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It might seem odd to quote the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894 - ’Citius, Altius, Fortius’- (Faster, Higher, Stronger), but that’s exactly what the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando was, when compared to its main competitor, the C-47 Skytrain.  The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Inc. had seen the commercial success of the Douglas DC3, and the technical success of the pressurized Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, and thought to combine these two concepts.

The result was Curtiss-Wright CW-20, a 36 seat airliner with a pressurized ‘double-bubble’ fuselage (rather like the Boeing C-97 which was to follow). Designed in 1937, the prototype first flew on 26th March, 1940, powered by 2 x Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone engines of 1,700 hp.

The United States Army Air Corps was sufficiently impressed to order an unpressurized transport version, powered by Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radials, as the C-46. The first production versions – delivered in May, 1942 – could carry 50 troops or 33 stretchers, and were crewed by two pilots and a flight engineer. Due to their range and speed advantage over the C-47, the C-46 Commando was a ‘natural’ for the Pacific theater of operations, and the U.S. Marine Corps took 160 as the R5C-1 (equivalent to the C-46A). Able to carry up to 10,000 lb, the C-46 played an important rôle in the China-Burma-India theater, and along with C-54, C-109, and C-47 aircraft formed the vital link for freight across the ‘Hump’ – the Himalayas – between Assam, India and Kunming, China.

Service in Europe was delayed, the C-46 not appearing until early 1945, just in time for the assault by airborne forces across the Rhine, ‘Operation Varsity’ on 24th March, 1945. This was a disaster for the small C-46 force, with 22 out of 72 being lost to fierce German anti-aircraft fire. Their survival rate was dramatically lowered due to the fact that, unlike the many hundreds of C-47 aircraft taking part in this large daylight operation, they had not been fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks!

Post-war plans for Curtiss-Wright to produce a civil airliner version of the C-46 were scrapped, but significant numbers of the more than 3,000 built were converted for use as freighters, including an upgraded version by Riddle Airlines Inc., called the C-46R. The only British CW-20 was the prototype NX19436, which was impressed by the USAAC as the C-55 then transferred to Great Britain as G-AGDI. Unfortunately, after hard use by B.O.A.C., it was scrapped in October, 1943. Post-war clandestine operations, sponsored by the CIA, included the Bay of Pigs, Cuba and flights by Civil Air Transport (later, Air America) in Indochina.

 There are still a handful of C-46 aircraft plying their trade in out-of-the-way corners of the world, such as Alaska, the north of Canada and Bolivia. Indeed, the popular ‘Ice Pilots, NWT’ TV series on History Television, features the adventures of the two C-46 freighters (one C-46A and one C-46D) of the Canadian freight airline Buffalo Airways. The Commemorative Air Force (formerly, Confederate Air Force) also has two C-46F aircraft, both in flying condition.

Here we can see the National Air and Space Museum’s C-46F, NA800FA, (formerly N67996, N614Z, CF-ZQX). It is on long-term loan to the Glenn H Curtiss Museum of Hammondsport, New York, where David Lee and I photographed it, during what has now become known as ‘The Infamous Ice Roadtrip’. As you can see, the weather was brutal, and shortly afterward this was taken we scampered inside the nice, warm museum facility. It is possible that the NASM doesn’t particularly want this C-46F in Washington, D.C., given its background. After a military career (’44-78772′) and various Canadian and American civilian owners, it was seized by U.S. Federal Marshals during a gun-running operation! Following storage at Holmstead Air Force Base and the National Warplane Museum at Geneseo, NY, NASM approved a long-term loan to the Curtiss Museum at Hammondsport, which is not exactly a large metropolis. It could be that the way it was acquired is a little embarrassing!

Despite been a ‘fuel-hog’ and spares now being in short supply, the C-46 has its enthusiasts; it is still giving valuable service in remote outposts, to this very day.

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http://shortfinals.wordpress.com

Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:00 PM PST.

Also republished by World War Two Aircraft.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have never flown one, or in one. (13+ / 0-)

    But one of my professional colleagues, now a retired university professor, flew them during the early days of the cold war in the Berlin airlift.  He said the C-47 was an easier airplane to fly than the C-46, which he described as like trying to land a whale that is trying to kill you.  

    He later flew C-54s which he liked a lot, and logged thousands of hours of 4-engine time in them.

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:19:41 PM PST

  •  I saw a lot of the C-46 in the late 60s (7+ / 0-)

    because they were operated by Universal Airlines out of another WW II veteran, Willow Run airport. That is close enough to Ann Arbor, MI that their operations took them over that city quite frequently.

    While a student in aero engineering (my first degree is in that field) at the University of Michigan, one of my courses featured a ride in the U's Cessna 210 which had been outfitted with extra instrumentation for use as a flying lab for various aero engineering course work.

    Several C-46s came and went while we prepared to take that ride.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:45:07 PM PST

  •  Didn't become a fan until… (12+ / 0-)

    Ice Pilots. As the the son of a WAC who was stationed at Alliance, NE, in the photographic lab, and the base of the 507th PIR (part of the 82nd and later, the 17th Airborne Divisions), I was a steadfast C-47 fan and cared nothing for the Commando. It was ugly and it flew in the CBI (hey, I was ten!).

