Sky Freighter

by William F Boni

The aircraft industry was quick to adapt itself to meeting the Army's demand for cargo aircraft.

Now that Henry J Kaiser is working on $18,000,000 worth of experimental cargo planes for the future, it is a fitting time to report that the aircraft industry is meeting our present urgent needs for aerial freighters far better than the general public has been led to believe.

During the peak of the Kaiser controversy, there was a prevalent feeling that we were getting no cargo planes at all. On the contrary, they were coming off the assembly lines in a constant, steady flow, at a rate limited only by the amount of material and equipment at hand.

There are seven major plane producers in the Southern California area — Consolidated, Douglas, Lockheed, North American,Vultee, Northrop, Ryan and Vega. The first three, together with Curtiss-Wright in the East, figure vitally in the cargo plane program.

Curtiss is in production on two types, the all-wooden Caravan, and the Commando, largest twin-engined land plane yet built. Lockheed, whose main job so far has been supplying the Army Air Forces and the RAF with P-38 Lightning fighters and Hudson and Ventura bombers, soon will be in production on the four-motored Constellation, a giant whose prototype has been successfully test flown.

But Douglas, peacetime pace-setter in the manufacture of airliners, now is wartime leader in the manufacture of aerial freight carriers.

Rolling off the Douglas assembly lines in the greatest numbers are two military adaptations of the familiar DC-3 — one which the Army calls the C-47, with wide cargo door designed to carry heavy cargo or airborne troops and used extensively in Army maneuvers, and the other the C-53, which is primarily a light-freight carrier.

Exact production figures are withheld for obvious reasons. But it can give the enemy little aid or comfort to know that Douglas each month is turning out almost as many of these planes as it produced in more than five years in peacetime.

In addition to the DC-3, familiar to airline passengers for many years and now, in its AAF camouflage, an almost equally familiar sight in all sorts of odd corners of the world, Douglas is producing the C-54. This, like Lockheed's Constellation, is a four-engined job with the load-carrying capacity of a railway box car.

Designed fundamentally for economical operation the C-54 turned out to have been designed so well that its speed exceeded the engineers' estimates by as much as 25 mph — a fact they ascribe to a lower drag coefficient than that of any other US plane with the exception of North American's P-51 fighter.

The C-54 has other features unusual for a plane of its size, the most notable of which enable it to land and take off on fields of average size. In these days when the Army is shipping priority freight all over the globe, to many places where airport facilities are nothing to brag about, this is a factor of decided value in keeping operations going.

One small batch of these C-54s which I was allowed to look over is being turned out for a special and laudable purpose — to carry the hard-working pilots of the AAF's Air Transport Command in more comfort than they've been allotted in the past. Fitted out with regular airliner seats and other accommodations, they should be a welcome change from the cramped bomber quarters in which the ferry pilots have had to make their home-bound trips in the past.

Douglas, like a number of other companies, also is well past the blueprint stage on an even larger cargo plane — all specifications secret. This, however, like the three types with which Kaiser is to experiment, is something for the future.

What we need now are planes to do the job now — and these we are getting to the full capacity of materials and facilities on hand.

This article was originally published in the August, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 33, no 2, p 34.
The original article includes a photo of a C-54 in flight.
Photo credited to Douglas Aircraft Co — Lockheed Aircraft Corp