The Comeback of the Waco Glider
By Airman 1st Class Montse Ramirez, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 07, 2010
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In a time before the B-2 Stealth Bomber and unmanned aerial vehicles, the Waco Glider took to the sky spearheading all major invasions and operations of World War II, starting with the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944.
Whiteman Air Force Base' s proud history dates back to 1942 when U.S. Army Air Corp officials selected the site of the present-day base to be the home of Sedalia Army Air Field, a training base for Waco glider pilots.
More than 60 years later, Team Whiteman volunteers are making sure the proud heritage of the Waco Glider is not lost in the history books as they work to restore an original glider here.
Since 2006, a group of retired military members and civilians have put in almost 4,000 hours of labor into the restoration of a Glider airplane, in hopes of one day having it be in an Air Force museum, as a showcase of Missouri's aviation history.
"This base was built for the Glider," said Robert D. Rainey, a volunteer with the project and a retired Air Force master sergeant. "It's so important for me to keep it here."
The volunteers said they hope to bring back a piece of history and with it some awareness about this retired plane.
"The problem with history is that the people who lived it died, so we need to record it before it's too late," said Frank McKinley the restoration coordinator and a retired Master Sgt.
Mr. McKinley said he has a fascination with the Waco Glider and wants to share his interest with the younger generations that aren't accustomed to it.
"It's amazing how people don't know how crucial these planes were to their mission," said Mr. McKinley, "They carried cargo such as barrels of gasoline, oil and diesel and sometimes also a squad of 15 people including 12 troops, a squad leader a pilot and co-pilot."
With the contribution of the Whiteman Heritage Foundation, Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, and numerous volunteers who have donated parts, the Glider's reconstruction will hopefully be completed in the next few years.
Although the outside appearance of the Glider gives an illusion of simple construction, the final production models actually contain just over 70,000 parts.
As the project progresses, Team Whiteman members involved in the reconstruction welcome more helping hands and donations of time, materials and money, to speed up the development.
Once the reconstruction of the glider is finished, people will have a better idea of how special this motor less airborne apparatus was much like the grandfather of stealth aircraft.
Soaring silently behind enemy lines, delivering its payload under the cover of darkness, the Waco glider made significant contributions to World War II.
"The intrepid pilots who flew the gliders were as unique as their motor less flying machines," said retired Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who was the Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972 . "Never before in history had any nation produced aviators whose duty it was deliberately to crash land, and then go to fight as combat infantrymen. They were no ordinary fighters. Their battlefields were behind enemy lines."
"Every landing was a genuine do-or-die situation for the glider pilots," said General Westmoreland. "It was their awesome responsibility to repeatedly risk their lives by landing heavily laden aircraft containing combat soldiers and equipment in unfamiliar fields deep within enemy-held territory, often in total darkness. They were the only aviators during World War II who had no motors, no parachutes and no second chances."
American glider pilots fought and gave their all in the European, Pacific, China, and India theaters during WWII.
Americans continued to manufacture, assemble and fly gliders until the end of the war in May, 1945.
To volunteer, or for more information contact Mr. McKinley at (660)-687-4421