Museum pays tribute to World War II glider pilots

Museum pays tribute to World War II glider pilots
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ "" Despite their apparently flimsy construction, gliders such as this restored Waco CG-4A could carry a substantial payload "" such as a bulldozer, jeep, or 13 men and supplies "" to its battlefield destination.

On the west side of Lubbock’s Preston Smith International Airport sits a structure that was once the terminal building for this airport between 1949 and 1976. Prior to being a public airport, it was the South Plains Army Air Field, where the majority of World War II glider pilots were trained from 1942 to the war’s end. The warm, dry air that commonly creates upward air currents made Lubbock the perfect glider training location.

In 1971, the National World War II Glider Pilots Association was established by former Army Air Corps pilots in order to preserve the U.S. glider program history. In November 1984, the first Silent Wings Museum opened in Terrell, Texas; with the number of glider pilots dwindling over the years, the association realized that a more permanent and financially stable arrangement was needed in order to perpetuate this truly heroic chapter of World War II. The city of Lubbock stepped up with a desire to preserve the glider pilots’ history that was also their history, and in 2000, took ownership of the collection. The new Silent Wings Museum opened to the public in 2002 at the Lubbock Airport. Since then, more than 17,000 visitors each year have passed through its doors.

Steel, wood, and fabric

Start your tour in the Silent Wing Theatre with a 15-minute film, "Silent Wings: The Story of the World War II Glider Program." This will give you an overview of how these glider pilots contributed to the war effort.

Except for their personal firearms, these pilots and crewmen had no weapons onboard. The glider was constructed as a steel-and-wood skeletal craft, with only a fabric skin covering the fuselage and wings; there was no armor or any sort of protection from the bullets and flack the crew would undoubtedly encounter on their one-way flight into combat. The biggest advantage of the gliders was that, without an engine, they were silent, which allowed them to land and deliver their payloads without the enemy being aware of their presence.

The gliders were snatched from the ground and towed by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, then cut loose to glide to the drop zone with no air cover whatsoever. Basically, these gliders and pilots were sitting ducks. Once on the ground and their payload unloaded, in most cases the gliders were abandoned because many crashed into trees and ravines. The crew made their way to join up with other American troops.


The glider, though it appeared to be constructed so flimsily, was designed to carry a large payload, and yes, it still could glide a long distance after being released. It would fly just the same as a powered craft, and perhaps better. It had rudder pedals and yokes for flight maneuvers.

The cockpit contained the same basic flight instruments as a regular airplane: airspeed and turn and bank indicators, altimeter, compass, and some had flap levers. Since there were no engines to worry about, no engine instrumentation was required.

The training of approximately 6,000 men was initially in powered aircraft; once proficient in these, they moved on to the glider program. Although 13,909 of these craft were manufactured, only a handful are still in existence; one is right here at the Silent Wings Museum.

Gliders and their two-man crews participated in a number of battles that added to the Allied effort during the war, including the invasions of Sicily and Normandy and southern France, at Arnhem, and during the Rhine crossings. Immediately after landing, the front of the glider was raised, and the payload was ready to be rolled out, whether it was a bulldozer, a jeep, a howitzer, or 13 men and their supplies. Hitting the ground running was perfected by these crews.

Within the museum is an authentic glider on display in a large room, called the Hangar, surrounded by memorabilia from that era. See and hear glider pilots tell their stories with just a push of a button. In the Combat Galleries are displays of how the gliders transported men and supplies to isolated units on the front lines during the war. The museum contains nearly 10,000 artifacts, thousands of documents, and photographs.

Allow from one to two hours to get the most out of this great museum.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at

Plan your visit

• Silent Wings Museum, 6202 N. I-27, Lubbock; 806-775-3046; email info@silent;

• Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.

• Admission: $8 general admission; $6"senior citizens (60+); $5 children ages 7-17 and students with college ID; free for children 6 and under" and active duty military

• The drive from La Vernia to Lubbock is approximately 6-1/2 hours.