81ST AIR DEPOT GROUP
ASSEMBLE GLIDERS
AT EAGLE FARM AIRFIELD
DURING WW2

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visits since 6 January 2004

 

The 81st Air Depot Group assembled at least 31 gliders at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane during WW2. The gliders were able to carry 15 personnel. 

These gliders were the CG-4A glider, designed by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio, USA for the US Army Air Corps. They were mostly used to carry personnel and supplies but were capable of carrying:-

A total of 13, 909 CG-4A gliders were constructed between 1942 and 1945. The nose of the CG-4A could be raised to assist with loading and unloading of cargo. 

The CG-4A had a wing span of 83 feet, 8 inches and was 48 feet, 3-3/4 inches long. It had a wing cord measurement of 10 feet, 6 inches. It stood 12 feet, 7-7/16 inches off the ground and had a gross weight of 7,500 pounds. 

I have been told of a glider crashing near Mackay in Queensland and another one somewhere in south east Queensland, possibly in the ranges near Woodford . Another one crashed at Samford. I am no aware if these gliders crashes were connected to these gliders that were built by the 81st Air Depot Group.

Jim Moffett was told by glider pilot, Bill Burkhimer, who was in Brisbane during WW2, that he recalled a glider crash in the Brisbane area. Bill said the glider pilot was Flight Officer (FO) Ralph E. Bibler. He recalled that Bibler parachuted out. One person was killed in this crash as he was unable to get out of the glider and it is unknown at this time if it was another glider pilot or a glider mechanic who had gone up for a test flight.

The 39th Troop Carrier Squadron at Archerfield used Cargo Gliders which were capable of carrying 3,800 lbs of freight. I assume these were CG-4A gilders. Bill Burkhimer was with the 39th Troop Carrier Squadron. He never actually saw glider flying duties. He was assigned to the Director of Air Transport and he was a Control Officer logging in and directing aircraft that came and went at the base he was assigned. He moved all around Australia and then over to New Guinea. So, he was not actually involved with the glider pilots as a group, but was trained as a glider pilot. He said he only got to test fly a couple of the CG-4A gliders at Brisbane. He knew the glider pilots as he had trained in the States with them. Bill became sick and had to stay back while the group went to Archerfield as this is where the 39th Troop Carrier Squadron was at. He caught up with them but was assigned a different duty although he was still assigned to the 39th for flying duty only. Bill was shipped back to the States early and was a glider pilot trainer with the C-47 pilots, training them how to tow the gliders. 

Jim Moffett told me that some of the gliders were flown to Townsville after being assembled at Eagle Farm. Jim was told this by two ex glider pilots. At one point, General MacArthur was planning on using the gliders for an assault mission on the north coast of New Guinea. It was a very secret operation. The gliders were being flown to Townsville to be gathered there for this assault. The glider pilots both recall ferrying one of the gliders and there were several others as well flown with this group before the operation was then cancelled enroute. The glider pilots had been then assigned to the 1st Air Cargo Control Squadron D.A.T (Director of Air Transport) and were privileged to know this info. Jim Moffett contacted a C-47 pilot as well as a glider pilot who both flew a C-47/glider that was loaded with an aircraft engine that was transported to Townsville


Photo: via Jim Moffett

Allison engine being loaded into a CG-4A glider in Brisbane

 


Photo: via Jim Moffett

CG-4A glider being pulled for take off with the engine.

The route to Townsville included a fuel stop at Rockhampton which seems to be part of the route to Townsville. The C-47 pilot says the glider/load was so heavy that it burned up the engines on the C-47 and they had to be changed out once they got to Townsville. The glider pilot recalls that the glider he was in had bent an axle on the glider on landing and had to be repaired at Rockhampton. Jim thinks both incidents were during different flights. Jim has a black and white military film showing a CG-4A glider being loaded with what appears to be an Allison aircraft engine and then it being flown off the airfield at Townsville


Photo: via Jim Moffett

CG-4A Glider at the Townsville Air Depot (or Depot No 2). Note the Butler hangars in
the background which were built on what used to be the Stock Route Airfield
The P-38 Lightning in the background is #42-6197

In the film, you can clearly see a single caster wheel which has been fitted to the cockpit of the gliders as the glider noses down on the ground when it is first towed by the C-47 due to the excessive weight on the nose due to the engine. It rolls along the ground on the nose wheel just until enough speed is gathered to create lift to pull the nose back up! Jim believes they have done this before and were very aware of the problem of towing an aircraft engine inside a CG-4A. The C-47 pilot says that his transported aircraft engine was to then be flown over the Coral Sea to Port Moresby, but was not due to the C-47's engines being burnt up. The glider pilot recalls that the engine he towed was to go to Townsville for a P-40 Warhawk.

The glider pilot assigned to D.A.T said that the route for the gliders was from Eagle Farm to Rockhampton to Townsville then across the Coral Sea to Dobodura. He used to handle the scheduling of cargo flight transporting. Jim Moffett also got confirmation from a glider pilot assigned with the 375th Troop Carrier Group, 58th Troop Carrier Squadron that he flew several CG-4A's to Dobodura. He recalls that they were to be used in the Nadzab invasion and that the gliders were actually loaded the night before as he had helped to load them up. At the last minute, the use of gliders was cancelled and the invasion was to be a paratrooper only operation and the gliders were not used. The gliders eventually rotted away in the humidity.

An aircraft such as a C-47 could tow two of these gliders, with each glider carrying a pilot and co-pilot. It was originally hoped that a C-47 could tow three gliders but this proved to be impractical. The 81st Air Depot Group reported that the air currents (thermals) in this part of Australia were treacherous for gliders. The tow aircraft would get buffeted around by the lurching of the gliders.

The C-47 overheated if it tried to tow three gliders. Towing two gliders was used in Burma, as well as Europe, where many problems were encountered because of the humid air and the thinner air due to the heights they had to climb over the mountains. The heavily laden gliders would constantly glide closer to the tails of the C-47 as it struggled and this caused the tow ropes to loose their "tightness" and become slack so as the constant jerking of the ropes caused several tow ropes to break losing their gliders. One account tells of a glider actually passing its tug (C-47) and then getting in behind it again! Very tricky as you did not want to take up the slack too quickly or again, the rope broke. It is assumed that the gliders in the South West Pacific Area were only towed as "single tows" due to the humidity and heavy air.

Two gliders assembled by the 81st Air Depot Group in front of
Hangar No. 4 at Eagle Farm airfield in August 1943
(Photo via Jim Moffett)

Crated Gliders were shipped to Brisbane during WW2, where they were assembled by the 81st Air Depot Group at Eagle Farm airfield.

Gliders assembled by the 81st Air Depot Group at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane in
August 1943. The top of Hangar No. 3 can be seen in the background of this photo.
(Photo via Jim Moffett)

 

A glider at Eagle Farm airfield after being assembled by the 81st Air Depot Group.
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

Removing a glider wing from its crate at Eagle Farm airfield.
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

Wing ready to connect to the fuselage of the glider
Which hangar is that at
Eagle Farm airfield in the background?
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

Approximately 28 men ready to lift the wing on to the fuselage of the glider in the background.
Which hangar is that at
Eagle Farm airfield in the background?
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

Fitting the wing to the fuselage
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

Inside the cockpit of one of the gliders
(Photo - "The 81st A.D.G.")

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Jim Moffett and Bob Livingstone for their assistance with this home page. 

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"The 81st A.D.G."

National WWII Glider Pilots Association, Inc

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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 Peter Dunn 2003

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This page first produced 6 January 2004

This page last updated 09 November 2004