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Great Britain's flag Great Britain's RAF aircraft marking

Great Britain's Airspeed Horsa glider


  • Airspeed Horsa
  • Airspeed Horsa
  • Airspeed Horsa Mk I
  • Airspeed Horsa Mk I
  • Airspeed Horsa MK II
  • Airspeed Horsa Mk II
  • Airspeed Horsa


After witnessing the German airborne assaults in the 1940s a specification was put forth for a glider. The AS.51 Horsa was to fill the rolls for carrying troops, freight, or training.

Since many of the potential towing planes of the time were two engine, the Horsa couldn't be made too large. The primary tugs were the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle, and the four engine Handley Page Halifax.

The Horsa was made from wood.


After takeoff the main wheels of the tricycle undercarriage were jettisoned and landings were made on the nose wheel and a skid.


There was a large door on the port side. The rear of the fuselage was also detachable.


There was a compressed air system to lower the flaps.


The Horsa prototype was first flown on September 12, 1941, at Fairey's Great West Aerodrome.


  • Airspeed Prototypes: 7
  • Airspeed Mk I: 2,231
    • by Airspeed: 470
    • by Austin: 300
    • by Harris Lebus: 1,461
  • Airspeed Mk II: 1,561
    • by Airspeed: 225
    • by Austin: 65
    • by Harris Lebus: 1,271
  • Total: 3,655, 3,633, 3,799
    • Manufacturer: Airspeed Ltd.

There were plans to build the Horsa by Tata Industries in India, but that was dropped.


  • Horsa Mk I: Troop carrier. Had brackets on wings for a split tow rope.
  • Horsa Mk II: Freight carrier. Was a single attachment under the nose for the tow rope. Had a hinged nose section that could be opened by a hinge just behind the cockpit.


First Use of the Horsa

There was a special mission in Normandy in November 1942 where it was first used.

Horsas in Sicily

Horsas were used in the invasion of Sicily in 1943.

Normandy Invasion

The British and Americans both used Horsas during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Operation Dragoon

Horsas were also used in the invasion of southern France in Operation Dragoon.

Arnhem Debacle

Horsas were used extensively in the Arnhem operation with over 600 being used.

Over the Rhine

Over 400/440 Horsa gliders were used in the attack over the Rhine by the 6th Airborne Division.


  Airspeed Horsa
Type Glider, Transport glider
Crew 2
Passengers 15, 20 - 25, 25
Span 88'
26.82 m, 26.84 m
Length 66' 11.75", 67'
20.42 m, 20.43 m
Height 19' 6"
5.9 m, 5.94 m
Wing area 1,104 sq. ft.
102.5 sq m
Empty 8,370 lb
3,797 kg, 3,800 kg
Loaded 15,250 lb, 15,500 lb
7,030 kg, 7,040 kg
Typical towing speed 127 mph
204 kph
Maximum towing speed 150 mph
240 kph
Gliding speed 100 mph
160 kph
Armament None
  Airspeed Horsa Mk II
Type Transport glider
Passengers 20
Span 88'
26.82 m
Length 67'
20.42 m
Height 21'
6.4 m
Wing area 1,148 sq ft
106.65 sq m
Empty 7,500 lb
3,402 kg
Loaded 15,250 lb
6,917 kg
Maximum towing speed 100 mph
161 kph


  1. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  2. World War II Airplanes Volume 1, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  3. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, 1989
  4. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Chris Bishop, 1998
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site