    When I started watching Ice Pilots and then doing further research, I changed a lot of my opinions. I learned (from the show) that the airplane was "difficult to fly" by which they meant difficult to land. As big as that stereotypical Curtis fin looks (stereotypical, because see the SB2-C), it's apparently oversized compared to the rudder, which makes for an interesting battle in crosswinds. Apparently (and more so than other tail draggers with adequater rudder surface), it's no prize on rollout, either.

    However, in reading some stories on the internet, I found there were some pilots with a few thousand hours who could make it do wondrous things. Again, it wasn't hard to fly—just hard to land.

    One thing that surprised me from watching Ice Pilots was to learn that the C-46 had P&W R-2800 powerplants. With all the great engines Curtis made (they got my father through countless hours of training and slow-timing missions plus 35 combat missions, so I have no complaints), I couldn't imagine that they wouldn't have powered their own airplane (which it originally did). But the '2800 is the Prince of radial engines, so, especially going to the CBI theater, made more sense than the C-Ws originally installed.

    By the way, Buffalo has three, not two. I heard it mentioned on a recent show and verified it on a "survivor listing" just now. I don't remember which model the third one is.

    If I were 40 years younger and could stand the cold, I might be in Yellowknife trying to get in one, myself.

  •  thanks (5+ / 0-)

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 06:16:09 PM PST

  •  Thanks SF (6+ / 0-)

    One of my favorites.  It's always been in the Gooney bird's shadow.  I used to wonder why Curtis never entered the commercial airliner field.  But it appears that by the end of the war, Curtis' management had no idea how to run an airplane company.

    I've got the Williams Brothers kit in the stash waiting for me to get brave enough to tackle it.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 07:45:25 PM PST

    •  During the War Too (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PeterHug, markdd, shortfinals, ER Doc, lazybum

      Curtiss management had thoroughly pissed its principal customer's leadership by the middle of the war.  Despite having entered the war as the principal fighter airframe designer for the AAC, Curtiss management had fumbled every attempt at developing new designs throughout the entire war.  About the only firm which was an even bigger disaster was Brewster, who worked overtime at being incompetent.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 12:07:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  True (4+ / 0-)

        Curtis seem to fumble almost everything after Pearl Harbor, but they had started before then.  At least one early prototype P-40 had it's trademark oil cooler scoop slung under the wing.  Management HATED it and had the prototype scrapped.  North American incorporated the idea into the NA-73 (P-51 prototype), air exiting the cooler actually added a little bit of thrust to the engine.  Curtis got back to the idea in one of the final war iterations of the P-40.

        The SB2C Helldiver was supposed to replace the SBD Dauntless in 1942 but didn't enter combat until November of 1943.  The situation was so bad, it drew the attention of the Truman Commission.

        Brewster was reputed to be the only company ever to go bankrupt on a cost plus contract.  The F2A Buffalo was actually the US Navy's first monoplane fighter, it convinced Grumman to reconsider their F4F as a monoplane.  They acquitted themselves well in Finland against the Soviets.  But were no match for front-line Japanese fighters in the Pacific.

        Brewster did snag a contract to build Vaught F4Us (F3A Corsair) for the Navy.  The quality was so poor, they were limited to domestic training use and not authorized to shipment to combat zones.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 08:56:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The only WORSE-run company in U.S.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      markdd, ER Doc, lazybum

      ...aviation history, were Brewster! See what happened with the F3A-1 Corsair !

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 09:03:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Never heard about the SB2A (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, shortfinals

        Buccaneer / Bermuda before I looked up Brewster.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 09:36:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The Brewster Bermuda was tested by.. (0+ / 0-)

          ...the RN seection at Boscombe Down (the home to the RAF's testing facilities) and found to be wanting.

          Brewster went out of business following Congressional hearings and being taken over by the Department of the Navy at one stage! A TRUE disaster........

          'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

          by shortfinals on Mon Dec 24, 2012 at 05:00:24 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I like the diaries (5+ / 0-)

    As a volunteer at the National Air Force Museum I see most of these aircraft up close and these diaries give me extra to talk with the visitors about.  Keep it up!

    Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. John Donne

    by scurrvydog on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 08:08:24 PM PST

    •  Thanks for this....IF I were closer, I would... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc

      ....volunteer, too! Once a curator, always a curator, I guess!

      One of these fine days I WILL publish that book I ben threatening to write.

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 09:06:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is pretty cool. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, shortfinals

        You can volunteer in the galleries or in restoration.  The big projects right now are the Memphis Belle and the space shuttle Crew Compartment Trainer.  They treat us pretty good, too.  At the Volunteer Banquet we usually get a momento from one of the restorations and a laser ectched tumbler with  a aircraft or satellite on it.  It is just that most of the other vols. are so damned consevative!  A lotta of retired Gens., Cols, and Chief NCO's.  But I never miss an "educational opportunity" with them!

        Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. John Donne

        by scurrvydog on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 09:32:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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