After the stunning successes of German airborne troops using gliders in the opening stages of World War 2, a premium was placed on such low-cost, low-maintenance aircraft for assault. Indeed, the British and Americans eventually followed the German lead, such was the influence of these operations when conquering Western Europe. The DFS 230 glider of 1937 originally played this role in the German attacks on the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael and were further pressed into action during the takeover of Crete. As the war evolved, however, a new design was requested by the Reich Air Ministry and this called for a heavy-class transport that carried more and improved on handling for more precise landings.
The storied aviation concern of Gothaer Waggonfabrik (Gotha) responded with such an aircraft in the form of their Model 242 (Go.242). Engineers elected for a centralized nacelle containing the cockpit and cargo/passenger hold while high-mounted wings provided the necessary lift and control at low altitude and low speed. To provide better clearance all about the fuselage, a twin-boom configuration was selected, these booms each mounting a vertical rudder and joined at the rear by a single horizontal plane. A wheeled undercarriage was added and heavy struts were allocated under each wing for support. The front of the fuselage contained the two-man cockpit, which was heavily glazed, and windows were set along the fuselage sides for situational awareness. The cargo area was accessible through a "clam shell-style" opening at the rear of the fuselage. Overall construction included steel tubing for robustness and fabric for a lightweight finish. The Go.242 was capable of hauling twenty combat-ready troops or cargo as required which even included small, lightweight vehicles. In this way, a fleet of gliders could bring a small army to bear on an unsuspecting enemy through surprise and overwhelming force. First flight of a prototype was in 1941 and introduction occurred soon after.
The Go.242 was pressed into service quickly when compared to other wartime developments. Such multi-role aircraft were highly valued in the fluid and fast-changing war and Gotha would eventually produce some 1,528 of their Model 242 gliders for the German military. These would see heavy use throughout the war as initial cargo-minded models - the Go.242 A-1 - were joined by troop ferries - in the Go.242 A-2.
As with other glider types entering the war, the Go. 242 was inherently unpowered and relied on a "host" aircraft for towing. The two aircraft were tied by a tow line with the glider following. Go.242s were traditional pulled by Heinkel He 111 medium bombers or Junkers Ju 52 trimotors for their hauling capabilities and, once in service, Go.242s saw action over some of the major theaters of the conflict including North Africa and the Mediterranean.
Following the original two "A-models" of the line, there emerged the Go.242 B-1 form with its jettisonable undercarriage. The B-2 model had an improved undercarriage while the B-3 was the B-1 with a twin-rear-door arrangement. The B-4 mark designated a "combination" breed made up of the B-1 form and functionality with the undercarriage of the B-2 and the twin doors of the B-3. Incoming glider pilots trained on the dedicated B-5 version with its dual control scheme. A lesser-known version of the Go.242 became the C-1 which was intended for marine assaults and given a flying boat-like hull for water landings though it appears that there were never utilized in their intended role.
Despite it glider transport classification, the Go.242 was optionally armed for self-defense. This included up to 4 x 7.92mm MG 15 series machine guns. Beyond this, however, the Go.242 was not outfitted for carrying ordnance.
Performance specifications of the Go.242 - essentially limited by the host aircraft/towed arrangement - included a maximum speed of 185 miles per hour. The aircraft exhibited a running length of 51.9 feet, a wingspan of 80.4 feet and a height of 14.5 feet. Empty weight was 7,050lbs with a maximum take-off weight nearing 15,650lbs. Some overloaded Go.242s were even tested with jettisonable rocket pods at one point in their history.
Of note in the Go.242 legacy was the Gotha Go.244 mark which became an engined/powered version of the unpowered Go.242. At least 133 existing Go.242 aircraft were converted to the newer, powered Go.244 form.