Saturday marks a very special day in world and local history.
Hear Chris Schwemlein's story as heard on WSPY:
June 6th, 1944, the start of “Operation Overlord,” better known to millions as “D-Day,” when the Allied Forces began their assault on German forces located on the western front of Europe. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who gave words of encouragement in his D-Day speech to the troops headed to France.
Though much has been chronicled about those beach landings, the paratroopers and the air support of bombers and fighters, few remember or have heard about the men assigned to the fleet known as “Silent Wings,” the military gliders.
Because of their close proximity to the following events, Lockport, Joliet and Romeoville all share in the credit for the beginnings of the United States Military Glider program.
Owner Stan Corcoran moved his headquarters of the Frankfort Sailplane Company from Frankfort, Michigan to Joliet in the early 1940’s. Stan Corcoran’s aircraft was designed to soar and stay aloft for hours on end, using the popular thermal currents found here in the flatlands of the Midwest.
In 1941, before America entered World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps began a glider program to develop pilots capable of using these engineless aircraft in assaults.
The government sought both a 9-seat and 15-seat glider from the Frankfort Sailplane Company.
Although their experimental aircraft failed to meet the military stress test the Army Air Corps did find that Frankfort’s “Cinema I” sailplane was ideal for training pilots and so they gave the first-ever military contract for gliders to Frankfort Sailplane. Stan Corcoran, the designer, who was originally from Hollywood, California, liked to name his gliders “Cinema.”
Frankfort Sailplane manufactured about 60 of these planes and they were dubbed TG-1A’s, short for a one-seat training glider. These pilots would later learn how to handle the heavier and bulkier Waco CG-4A Gliders used in the D-Day invasion.
A short distance from Joliet are Lockport and Romeoville, the site of Lewis University. Before it became a university, it was just a high school with an enrollment of 15 students and was first known in 1932 as Holy Name Technical School whose curriculum specialized in aviation technology. It was operated by the priests of the Chicago Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, with the land donated by a couple from Lockport.
Later named the Lewis School of Aeronautics to honor its philanthropist, Frank J. Lewis, the airfield became famous as a site of national soaring contests prior to the war and was referred to as the Frankfort-Lewis School of Soaring, in Lockport.
Lewis Aeronautical suspended classes in 1942 and handed the campus over to the U.S. Navy as a training site for their WWII Navy pilots using powered aircraft.
Almost 6,000 men became glider pilots during WWII because Frankfort Sailplane originated the military glider pilot program. As a matter of fact, one of Stan Corcoran’s TG-1A training planes is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. General William Westmoreland put it best about the glider pilots.
He remarked; “They were the only aviators during WWII who had no motors, no parachutes, and no second chances.”