Page last updated at 18:51 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 19:51 UK
Volunteers rebuild lost gliders
Assault Glider Project volunteers Brian Rathbone and Michael Horan
Assault Glider Project volunteers Brian Rathbone and Michael Horan

The Assault Glider Project, based at RAF Shawbury, has missed out on a place in the final of the National Lottery Good Causes Awards.

The project was one of 10 initially shortlisted in the Best Heritage category.

Voting closed on 10 July. The three most popular projects go on to a final public vote.

The Assault Glider Trust was established in 2001 to build a full scale World War II Horsa glider.

Rebuilding the Horsa

While many types of aircraft survived the war, the fragile, wooden Horsa gliders were usually destroyed on landing. Those that never left the ground, were left to rot away after the war; while the wood was often re-used for other building work.

The Horsas faded from memory, and by 2000 not a single complete example existed in the country. The Assault Glider Trust used surviving sections of original aircraft to piece together their own blueprints and form the basis for the final aircraft.

Assault Glider Project volunteer Brian Rathbone
Brian Rathbone sands a Horsa wing

The trust is funded entirely by grants and charitable donations, including a £200,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The hangar to complete the work was offered by RAF Shawbury in 2000.

The Horsa is one of four aircraft currently being restored by the trust, including a Waco (the American equivalent of the Horsa glider), a Douglas Dakota (used to tow the gliders to their target), and a 1930s de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane.

Work on the aircraft is being completed by volunteers. While the project has proved popular, the trust say they are keen to hear from other people who want to get involved.

These chaps [volunteers] really need the recognition for all the years of hard work they've put into this project.
Rachel Abbiss

The original Waco glider, built by Ford Motor Company, took 7,000 man hours. Trust volunteers believe their own model will require a total of almost 20,000 man hours.

The social element of the project has proved as popular with many volunteers as the chance to 'give something back to history'.

Retired Sales Manager Brian Rathbone has volunteered on the project since 2004. He said that the recent Veterans' Day was an emotional moment: "They'll sit in in the Horsa or the Waco and they relived the moment when they actually flew in these things."

Curator of the Assault Glider Trust Rachel Abbiss believes the nomination for the National Lottery Good Causes Award is testament to the hard work put in by volunteers.

Assault Glider Project Curator Rachel Abbiss
Assault Glider Project Curator Rachel Abbiss

"These chaps [volunteers] really need the recognition for all the years of hard work they've put into this project. It's so brilliant... these guys really deserve the award," Abbiss said.

The Horsa glider

The Horsa glider was designed to carry large numbers of troops, supplies and sometimes light jeeps to an enemy target. Troops would not need parachute training, while soldiers and supplies could be kept together allowing fast re-grouping on landing.

However, many of the fragile and slow gliders that survived enemy fire had to face dangerous landing conditions.

The gliders were most famously used in Operation Market Garden, the assault on Arnhem in September 1944. The Glider Pilot Regiment suffered 90% casualties during the battle.

Operation Varsity in March 1945 was more successful, with Horsas helping to land 14,000 British and American troops on the east bank of the River Rhine. The assault allowed airborne troops to tackle enemy artillery and help safeguard the 21st Army Group's crossing.




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