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  • Airspeed Horsa Towed Glider Transport

    The Airspeed Horsa series of gliders proved ever-critical to the Allied advances during World War 2.

     Updated: 3/25/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    Aircraft such as the Airspeed AS.51 "Horsa" rarely receive their due in the grand scope of World War 2 - a conflict littered with excellent fighter and bomber types as well as the eccentric design or two. The Horsa was a simple glider design intended to haul man and machine to places far beyond fighting fronts, landing often times behind enemy lines. Observing the success that the German airborne elements had in the early stages of the war, the British followed suit and set up their own airborne contingent and, to this, was realized that specialized hardware would be required for their light-armed infantry. The Horsa proved a success in its subtle ways, ferrying dozens of troops, light artillery pieces or light vehicles to war and production eventually yielded between 3,500 and 5,000 units by war's end (sources vary). The Americans also took on stocks of Horsa numbering several hundred while other nations fielded much limited numbers.

    Early development of British military gliders yielded limited results. Specification X.26.40 was eventually fleshed out for a dimensionally larger airframe which could ferry 25 infantry while being towed by a "host" aircraft. The charge fell to the Airspeed Company which - in just eleven months - returned with the AS.51 "Horsa". At Fairey Aircraft's Great West Aerodrome, prototypes were evaluated with an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber as the host and five additional vehicles were commissioned to serve in loading trials. In February of 1941, authorities contracted for 400 of the glider and a first flight was recorded on September 12th in that same year. Production examples were expected to be delivered for the following summer.

    With a structure made largely of wood, and requiring the facilities of British furniture factories, the plans for the aircraft were specially drawn up to serve established furniture-making business practices. Since most furniture builders lacked the space required for completed aircraft, the gliders saw their final assembly at the hands of Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel offsite. Manufacture of the gliders fell to Harris Lebus and the Austin Motor Company.

    The initial Horsa Mk I was given a portside hinged door that doubled as a loading ramp. It was towed through a Y-cable arrangement which ran from the host aircraft to points on the Horsa's wings. As designed, the Horsa was essentially an aircraft sans its engines for the chosen configuration was conventional with a centralized fuselage and forward-set cockpit, high-mounted monoplane wings and a traditional single-finned tail with low-set horizontal planes. The cockpit was heavily glazed and offered excellent vision. A crew of two sat in a side-by-side arrangement with a dual-control scheme so either member could control the aircraft. A simplified instrument panel was set on a pedestal between the two positions as was a low console. Beyond that, the cockpit remained spartan and devoid of unnecessary clutter. Aft of the cockpit was the hold which included exposed framework and seating for up to 25 infantry along side wall benches. The aircraft was towed during take-off atop a jettisonable tricycle undercarriage arrangement and a nose wheel/belly skid combination was used for landing. Strong handling qualities made her a favorable aircraft to control and a "quick-dive" capability allowed pilots some pin-point accuracy.

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    Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1942
    Type: Towed Glider Transport
    National Origin: United Kingdom
    Manufacturer(s): Airspeed Ltd - UK
    Production Total: 3,633

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 2
    Length: 67.03 feet (20.43 meters)
    Width: 88.02 feet (26.83 meters)
    Height: 19.52 feet (5.95 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 8,378 lb (3,800 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 15,432 lb (7,000 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): None. This is a towed glider aircraft.

    Maximum Speed: 99 mph (160 kph; 86 knots)

    Armament / Mission Payload


    Global Operators / Customers

    Belgium; Canada; India; Portugal; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    AS.51 Horsa Mk.I - Definitive Production Model

    AS.52 Horsa - Proposed "bomber glider" form; never produced.

    AS.53 - "Evolved" Horsa; never furthered

    AS.58 Horsa Mk.II - Hinged nose assembly; relocated cable connection; double-tired nose wheel.