Douglas C-54 Skymaster

The Douglas C-54 Skymaster is a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces in World War II and the Korean War. Like the Douglas C-47 Skytrain derived from the DC-3, the C-54 Skymaster was derived from a civilian airliner, the Douglas DC-4. Besides transport of cargo, the C-54 also carried presidents, prime ministers, and military staff. Dozens of variants of the C-54 were employed in a wide variety of non-combat roles such as air-sea rescue, scientific and military research, and missile tracking and recovery. During the Berlin Airlift it hauled coal and food supplies to West Berlin. After the Korean War it continued to be used for military and civilian uses by more than 30 countries. This was one of the first aircraft to carry the President of the United States.

C-54 Skymaster
An USAF C-54 Skymaster
Role Military transport aircraft
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flight 14 February 1942
Introduction 1942
Retired 1975
Status 11 flown by Buffalo Airways
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Navy
United States Air Force
Produced 1942–1947
Number built 1,170
Developed from Douglas DC-4

Design and development

A USAAF Douglas C-54 (s/n 41-37271), circa 1943

With the entry of the United States into World War II, in June 1941 the War Department took over the provision orders for the airlines for the Douglas DC-4 and allocated them to the United States Army Air Forces with the designation C-54 Skymaster. The first, a C-54, flew from Clover Field in Santa Monica, California on 14 February 1942.

To meet military requirements the first civil production aircraft had four additional auxiliary fuel tanks in the main cabin which reduced the passenger seats to 26. The following batch of aircraft, designated C-54A, were built with a stronger floor and a cargo door with a hoist and winch. The first C-54A was delivered in February 1943. The C-54B, introduced in March 1944, had integral fuel tanks in the outer wings, allowing two of the cabin tanks to be removed. This change allowed 49-seats (or 16 stretchers) to be fitted. The C-54C, a hybrid for Presidential use, had a C-54A fuselage with four cabin fuel tanks and C-54B wings with built in tanks to achieve maximum range.

The most common variant was the C-54D, which entered service in August 1944. Based on the C-54B, it was fitted with more powerful R-2000-11 engines. With the C-54E, the last two cabin fuel tanks were moved to the wings which would allow more freight or 44 passenger seats.

Aircraft transferred to the United States Navy were designated Douglas R5D. With the introduction of the Tri-Service aircraft designation system in 1962, all R5Ds were re-designated C-54.

Operational history

C-54s began service with the USAAF in 1942, carrying up to 26 passengers, later versions carrying up to 50 passengers. The C-54 was one of the most commonly used long-range transports by the U.S. armed forces in World War II. Of the C-54s produced, 515 were manufactured in Santa Monica, California and 655 were manufactured at Orchard Place/Douglas Field, in unincorporated Cook County, Illinois, near Chicago (later the site of O'Hare International Airport).[1]

C-54 landing at Tempelhof 1948
A C-54 landing at Tempelhof airport during the Berlin Airlift.

During World War II, the C-54 was used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, and Winston Churchill. The American delegates to the Casablanca Conference used the Skymaster.[2] The C-54 was also used by the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, and the armed forces of at least 12 other nations.

President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created the U.S. Air Force, on board Sacred Cow, the Presidential VC-54C which is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. More than 300 C-54s and R5Ds formed the backbone of the US contribution to the Berlin Airlift in 1948. They also served as the main airlift during the Korean War. After the Korean War, the C-54 was replaced by the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, but continued to be used by the U.S. Air Force until 1972. The last active C-54 Skymaster in U.S. Navy service (C-54Q, BuNo 56501, of the Navy Test Pilot School, NAS Patuxent River) was retired on 2 April 1974.[3]

In late 1945, several hundred C-54s were surplus to U.S. military requirements and these were converted for civil airline operation, many by Douglas Aircraft at its aircraft plants. The aircraft were sold to airlines around the world. By January 1946, Pan American Airways was operating their Skymasters on transatlantic scheduled services to Europe and beyond. Trans-Pacific schedules from San Francisco to Auckland began on 6 June 1946.[4] After disposal by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, many C-54s were modified for use in civilian firefighting and air tanker roles. This included fitting tanks inside and under the fuselage and the fitting of dumping and spraying equipment also on the wing trailing edges. C-54s continued in this role until the late 1990s.


