Airspeed Horsa I (LH291[@ RAF Shawbury]

The use of assault gliders by the Allies was prompted by the use of the DFS 230 by Germany which was first used in May 1940 to successfully assault the Eben Emael fort in Belgium. 27 Horsa 1ís were used for the first time by British forces for the invasion of Sicily on 10th July 1943 but they will be best remembered for the storming of  "Pegasus Bridge" during the early hours of D Day on 6th June 1944.

RAF Shawbury is the home for the construction of a Horsa Mk1 by the Assault Glider Trust. A large section of an original Horsa fuselage has been loaned to the Trust for use as a pattern and copies of the original drawings have been supplied by BAe Systems on the understanding that LH291 will not be flown when completed. more photos

Airspeed Horsa II/I (BAPC.232)  [@ de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre]

The Horsa 1 (AS.51) was designed to specification X.26/40 with the prototype flying for the first time on 12th September 1941 behind a Whitley bomber. In fact a total of seven prototypes were constructed of which two were built by Fairey and five by Airspeed.

@ de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre

The Horsa soon developed a reputation for being very sturdy and highly manoeuvrable. It featured a high-wing and was an all-wooden construction due to the shortage of other materials and the expendable nature of the aircraft. It was one of the first gliders equipped with a tricycle undercarriage for take-off. On operational flights this could be jettisoned and landing was then on a sprung skid under the fuselage. The wing carried large, 'barn door' flaps, which when lowered made a steep high rate-of-descent landing possible that allowed the pilots to land in constricted areas. With a crew of 2, a wingspan of 26.8 m and a length of 20.4 m, this large glider could carry 25 passengers up to a maximum of 241 km/h. As well as troops, the Horsa could carry a jeep or a 6 pounder anti tank gun. The Horsa was much bigger than the 13 troop carrying American Waco CG-4A, built by the Waco Aircraft Company in Ohio, (or the Hadrian to us Brits) and the 8-troop General Aircraft Hotspur glider which was intended for training duties only. The photograph on the right shows the original steel frame of BAPC.157, a Waco CG-4A Hadrian, undergoing restoration at RAF Elvington (Yorkshire Air Museum). A total of 470 Horsa 1's were built by Airspeed, with a further 300 by Austin Motors and 1461 by the furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus.

Airspeed Horsa II/I (BAPC.232)  [@ de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre]

BAPC.232 is a composite fuselage made up of parts from both Horsa variants.

Following on was the Horsa 2 (AS.58) which featured an hinged nose section, a longer wingspan of 26.8 m, a reinforced floor and double nose wheels to support the extra weight of vehicles. The tow was attached to the nose rather than the dual wing points of the Mk.1. In total 225 were built by Airspeed, 65 by Austin and 1271 built by Harris Lebus. Both Horsa variants were used by the USAF.