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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