Netherlands Government Air Transport C-54A on display at the Aviodrome
First production variant adapted from DC-4, 24 built.
First military version with strengthened airframe, increased fuel capacity, provision for passengers or cargo, Navy equivalent R5D-1, 252 built.
Increased fuel capacity in the wing, One was used by Winston Churchill, 220 built.
Same as C-54B but with R-2000-11 engines, 380 built.
Further revision to fuel tanks and provision for rapid conversion from passenger to cargo, 125 built.
Same as C-54E but with different version of the R-2000 engine. 400 ordered, of which 162 were completed and the remainder were cancelled at the end of WW2.

Accidents and incidents

C-54 destroyed by North Korean fighters 1950
A USAF C-54 destroyed by North Korean fighters, 1950.

Crashing in the sea (1947)

On 3 July 1947: US Army Air Force C-54G 45-519 crashed in the Atlantic 294 mi off Florida after a loss of control caused by turbulence from a storm, killing the six crew.[5]

Disappearance (1950)

On 26 January 1950, a C-54D operated by the United States Air Force disappeared during a flight between Anchorage-Elmendorf Air Force Base (Alaska) and Great Falls Air Force Base (Montana) with a crew of eight and 36 passengers (34 service personnel and two civilians).[6][7] No trace of the aircraft or its occupants has ever been found.

Crashing in the sea (1951)

On 31 January 1951, the C-54D with tail number 282 of the Portuguese Military Aeronautics, operated by the Search and Rescue Squadron of the Lajes Air Base, Azores, flying from the Lisbon Airport back to its base, crashed in the Atlantic, when approaching Lajes. All of the 14 people on board (two pilots, nine mechanics and three other military personnel) were killed.[8]

Berlin corridor attack (1952)

On 29 April 1952, an Air France Douglas C-54A (registration F-BELI) operating a scheduled service from Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport to Berlin Tempelhof Airport came under sustained attack from two Soviet MiG 15 fighters while passing through one of the Allied air corridors over East Germany. Although the attack had severely damaged the aircraft, necessitating the shutdown of engines number three and four, the pilot in command of the aircraft managed to carry out a safe emergency landing at Tempelhof Airport. A subsequent inspection of the aircraft's damage revealed that it had been hit by 89 shots fired from the Soviet MiGs. There were no fatalities among the 17 occupants (six crew, 11 passengers) despite the severity of the attack. The Soviet military authorities defended this attack on an unarmed civilian aircraft by claiming the Air France plane was outside the air corridor at the time of attack.[9]

Shoot-down by the PRC (1954)

On 23 July 1954, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster civilian airliner, registration VR-HEU, operated by Cathay Pacific Airways, en route from Bangkok to Hong Kong, was shot down by Chinese PLAAF La-11 fighters off the coast of Hainan Island, killing ten people.[10][11][12][13]

Disappearance (1964)

On 28 March 1964, a C-54A disappeared over the Pacific (about 1120 km west of San Francisco—last reported position: 29°20′N 135°00′W / 29.33°N 135.00°W) on an executive passenger flight from Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii to Los Angeles International Airport, California. The pilot reported a fire in No. 2 engine, which might make it necessary to ditch. Nothing more was heard from the aircraft, nor was any trace of it found despite an extensive search. Three crew and six passengers died in the accident.[14]

Specifications (C-54G)

C-54 Silh
C-54 Cockpit 2009
Cockpit of a restored C-54 Skymaster, N500EJ, Spirit of Freedom of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation

General characteristics


Notable appearances in media

A C-54, registration C-FIQM (Buffalo 5-721 (tail 57)), was used as a substitute Lancaster bomber due to its similar top speed and maximum payload, for a recreation of Operation Chastise with its bouncing bomb. It was filmed in the UK documentary Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb, Canadian documentary Dambusters Fly Again, Nova season 39 episode "Bombing Hitler's Dams", and Ice Pilots NWT season 3 episode 2 "Dambusters".[15][16][17][18][19][20]

The movie The Big Lift, starring Montgomery Clift shows extensive operations of the C-54 as it was shot on location during the peak of the Berlin Airlift in 1949.

