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Veterans' Flight Plan Calls for a Soaring Glider : WWII Pilots Are Scavenging World for Parts to Waco

December 29, 1985|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

So quiet was his approach that Heaven was unaware A glider pilot had met his fate And was now standing at the Pearly Gate. "How could this happen?" the Lord exclaimed, "For unto Me is known all things." The glider pilot's answer was, "I came on Silent Wings." --Joyce Darling Hill

There's a naked piece of one on a farm near Greenville, Mich., and it is used as a cow feeder.

Ed Cogan can see what it was, the fuselage cage of a 1944 combat glider. . . .

In a box in a barn in Wisconsin there are unused bits and pieces that a restorer of antique airplanes once bought as parts of a Waco cabin biplane.

Cogan recognizes the rusted ribs as the tail section of a Waco glider, a linen-covered bundle of firewood that almost killed him when he flew one to the Normandy invasion 40 years ago. . . .

Cannon Driveshafts of North Hollywood was built by engineer Ted Cannon in 1945, and he framed the building with box beams of laminated spruce bought at a government surplus sale.

A Whispering War

Cogan knows they are the main spars from Waco CG4A gliders and priceless souvenirs of a whispering war that military historians seem to have forgotten.

But Cogan hasn't forgotten. Nor have an estimated 1,500 ex-glider pilots who form the National World War II Glider Pilots Assn. They've commissioned Cogan, 65, of La Mirada, and another Waco veteran, Al Jennings, 65, of Corona, to go after the Michigan fuselage and the Wisconsin tail assembly and any other Waco leftovers littering hangars, ditches or museum dumps from Terrell, Tex., to Oosterbeek, the Netherlands.

When all their foraging is done, Cogan and Jennings should have collected about 70,000 parts from heaven knows how many broken carcasses. It should all come together as one complete Waco CG4A (C for Combat; G for Glider), a troop-carrying birdcage that doubled as a 15-place death wish.

And then Cogan and Jennings will hitch their motorless bandwagon to another World War II star, a C-47 transport, and barnstorm the country, from rural air show to national aviation festival, to educate "a whole generation of Americans that never heard of combat gliders used in World War II," Cogan said.

"One aim of our association--and it's written into articles adopted in 1971--has always been to rebuild a CG4A. Actually, we want to build two. One for go, one for show.

"The one for show is already on display at the Silent Wings Museum in Terrell, Tex. But that's got two-by-fours in the wings and obviously will never fly again. So now we're going ahead with the CG4A for go, and when it's finished it will be the only flying combat glider anywhere in the world.

"We've got an instrument panel, with instruments; a fuselage complete with nose section, two wing spars given to us by Ted Cannon, two wheels, oleo struts, cockpit plexiglass. . . . We're short the tail section, some wing ribs, pulleys, struts, things like that."

More than 14,000 combat gliders were built by the United States during the final three years of World War II. Their purpose was singular: They were to carry troops and equipment into battle, often behind the lines, always on top of the advance. Despite their potential for recovery and reuse, Wacos (costing $20,000 apiece) became disposable and were left to rot or be looted where they crash-landed in Sicily, France, the Netherlands, Germany and the Philippines.

Only five gliders have been preserved to sit as static exhibits at military museums in France and the United States.

The hundreds that were stranded at U.S. training bases and 15 assembly plants (including the Ford Motor Co. and Cessna Aircraft) at war's end were sold as government surplus. For their metal frames. For their plywood and timbers. For chicken coops and hay bins and the Cannon Driveshaft building.

Therefore, Cogan believes, their bones and bits must still be hanging around.

Negotiations Opened

He knows that the Confederate Air Force headquartered at Harlingen, Tex., a worldwide organization dedicated to the preservation of World War II aircraft, "probably has enough parts to build two CG4As." Cogan and Jennings have opened negotiations to get them.

There was a healthy length of fuselage and other parts left over from the project that placed a Waco on display at the Silent Wings museum. Cogan and Jennings recently drove to Terrell and came back with them.

"During the war, each glider was disassembled and packed into five huge plywood crates for shipping overseas," Cogan said. "After the war, they were sold as surplus but buyers were only interested in the crates. They paid $50 for each one, pulled out the glider parts and dumped 'em to use the crate.

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