Winged Cargo Inc.: First commercial freight glider service

Shortly after the end of World War II, surplus military aircraft entered the civilian market in large numbers. This triggered an explosion of airlines, often flown by the abundant number of veteran pilots. The Douglas C-47 was a mainstay in many of these airlines and freight companies. Not satisfied with simply transporting cargo, two former Air Corps officers, Fred P. Dollenberg and Raymond W. Baldwin Jr. set up Winged Cargo Inc. with its headquarters at NorthWest Philadelphia Airport. This company utilized gliders to carry extra cargo.

WInged Cargo Waco Glider CG-4A
Winged Cargo Inc. takes off while towing a Waco CG-4A glider | Source

Col. Fred P. Dollenberg was a celebrated war hero who had 17 kills under his belt and was the personal pilot of General Douglas MacArthur during the war. Raymond W. Baldwin Jr was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot in the Pacific theater with the USAAF.

Winged Cargo purchased 3 C-47As and 5 Waco CG-4A cargo gliders for their freight service. The Waco CG-4A glider was the most widely used military glider of World War II. It was designed to carry 13 troops with their equipment, jeeps or self-propelled artillery. The fabric covered wood and metal aircraft were crewed by a pilot and copilot and they were generally considered expendable as they were usually abandoned or destroyed upon landing.

With Dollenberg at the controls of the C-47 and Jonny Martin, their chief glider pilot, at the controls of the glider, they made a record-breaking flight. They took their plane and glider in tow a distance of 900-miles from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Nassau in the Bahamas, thereby flying the longest recorded flight over water with a glider. The company broke another record when the same pilots hauled heavy cargo from Philadelphia, flew 800-miles to Georgia, unloaded their cargo and glider, reloaded the C47 and flew back to Philadephia – all in the same day. This demonstrated the glider’s usefulness to serve communities not easily accessed by conventional transport.

Douglas C-47 Skytrain of Air Transport Command | Source: US Air Force

The concept of the commercial glider was outlined in the 1945 Motorless Flight Conference. In the speech by Richard H. Rush entitled Cargo Glider versus Cargo Plane and Helicopter, Richard spelled out the advantages of the commercial glider. For one, the projected cost of glider freight, 10 cents a ton-mile (cost to move a ton a mile), was comparable to express and truck freight which was priced at 9.2 cents and 5.5 cents per ton-mile respectively. This low cost, he reasoned would be possible on the principle of the economy of scale if the ten-ton cargo hold was filled every flight. Another point was the type of cargo transported. Perishable cargos that have to be quickly transported to locations would benefit. The perishable goods would not need special packaging similar to that used in long rail or truck journeys as the time in transit would be minute and cargo would not need to be shifted from train to truck and vice versa en route. His last argument was that gliders can operate in the absence of established infrastructure. It would not be limited by railroads, roads or airports.

Cow Glider
Transport in gliders | Source: LIFE Magazine 21th October 1946 issue pg.141

The first flight of Winged Cargo Inc. as a company was on 24th April 1946. There were plans to establish a passenger wing but these plans came to a halt when one of their C47s disappeared on 16th December 1946 in the Caribbean. This sparked an extensive search by the Army, Navy and Coast Gaurd which yielded nothing. The disappeared flight remains a mystery till today. A year later, the Civil Aeronautics Board issued an order to cease all commercial flights on grounds of safety. This was the final nail in the coffin for the company that was buffeted by dwindling revenues and the loss of an aircraft.



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