See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ "History of O'Hare Int'l Airport." Archived February 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine FAA. Retrieved: 1 May 2015.
  2. ^ Lavery 2007
  3. ^ "The Seventies 1970–1980." Archived 2013-05-13 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  4. ^ Berry 1967, p. 7.
  5. ^ Accident description for 45-519 at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 7 November 2013.
  6. ^ Ranter, Harro and Fabian I. Lujan. 'Douglas C-54D-1-DC 42-72469 Snag, YT". Aviation Safety Net, 2008. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  7. ^ Kennebec, Matt. "Douglas DC-4 C-54D." 1000 Photos, 2010. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  8. ^ Douglas C-54D-1-DC (DC-4) 282 Aviation Safety Net, 2008. Retrieved: 22 March 2017.
  9. ^ ASN "Aircraft accident description Douglas C-54A-DO F-BELI – near Berlin, Germany." Aviation Safety Net. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  10. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas C-54A-10-DC VR-HEU Hainan Island." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Accident details – VR-HEU." Plane Crash Info. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  12. ^ "VR-HEU Account by passenger: Valerie Parish." Archived 2009-01-27 at the Wayback Machine Major Commercial Airline Disasters. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  13. ^ "VR-HEU." Archived August 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine The Life & Times of James Harper. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  14. ^ Ranter, Harro and Fabian I. Lujan. "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas C-54A-10-DC N4726V San Francisco, CA." Aviation Safety Network, 2011. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  15. ^ "Dambusters Fly Again." Archived March 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine History Television, August 2011. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  16. ^ Chivers, Tom. "The day the Dam Busters returned... in Canada." The Telegraph (London), 2 May 2011. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  17. ^ Bryan, Hal. "'Ice Pilots' Help Re-Create 'Dambusters'" Archived March 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. EAA, 5 May 2011. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  18. ^ "Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb." Channel 4, 2011. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.
  19. ^ "Bombing Hitler's Dams". PBS, WGBH, Nova. Retrieved: 12 January 2012.
  20. ^ "Ice Pilots NWT: Season 3, Episode 2: Dambusters." History Television. Retrieved: 15 May 2012.


  • Berry, Peter et al. The Douglas DC-4. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1967.
  • Blewett, R. Survivors. Coulsden, UK: Aviation Classics, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9530413-4-3.
  • Eastwood, Tony and John Roach. Piston Engine Airliner Production List. West Drayton, UK: Aviation Hobby Shop, 1991. ISBN 0-907178-37-5.
  • Francillon, René. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I. London: Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-87021-428-4.
  • Lavery, Brian: Churchill Goes to War: Winston's Wartime Journeys. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-591141-037.
  • Milberry, Larry. The Canadair North Star. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1982. ISBN 0-07-549965-7.
  • Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1–DC-7. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1-85310-261-X.
  • Pickler, Ron and Larry Milberry. Canadair: The First 50 Years. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1995. ISBN 0-921022-07-7.
  • Yenne, Bill. McDonnell Douglas: A Tale of Two Giants.Greenwich, Connecticut: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-517-44287-6.

External links

106 Squadron (Israel)

The 106 Squadron of the Israeli Air Force, also known as Spearhead Squadron (Hebrew:טייסת חוד החנית), was created on June 13, 1948, for transportation purposes. The aircraft roster originally had various transport aircraft such as the C-46 Commandos, L-049 Constellations and Douglas C-54 Skymaster. It flew under the cover of a fake airliner company called Lineas Aereas de Panama. It first participated in Operation Balak, but was disbanded in June 1949. The Squadron's aircraft were transferred to an airliner company called Arkia Airlines. It was not reformed until June 11, 1982, and fought in the 1982 Lebanon War. Since the Lebanon War, the Squadron was credited with five aerial victories from 1982-1985. The Squadron's F-15s flew combat air patrols during Desert Storm to screen possible air attacks from the Iraqi Air Force. It currently operates F-15B/C/D fighters out of Tel Nof Airbase.

1950 Douglas C-54D disappearance

On 26 January 1950, the Douglas C-54 Skymaster serial number 42-72469 disappeared en route from Alaska to Montana, with 44 people aboard. The aircraft made its last radio contact two hours into its eight-hour flight. Despite one of the largest rescue efforts carried out by the US military, no trace of the aircraft has ever been found. It is considered one of the largest groups of American military personnel to ever go missing.

201st Airlift Squadron

The 201st Airlift Squadron flies Boeing C-40 Clipper and the C-38 Courier. It is a unit of the District of Columbia Air National Guard. Its parent unit is the 113th Wing.

317th Operations Group

The 317th Operations Group is an inactive United States Air Force unit, last stationed at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina as part of Air Mobility Command. It was activated in 1992 during the Air Force's Objective Wing reorganization, and inactivated the following year when all Air Force units at Pope were assigned to the 23d Wing.

