The CG-4A glider, (C-for cargo, G-for glider) was the mainstay of the U.S. Army Air Forces glider arsenal. It was designed by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio whose personnel followed specifications given to them by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Francis Arcier, a Waco vice-president and chief designer, is usually referred to as the "father" of the CG-4A. A total of 13,909 CG-4A gliders were constructed during the period 1942-1945. The Ford Motor Company, one of the 15 prime contractors building gliders, turned out 4,190 units, far beyond the second best producer with 1,509 units. Some of the other contractors included such names as Gibson, Northwestern Aeronautical, Pratt-Reed, Laister-Kaufman, Cessna Aircraft, and many others.
More than 70,000 individual parts made up the CG-4A. After its design was accepted and production started, some 7,000 modifications were made to the aircraft, although none of these modifications were a major change. The nose of the CG-4A could be elevated to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo and/or mobile vehicles. It could carry a jeep, or a jeep trailer fully loaded with combat equipment, or a 75 mm howitzer, or a 37 mm anti-tank gun, and specially designed airborne construction equipment including small graders and bulldozers.
Several powered models of the CG-4A were developed but few produced. Quick-mount engine pods were developed and attached successfully to the main wing struts. All the powered models flew with success but none survived the war years.
The CG-4A was not designed to be a thing of beauty - and certainly it was not considered to be an attractive aircraft. Most Air Force power pilots joked about its ungainly appearance but few of them poked any funny remarks at the guys who flew them. The glider pilots were an independent, tough, ready-to-fight group of pilots and they certainly were not backward in letting anyone know that the "G" on their silver wings stood for "Guts." The aircraft they flew with such abandon and ease was a strut-braced high-wing monoplane that could carry more than its own weight in payload, and frequently did. The wing, constructed around a front box spar and a rear "I" spar, had wooden ribs, and was plywood covered except for the trailing edge. The whole wing was covered with doped cotton fabric. The control surfaces were fabric covered except for the leading edges which were of plywood. The wing tips were elliptical and there was little dihedral. The fuselage was a welded steel tubing frame covered with fabric. The floor of the cargo compartment was of honeycombed plywood construction and had tremendous strength and rigidity. The cockpit was constructed also of a welded steel tubing frame covered with fabric and plywood.
The combat employment of the glider in the huge invasion of France on D-Day occurred less than three years after AF General Hap Arnold told a glider graduating class of six student pilots that the United States would have a glider force "second to none in the world." Before September, 1942 AF records listed no glider pilots.
In going to work to build such a glider force, CM files were checked but only 160 licensed civilian glider pilots were found in the United States. Of these, only 25 were sufficiently experienced to be instructors. They were put to work immediately to train Air Corps rated pilots for key positions. Enlisted men and thousands of recruited civilians were selected as pilot trainees. As they were trained, the best were retained to instruct others and thus the training organization developed. Soon after training was underway, all gliders were grounded for technical reasons. Abandonment of the program seemed probable. However, the glider survived this critical period and on the night of July 9, 1943, took part in the first Allied airborne operation in WWII. Allied gliders took off that night from an airfield in Tunisia. The destination was Axis-held Sicily; their cargo, British airborne troops. In spite of the many difficulties encountered on a first mission of this nature (and there were many), enough of the gliders got through to successfully complete the mission.
The glider in combat had proven itself and its use continued to build.