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Horsa Glider at Shawbury

Yoland has asked me to write a piece about this visit as I am an enthusiast of both things that fly and roll around on wheels.

19 of us arrived at the main entrance of RAF Shawbury at 10:00 hours, as the weather was not conducive to “top down” driving, most came in our regular cars. Those more hardy types were not to be put off, and arrived in an assortment of kit cars. Roger and Yoland in their respective cars (a different angle on “couples who do things together”), well done you two and John and Amanda Baker were in their Caterham. After watching the two of them get back into their car with the soft top fitted, I figure I now understand what “committed (pun intended) to the sport” really means!  Ian and Alison Hart came in their Locost and Bill and Chris Cole in their Scimitar.

We were led through the Base by Tim Jenkins, the head honcho of the project, who gave us a very interesting talk on the history of the Gliders. He explained that they were conceived as a means of getting a group of paratroopers behind enemy lines during the Second World War, by means other than parachuting. The advantage of the glider over the parachute is that once the glider had landed, there were up to thirty troops (without parachutes) ready to go to work, if they all survived the landing. In the case of those parachuting in, it could take hours for them to reassemble into a group.

We were then escorted to a hanger in which the Horsa Glider is taking shape. There is also a partially completed Waco glider in the hanger. Tim set up a lap top computer with some old movie footage running showing the gliders in various phases of operation and training. Interestingly, Shawbury was one of the four Shropshire glider training bases, the others being Peplow, Sleap and Tilstock aerodromes . We were then able to crawl all over the glider at our leisure.  

When the decision was taken to build these gliders in Britain, all the aircraft manufacturers were fully occupied building regular fighters and bombers. So the construction (the whole glider was built out of wood) was subcontracted out to  various furniture manufacturers, particularly in the West Midlands. One could see how the design lent itself to this style of construction. It is solid and utilitarian in appearance. In contrast to this, the American Waco glider looked almost frail, it was a metal construction built by the Ford Motor co. in the US. Both the gliders really looked like works of art and the quality of workmanship going into the restoration is top class. Congratulations must go to the volunteers who do the work.

Both had similar wingspans, the Horsa at 88ft and the Waco at 83ft, However the Horsa was longer and a lot heavier than the Waco at maximum takeoff weight (15,500lb verse 9000lb). It could carry up to 30 troops (or a jeep/trailer combination) including the 2 pilots, who were also combat trained troops. The Waco could carry 13 troops (or a jeep/weapon pack combination) and two pilots. The American pilots did not get involved in the ground combat, but were expected to stay with the glider in case later airborne recovery was possible (with the injured loaded aboard)! This recovery was to be achieved by a low flying Dakota doing around 160 mph whizzing by and hooking a bungee tow rope and then pulling the glider into the air, FAST! It may sound ridiculous, but Tim’s movies showed it being done!

As a pilot myself, I had a particular interest in the cockpit. To say it is basic would be an understatement! It has very simple instruments. One of particular interest was the “Tow line angle” gauge (I hope I got the name right). If the glider was being towed on a mission by bomber or transport aircraft and they ran into cloud or fog, the glider had to stay aligned with the tug aircraft even though the pilots might not be able to see the aircraft. The Tow line angle gauge was activated by a piece of string leading back from the tow line, through a hole in the cockpit windscreen, and into the gauge. It was a case of fly the glider so as to keep the string straight! Rather you than me pal!!

The Gliders took part in a number of missions, including Operation Market Garden, Operation Varsity and the landings in Normandy. The planners thought that a loss rate of 50% of the troops for an operation was acceptable odds! There is a web site listed on the brochure

After this very interesting visit most of us headed off to the Battlefield 1403 Restaurant for lunch. Good food in a pleasant environment. The site has now opened to the public (we were accommodated two days before official opening, Yoland has contacts!) and I would recommend a visit to those looking for an outing this summer. They are just out of Shrewsbury to the north. Have a look at their web site for further info and location.

The outing was very enjoyable and interesting and I am sure we all got to know a few more people in the club a little better. Now all we need is a summer that lasts a bit longer than one week!

Glenn Perry


Horsa glider


Waco glider

The Horsa Airspeed British glider Built by furniture makers out of wood and fabric !


American Waco metal glider


Inside glider


No seat belts, just hang on and hope!


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