A Douglas C-54D Skymaster repainted in WWII US Army Air Force
markings at Chico, California in October 1992.
(Photo by RuthAS, used via
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)
History: When it was decided that the
President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, should have a personal airplane to
transport him to meetings around the world, the aircraft of choice was the US Army Air
Corps (USAAC) C-54A Skymaster. Dubbed The Sacred Cow, this was the plane
that took the president to Tehran, Casablanca, Hawaii and other less exotic spots in the
The C-54 was the military derivative of the Douglas DC-4, a
four-engine long range airliner with a three-man crew and accommodations for up to 49
passengers or 26 troops. Originally designed to a specification from United Airlines, the
DC-4 had a maximum speed of 274 mph and a range of 3900 miles. The first 61 civilian
orders were followed by a further buy for 71 from the USAAC though, in the end, most ended
up in Army service.
To meet the militarys more stringent needs, the DC-4
was given a cargo door, stronger floor, cargo boom hoist and larger wing tanks. First
flight of the military C-54 occurred on 26 March 1942. During the war years, 1242 C-54s
were delivered with a wide variety of modifications. A few of the major ones were the C-54A,
the original, fully militarized model capable of lifting 50 soldiers or 32,500 pounds of
cargo; the JC-54D, which was modified for missile nose cone
recovery; the C-54E, with larger Pratt & Whitney engines,
bigger fuel tanks for longer range and a specially designed cabin for quick conversion
between passenger and cargo roles; the C-54M, which was a C-54E
stripped out to serve as a coal-carrier during the Berlin Airlift; the EC-54U,
a post-war modification as an electronic counter-measures platform; and at least 14
sub-variants built for the US Navy originally called the R5D.
There were numerous other variants which performed countless other roles, from VIP
transport to multi-engine training.
The C-54 offered sterling service for both the USAF and the
US Navy after the war, and was not fully retired until the late 1960s. Ex-military
Skymasters became popular as cargo transports and fire bombers, and many are still in
active use around the world in these roles. A lucky few have been acquired by appreciative
warbird groups in the USA. [History by Jeff
Nicknames: The Sacred Cow (FDR's
personal transport); Rescuemaster (US Air Force's SC-54D
air-sea rescue variant.)
Engines: Four 1,450-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2000-2SD-13G Twin Wasp radial piston engines.
Weight: Empty 43,300 lbs., Max
Takeoff 73,000 lbs.
Wing Span: 117ft. 6in.
Length: 93ft. 10in.
Height: 27ft. 6in.
280 mph at 14,000 ft.
Number Built: 1000+ (military versions)
Number Still Airworthy: At least 100
AeroWeb C-54 Specs Page
Air Force Association C-54
Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
-- Operates C-54E / R5D "Spirit of Freedom."
CNAPG DC-4 (C-54) Page
Air Force Transports
C-54 Photo Page
Aircraft of the United States' Military Air Transport
by Nicholas M. Williams
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published 1999 by Specialty Press
A detailed history of the many aircraft operated by MATS in its heyday
(including the C-54).
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