Early U.S. Army Glider Training Program
Although both the U.S. Army and Navy had tinkered with gliders, the Army in 1923
and the Navy in 1930, both had abandoned them long before WW II. Official knowledge of
glider design and operation, therefore, was absolutely zero. The only U.S. glider
experience was to be found in the sport soaring movement, which was supported by a very
small glider industry. It was to these people that the Army turned after Air Corps
Commander General H.R. Arnold issued orders for the development of troops gliders and the
procurement of suitable training gliders on February 25, 1941.
It was the performance-minded soaring people, therefore, who influenced
early U.S. military glider design. Early Army purchases of training gliders (TGs), which
began in April, 1941, were off-the-shelf commercial sailplanes and the first new trainers
designed specifically for the services were also sailplanes. The initial orders to three
established glider manufacturers, Frankfort, Schweizer, and Laister-Kauffman, were
supplemented by the purchase of practically all the privately-owned sailplanes in the
country to get the new glider training program rolling. The four production TG models that the Army
ordered were the Frankfort TG-1, Schweizer TG-2 and TG-3 and the Laister-Kauffmann TG-4. Aeronca,
Taylorcraft and Piper joined in by converting existing powered aircraft into training gliders by
removing the engine and modifying them by adding a third tandem seat.
In the Army's original and entirely logical concept, glider pilots
would be existing power pilots. However, the shortage of such personnel at the time called
for a drastic revision of policy, especially after Arnold's request for glider pilots was
upped to 6000 early in 1942. Offers were made to enlisted men with no flying experience at
all, with the promise that they would graduate as staff sergeants. Those with rank above
private would go through training in their grade and become sergeants at the end. Those
with previous flying experience were also sought, and this policy brought in a lot of
washouts from power pilot training.
In the U.S. services the glider pilots, whether unwarranted or not,
were considered a notable cut below power pilots. They had a separate rating of Glider
Pilot, with appropriate "G" wings, and were originally mostly sergeants, plus a
very few commissioned pilots. Later all glider pilot graduates were awarded the Flight
Officer rank. They were pilots only, unlike their German and British counterparts, who
were trained to operate as infantrymen after landing.
To familiarize Army pilots with glider flying, some power pilots were
sent to various existing civilian glider schools early in 1941. The object of these
schools was to turn out soaring pilots, not aerial truck drivers, and the early Army
trainees ended up as accomplished sailplane soarers.
An early decision was made to have the future glider pilots trained
under contract to civilian schools. The main operation got under way at Twenty-Nine Palms,
out in the California desert, where thermal conditions were great for soaring flights.
Sailplane thinking still prevailed. By being able to soar - gain altitude on rising air
currents - and therefore stay up longer on a given flight, the student would conceivably
receive more instruction per flight. It was not long, however, before the military woke up
to the fact that troop gliders were not simply bigger sailplanes that made long straight
glides into enemy territory. They were, rather, low-performance trailers that had to be
towed to a point almost directly over the landing area, and once over the designated spot,
the real piloting skills necessary to reach the ground quickly in one piece, took over, if
one wanted to survive.
Sailplanes, with their long flat glides in the range of 20 or 30 to
one, plus their entirely different handling characteristics, were of little value in
familiarizing pilots with troop carrying gliders. Further, they were not really an
efficient vehicle for turning out skilled pilots quickly. As a consequence, the sailplane
trainers were abandoned as soon as sufficient quantities of the CG-4A were available for
advanced training. In the interim, several advanced training bases were established:
Bergstrom, Dalhart and Lubbock, TX, Bowman, KY, Fort Sumner, NM, Greenville, SC,
Lockbourne, OH, Stuttgart, AR and Victorville, CA. A major percentage of glider pilots
were graduated from South Plains Army Air Base at Lubbock, TX.
In addition to basic and advanced glider flight training, a large
number of trainees completed the glider mechanics course at Sheppard Field, TX and most
glider pilots received the equivalent of the Infantry Officer training.
A TG-3 is on display in the US Air Force Museum
A TG-4 is on display in the Silent Wing Museum in
Taylorcraft XTG-6 at Wright Field
USAAF photo courtesy US Air Force Museum
A completely restored TG-6 is on display in the Pima Air Museum,
Courtesy of the National Archives / NWWIIGPA Collection
Training was always on going even after they earned their wings. When not in combat pilots practiced landing with troops and equipment. Back Caption: Credit...U S Army Signal Corps/Photog...T/4 Jack Clemmer (3264)
Troopers of the 82nd
Airborne division making a practice flight in a glider over france peer out of portholes at the ground far below, except for one nonchalant soldier who
takes advanage of the inactivity to catch up on his reading. Laon, France 15 March .