Silent Wings: US Gliders & their Pilots

This page describes US Gliders & their pilots.

WW2 film of a WACO Glider


The Glider Pilots

The basic D-Day US paratrooper uniform and equipment

Once the Glider Programme was initiated, there was a need for men to fly them.

These men would need to be special, as not only would they need to be able to fly and land the gliders behind enemy lines, often at night - but then they would have to become infantry and fight their way back to friendly forces, so they could do it all again!

This was the same concept as the British glider pilots.

Manequin pilot of a Waco glider at the Airborne Museum, St Mere Eglise

Following the doctrine that no-one should be pressed into a hazardous service such as this, volunteers were sought.

Initially they had to have extensive pilot experience, but as the programme expanded it became clear that there weren`t enough men available, so enlisted men could volunteer for the training scheme if they were physically fit and passed an entrance exam.

By the end of World War 2 around 5000 volunteers had trained as Glider Pilots. All the volunteers had one passion. They wanted to fly.

It was said that the 'G' on their Glider Pilots wings stood for 'guts'. It certainly took guts to fly a flimsy engineless, unarmed aircraft into an enemy held area.

Today the National WW2 Glider Pilots Association exists to provide support to this band of brothers.


Glider Pilots kit

Glider Pilots wore similar uniforms and carried similar kit to that worn by the glider infantry who they were transporting, with the exception of their insignia.

Instead of the airborne force insignia, Glider Pilots wore the Army Air Force insignia on their left shoulder, and Airforce wings on their collar.

Although trained in a variety of weapons, it appears that most Glider Pilots were armed with the M1 Garand rifle, as I have not yet found a photo of a pilot carrying any other weapon.

The basic D-Day US paratrooper uniform and equipment

The US Glider Programme in WW2 was not as well known as other types or airborne operations, even today.


The WW2 US Glider Programme

The successful glider assault at Fort Eben Emael during the Blitzkrieg of May 1940 showed the world the potential of glider landed troops.

Gliders were silent and able to bring an element of suprise to the assault. They were also well suited for transporting heavier equipment than could be dropped by parachute.

In February 1941 General 'Hap Arnold', often called the Father of the US Airforce, was keen to make the troop carrying glider part of his strategy. He asked the Experimental Aircraft Establishment to send out a tender for the creation of a troop carrying glider of 8 and 15 seats.

Aware that a war was looming, he stipulated that the companies should not already be involved in the production of aircraft.

Of the four companies that submitted bids, the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio was deemed to have the best design. Eventually sixteen companies built the Waco CG4A glider.

The Waco glider inside the US Airborne Muesum

Doubt in the glider programme crept in, and General Ridgeway asked General Hap Arnold to demonstrate the safety of the troop carrying gliders.

A demonstration was given in front of the entire 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

Problems continued to plague the programme.

During a flight to celebrate the 65th aircraft produced by Robertson Aircraft Corporation in St Louis, a glider full of local VIPs were killed when a wing broke off of a Waco glider.

This crash was only weeks after the US glider force suffered heavy losses during Operation Husky in Sicily. General Eisenhower wrote a letter to the Chiefs of Staff to say that he did not believe in the airborne force.

An all day flight demonstration in front of senior Officers took place after an investigation into the safety of the Waco glider.

The glider programmme's reputation was restored.


Glider Assaults

Waco glider being towed into the air by a C47 Dakota

US Glider Pilots flew in every theatre of the war. Key airborne assaults in which they were engaged were: