity: 4,060 pounds (up to 13 equipped troops; or seven casualty litters and a medic; or one 37 mm M3A1 antitank gun; or one Ordnance QF 6-pounder antitank gun; or one 75 mm M1A1 pack howitzer; or one jeep; or one  -ton trailer; or one motorcycle

Germany’s use of gliders to assault the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael in 1940 and the Greek island of Crete in 1941 encouraged a proliferation of specialized troop/cargo gliders and troops trained to embark from them. By 1943 Britain and the United States had developed gliders of their own. Foremost were the Airspeed Horsa and Waco CG-4A, respectively.

The Airspeed AS.51 Horsa was originally designed to transport paratroopers, a role the Douglas C-47 Skytrain/Dakota assumed as it became increasingly available. To conserve metal for more pressing military applications, the Horsa glider was made largely of wood, aside from a reinforced metal floor, fixed tricycle landing gear and a Plexiglas canopy. Airspeed rolled out more than 4,000 Horsas, 400 of which the U.S. Army Air Forces acquired to carry heavier weapons than their own Waco CG-4A could handle.

Designed in 1942 by the Waco Aircraft Co., the CG-4A was unprepossessingly boxy but easy to fly. Its fuselage largely comprised fabric-covered steel tubing, with a honeycombed plywood belly and lower nose and a Plexiglas canopy. The upward-hinged nose section could be raised for a quick exit. Its wings were made of fabric-shrouded wooden spars and braces. Sixteen contractors built a total of 13,903 CG-4As by war’s end. Although it carried less cargo than the Horsa, the Waco could land in tighter zones, and the British used a number of them under the name Hadrian. MH

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