…of World War II

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Today’s photo was taken this past Saturday at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC, and is a picture of a WW2 Waco glider.

America’s first military stealth aircraft – the Waco CG-4A combat glider – silently soared into World War II history 70 years ago, powered only by the prevailing winds and the guts of the men who flew them.

Under veil of darkness on D-Day and other major Allied airborne assaults, the Waco glider carried troops and material behind enemy lines to take out key enemy defenses and transportation links. These humble gliders – engineless and unarmed – overcame perilous odds to make the first cracks in Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Their moment in the spotlight of military aviation was fleeting. But in the pre-helicopter age, combat gliders represented the state-of-the-art in stealth, landing precision, and hauling capacity.

“Flying coffins.” “Tow targets.” Pilots and glider-borne infantry had colorful and well-earned nicknames for their ungainly planes. But according to at least one veteran flight officer, the most common moniker for the combat glider was way off base: “Silent Wings.”

The CG-4A fuselage was 48 feet long and constructed of steel tubing and canvas skin. Its honeycombed plywood floor could support more than 4,000 pounds, approximately the glider’s own empty weight. It could carry two pilots and up to 13 troops, or a combination of heavy equipment and small crews to operate it. The nose section could swing up to create a 5 x 6-foot cargo door of Jeeps, 75-mm howitzers, or similarly sized vehicles.

With a wingspan of 83.5 feet, the Waco maxed out at 150 mph when connected to its tow plane. Once the 300-ft length of 1-inch nylon rope was cut, typical gliding speed was 72 mph.

Glider pilots who participated in the Normandy landings were awarded the Air Medal for their role in the Allies’ early successes on D-Day. Their role in Operation Market Garden was lauded, even though it was overshadowed by the mission’s overall failure to take the key bridge at Arnhem. Gliders were also central to Allied invasions of Sicily, Burma, Southern France, Bastogne, and the crossing of the Rhine into Germany in March 1945.

Like all Army Air Corps pilots, the glidermen wore wings on their chests. Theirs were special, with a capital “G” stamped in the center. Technically it stood for “glider,” but they were quick to tell anyone who asked that it really stood for “Guts.”

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile underground for more than two months at a caved-in mine in northern Chile, were rescued. The miners survived longer than anyone else trapped underground in recorded history.

The miners’ ordeal began on August 5, 2010, when the San Jose gold and copper mine where they were working, some 500 miles north of the Chilean capital city of Santiago, collapsed. The 33 men moved to an underground emergency shelter area, where they discovered just several days’ worth of food rations. As their situation grew more desperate over the next 17 days, the miners, uncertain if anyone would find them, considered suicide and cannibalism. Then, on August 22, a drill sent by rescuers broke through to the area where the miners were located, and the men sent back up a note saying, “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.”

Food, water, letters, medicine and other supplies were soon delivered to the miners via a narrow bore hole. Video cameras were also sent down, making it possible for rescuers to see the men and the hot, humid space in which they were entombed. As engineering and mining experts from around the world collaborated on the long, complex process of devising a way to bring the 33 men up to the surface, the miners maintained a system of jobs and routines in order to keep up morale.

Rescuers eventually drilled and reinforced an escape shaft wide enough to extract the men, one by one. (Employees of a Pennsylvania-based drilling-tool company played a role in drilling the rescue shaft.) On October 12, the first of the miners was raised to the surface in a narrow, 13-foot-tall capsule painted white, blue and red, the colors of the Chilean flag. The approximately 2,000-foot ascent to the surface in the capsule took around 15 minutes for each man.

The miners were greeted by a cheering crowd that included Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera; media from around the world; and friends and relatives, many of whom had been camped at the base of the mine in the Atacama Desert for months. Millions of people around the globe watched the rescue on live TV. Less than 24 hours after the operation began, all 33 of the miners, who ranged in age from 19 to 63, had been safely rescued. Almost all the men were in good health, and each of them sported dark glasses to protect their eyes after being in a dimly lit space for so long.

The rescued miners were later honored with trips to a variety of destinations, including England, Israel and Florida’s Walt Disney World, where a parade was held in their honor.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Even though over 50 native tongues are still spoken in rural locations, Spanish is the national language of Mexico. In fact, Mexico is the most populated Spanish-speaking country in the world.

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