The DC-4 is a four-engined propeller-driven airliner developed by the United States company Douglas Aircraft Company. It served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift and into the 1960s in a military role. From 1945, many civil airlines operated it worldwide.
Design and development
The designation DC-4 was first used by Douglas Aircraft Company when developing a large, four-engined type to complement its very successful DC-3, already in widespread operation. It was intended to fulfil United Airlines' requirement for a long-range passenger airliner. Retrospectively this aircraft became known as the DC-4E (E for experimental). It emerged as a 42-passenger airliner with a fuselage of unusually wide cross-section for its day with two decks and a triple fin tail unit, similar to that later used by Lockheed on its Constellation. The triple fin and double deck were abandoned on subsequent models, and the more common single fin was utilised.
The DC-4E first flew on 7 June 1938, piloted by Benny Howard and was used by United Air Lines for test flights. The type proved to be ahead of its time: it was complicated to maintain and uneconomical to operate. The sponsoring airlines, Eastern and United, decided to ask instead for a smaller and simpler derivative but before the definitive DC-4 could enter service the outbreak of the Second World War meant production was channeled to the United States Army Air Forces and the type was given the military designation C-54 Skymaster. Additional versions used by the US Navy were designated R5D. The first aircraft, a C-54, flew from Clover Field in Santa Monica, California on February 14, 1942.
The DC-4 had a notable innovation in that its tricycle landing gear allowed it to incorporate a fuselage of constant cross-section for most of its length. This lent itself to easy stretching into the later DC-6 and DC-7. A total of 1,163 C-54/R5Ds were built for the United States military services between 1942 and January 1946.
Douglas continued to develop the type during the war in preparation for a return to airline services when peace returned. However, the type's sales prospects were hit by the offloading of 500 wartime C-54s and R5Ds onto the civil market. DC-4s were a favorite of charter airlines such as Great Lakes Airlines, North American Airlines, Universal Airlines, Transocean Airlines, etc. In the 1950s, Transocean Airlines (Oakland, California) was the largest operator of the C-54/DC-4.
Douglas produced 79 new-build DC-4s between January 1946 and cessation of production on 9 August 1947. Pressurization was available as an option, but all civilian DC-4s (and C-54s) were built unpressurized. Purchasers of the new build aircraft included National Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Western Airlines in the USA and KLM Royal Dutch Air Lines, Scandinavian Airlines System, Sabena Belgian World Airlines and South African Airways in overseas markets.
Very few DC-4s remain in service today, though 26 remained airworthy in 2007 including C-54s. The last three passenger DC-4s believed to be running worldwide are all based in Johannesburg South Africa. Two fly old South African Airways (SAA) colors. They are ZS-AUB "Outeniqua" and ZS-BMH "Lebombo" and are owned by the South African Airways Museum Society and operated by Skyclass Aviation, a company specializing in classic airliner charters to exotic destinations in Africa. The other Skymaster is ZS-AUA "Tafelberg" which is also operated by Skyclass Aviation but is leased from the Dutch Dakota Association. A furthur C54 at Rand Airport is owned by Phoebus Apollo Aviation, ZS-PAI, Between 1998 and 2002, Phoebus Apollo operated a successful african cargo operation with 3 DC4's and a single Carvair. AVGAS availability and cost saw the company expand into jets. ZS-PAK was cut up,ZS-PAJ was donated to the South African Airways Museum Society and ZS-PAI is used for airshows.
Published - July 2009
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