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Gliding back into history

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bryan Crane
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
As the enemy slept on the ground below, Waco CG-4A Gliders quietly flew across enemy lines during World War II. At Whiteman Air Force Base, volunteers have been working since 2006 to restore one of these gliders for the Air Force Museum.

Whiteman's history dates back to 1942, when the U.S. Army Air Corps decided present-day Whiteman would be the location for Sedalia Army Air Field, a training base for Waco glider pilots.

Back in WWII, 15 companies manufactured over 12,000 gliders, including Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, which is located in Kansas City, Mo.

A man by the name of Jim Jones, who had flown a glider in the war and was a resident of Kansas City, found out about pieces of 40 gliders that had been left at Commonwealth Aircraft.

"The pieces of these 40 gliders were left to rot in a field behind Commonwealth Aircraft," said Frank McKinley, the restoration coordinator and a retired Air Force master sergeant. "There were trees and brushes growing through all the old pieces. So we brought a crew out and got all the pieces we could find and brought them back to Whiteman."

Jones then created the Whiteman Heritage Foundation, which has assisted in the funding for the project.

"Most of the funds we use come from the Whiteman Heritage Foundation," McKinley said. "Other people and organizations have also donated money or parts, and we also conduct a few fundraisers to generate funds. We are also an all-volunteer work force."

Since 2006, volunteers, mostly retired military, have been working on the restoration in the hopes that it will one day be displayed at the Air Force Museum.

"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 that it is here."

Pieces of the aircraft can be hard to find due to the fact that most were destroyed upon landing. The wear and tear on gliders can be significant due to the nature of their landing process.

"These gliders don't have landing gears or brakes," McKinley said. "The pilots would be flying in complete darkness with no motor and would have to crash-land behind enemy lines. The aircraft were immediately abandoned as the soldiers exited to begin combat."

As the gliders were used more and more, the pilots learned how to land without totaling the aircraft. This allowed the Army Air Corps to begin recycling these aircraft instead of completely abandoning them.

These gliders could carry a variety of different cargo during WWII.

"People don't understand how important these gliders were to get cargo across enemy lines to the soldiers on the frontlines," said McKinley. "They carried gasoline, oil and ammunition, and sometimes also a squad of 15 people, with all their equipment -- including 12 troops, a squad leader, a pilot and co-pilot."

To accommodate the quick exit troops needed when landing in enemy territory, the glider's cockpit used a pulley system that raised the canopy to allow a rapid exit of the aircraft, McKinley said.

The glider participated in the European, Pacific, Chinese, and Indian theaters during WWII.

Americans continued to manufacture, assemble and fly gliders until the end of the war in May 1945.