Glider pilots had guts. The Nazis started a glider program so the USA did too. American pilots who wanted to fly but were, say, too old for a cadet program were trained in Texas and the California desert. Ford Motor Company built 13,000 gliders, the Waco CG-4A. The Americans joined the Brits. English pilots traveled to a base 30 miles south of Dallas to learn how to fly gliders. Nine training fields operated in Texas. The one in Lubbock opened in 1942. C-47s were used as tow planes. There are only a few CG-4A gliders still in existence. One of them is inside Silent Wings. Outside is a C-47.
Gliders were especially used in World War II campaigns in Sicily and Burma. They played a big role in the Normandy invasion and were dubbed the backbone of this decisive battle. Many gliders crashed because the height of French hedgerows was misjudged. In their last and largest mission, Operation Varsity, 38% of the glider pilots were killed or captured. After the war helicopters made gliders obsolete for the delivery of gas, flying combat surgeons behind enemy lines, delivering equipment, etc.
I learned some of this by watching a fine 14 minute film before exploring Silent Wings, a museum near Lubbock, Texas, dedicated to telling the story of the WWII glider program. The rest I absorbed while studying the exhibits in this little known, 5 Compass (especially for aircraft enthusiasts) museum.
I have asked many people since visiting Silent Wings if they knew anything about the WW II glider program and the answer is consistently “no”. Even Frank Hudson, a 90-year-old WW II veteran who saw action in the Pacific, told me that he didn’t know about the U.S. Army Air Forces combat glider program before he volunteered at Silent Wings. Frank also told me that his father was a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War. Living history.
The gliders’ story should not be forgotten. I’ll tell you more about these bold pilots and this excellent museum another time.