he Hamilcar stood as the largest wooden aircraft constructed during World War II. To effectively bear the heavy loads it needed to carry, both structurally and aerodynamically, a wing loading much higher than any previously contemplated for a glider was chosen, resulting in a wing loading of 21.7 lb per square foot (105.8 kg per square meter). This high-wing, cantilever monoplane boasted a remarkable wing span of 110 feet (33.5 meters) and a wing area of 1,657 square feet (153.9 square meters), crafted from wood. The wing comprised a center section and two tapering outer sections. Internally, the structure featured two box spars with laminated plywood booms and plywood webs, strengthened further with ribs. A thin plywood sheet formed the outer covering of the wing, while a fabric cover was added on top of it. The fuselage was rectangular and made of wood, divided into two main sections that could be separated for easier ground transportation to assembly points. The ingenious construction enabled the plywood surface of the body to carry a significant portion of the stresses from various sources. For loading purposes, the bulbous nose was hinged on the starboard side, allowing it to swing open. The impressive capabilities of the glider were evident in its capacity to carry diverse loads, such as a Tetrarch Mark IV tank or a Locust tank, two Bren-gun universal carriers or two armored scout cars, a 25-pound gun with tractor, and similar weights. With an ‘all-up’ weight reaching 36,000 pounds (16,329 kilograms), the Hamilcar required an immensely powerful aircraft to tow it. Initially, early tests involved a Halifax with enhanced engines, but as the Halifax bomber underwent modifications to boost its engine power, a standard Halifax became the designated tug for the Hamilcar. On occasion, the Lancaster and Stirling four-engined bombers were also employed as tugs.
The first full-sized prototype took flight on 27th March 1942, and throughout the war, a total of 412 Hamilcars were produced. These gliders played a vital role in various critical operations, demonstrating their worth in Normandy, at Wesel, and during the Arnhem campaign. In fact, one Hamilcar was acquired by the U.S. Army Air Forces for testing and evaluation at the Air Force Materiel Command located at Wright Army Air Force Field near Dayton, Ohio. Additionally, design studies were conducted to explore the possibility of operating the Hamilcar in a ‘pick-a-back’ system, in conjunction with the P-38 Lightning. A later British advancement included the Mk X, a two-engined powered version of the glider. This modification proved to be remarkably successful and capable.