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American Waco CG-4 glider (British Hadrian)

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Waco CG-4 — 3rd Most Numerous U.S. Production Aircraft of WWII

Waco Hadrian glider
USAAF photo shows Waco CG-4A glider in flight in 1943.

Nearly 14,000 CG-4 gliders (called Hadrian in British service) were built during World War II, making it the third most numerous production aircraft in the United States. The Ford Motor Company was one of the main manufacturers, however, by the war's end production involved 23 companies based in 10 states.1

The Waco CG-4 glider (CG for cargo glider) was used in the Allied invasions of Sicily, and Normandy, the Battle of Arnhem, and also in China and Burma to supply remote bases.

Flying and landing a CG-4 glider

The glider could communicate with the tow plane by telephone in early models while later models had a two-way radio installed. Instruments included speed, bank & turn, and rate of climb indicators as well as an altimeter and could be flown by pilots with less training than for a powered aircraft. The CG-4 glider could land in a short span of only 200 yards. Early models of Waco gliders were designed to land on skids and the wheels were jettisoned at takeoff, to be recovered later. However, the wheels were eventually left on to improve braking and steering control and because the skids could dig into the ground upon landing, causing the glider to flip forward.

In combat situations, the gliders faced multiple hazards. Often they became targets prior to landing, so a low altitude release from 400 to 600 feet and a quick descent was preferred. To hinder the glider landings in Normandy, the Germans placed wooden poles (Rommel's Asparagus) in some fields, and flooded others. In addition, the Bocage country was full of dense hedgerows which quickly became unplanned obstacles to glider landings. Then, If the glider pilot and troops survived the hazardous landing, they often faced heavy enemy fire on the ground.

Retrieval and ambulance use of Waco CG-4 glider

A means of retrieving gliders after their mission had been completed, was to be achieved by flying a plane low over the glider and snatching it with a hook, which engaged a tow rope that had been raised on a frame. This was a tricky operation and most of the gliders used in Normandy by the U.S. were not retrieved for various reasons including inaccessibility, weather, combat conditions, and damage to the glider. However, the technique was used later in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater to evacuate wounded in CG-4 gliders which had been converted into ambulances complete with six stretchers, in two rows, which were suspended on each side of the cargo area.2


1World War II Glider Pilots by the National World War II Glider Pilots Association Paducah, Ky: Turner Publishing Company, 1991

2Silent Wings at War. By John L. Lowden. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press. 1992.