The group was first activated as the 317th Transport Group in February 1942, becoming the 317th Troop Carrier Group in July. The 317th took part in nearly all the airlift operations in the Pacific Theater of Operations, including the Battle of Wau, New Guinea, and Operation Topside, parachute drops on Corregidor in 1945. For each of these operations the 317th was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. Following the war, the 317th served as part of the occupation forces in Japan.

In September 1948, the group (now equipped with the Douglas C-54 Skymaster) moved to Germany to augment the Berlin Airlift forces and flew missions from Celle RAF Station until the end of the Airlift in 1949. It was inactivated in September 1949 as part of the Air Force's reduction of the number of combat groups required by President Truman’s 1949 defense budget. The group returned to Germany in June 1952 as a theater airlift unit flying Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars. Its squadrons were attached to its parent 317th Troop Carrier Wing in 1955 and the group was inactivated in March 1957.

The group has been active twice since then, as the 317th Tactical Airlift Group from 1978 to 1980 and as the 317th Operations Group from 1992 to 1993. Forces deployed from the group participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1992.

48th Air Transport Squadron

The 48th Air Transport Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last was assigned to the 1502d Air Transport Wing, Military Air Transport Service, stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. It was inactivated on 25 June 1965.


5Z or 5-Z may refer to:

5Z, IATA code for CemAir

5Z, the production code for the 1982 Doctor Who serial Castrovalva

R5D-5Z, a variant model of Douglas C-54 Skymaster

R4D-5Z, a variant model of Douglas C-47 Skytrain

922d Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron

The 922d Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron is a provisional United States Air Force unit, assigned to Air Combat Command to activate or inactivate as needed. It was last assigned to the 474th Air Expeditionary Group at San Isidro Air Base, Dominican Republic in 2010.

The squadron was first activated during World War II as the 22d Air Corps Ferrying Squadron at Morrison Field, Florida in 1942. In October 1943 the squadron and its parent group were disbanded and replaced as the Air Transport Command unit at Morrison by Station 11, Caribbean Wing, Air Transport Command.

The squadron was reconstituted in 1954 as the 22d Air Transport Squadron, Medium, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster unit, at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. The squadron was inactivated in 1958.

The 922d Air Refueling Squadron operated Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio from 1959 to 1975, when its parent, the 17th Bombardment Wing moved to Beale Air Force Base, California.

The 922d was reactivated three years later as the 922d Strategic Squadron to control deployed Strategic Air Command (SAC) tanker and reconnaissance aircraft operating in the Mediterranean. In September 1985, the 922d and 22d squadrons were consolidated into a single squadron. When SAC inactivated in 1992, the squadron became a reconnaissance unit, operating Boeing RC-135s from RAF Mildenhall until 1994.

The 922d was converted to provisional status as the 922d Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron and assigned to Air Combat Command to activate or inactivate as needed. In 2010 it was activated as part Operation Unified Response. the military response to the earthquake in Haiti.

923d Expeditionary Air Refueling Flight

The 923d Expeditionary Air Refueling Flight is a provisional United States Air Force unit, assigned to Air Combat Command to activate or inactivate as needed.

The squadron was first activated during World War II as the 23d Air Corps Ferrying Squadron at Morrison Field, Florida in 1942. In October 1943 the squadron and its parent group were disbanded and replaced as the Air Transport Command unit at Morrison by Station 11, Caribbean Wing, Air Transport Command.

The squadron was reconstituted in 1954 as the 23d Air Transport Squadron, Medium, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster unit, at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. The squadron was inactivated in 1955.

The 923d Air Refueling Squadron operated Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan from 1960 to 1961, when its mission, personnel and equipment were transferred to the 46th Air Refueling Squadron.

In September 1985, the 923d and 23d squadrons were consolidated into a single squadron. The 923d was converted to provisional status as the 923d Expeditionary Air Refueling Flight and assigned to Air Mobility Command to activate or inactivate as needed.

Aerovias Guest

Aerovias Guest S.A. was Mexico's third airline founded after Mexicana de Aviación and Aeronaves de Mexico. It was later taken over by Aeronaves de Mexico when it declared bankruptcy.

Air Ferry Limited

Air Ferry Limited was a private, independent British airline operating charter, scheduled and all-cargo flights from 1963 to 1968.

American Overseas Airlines

American Overseas Airlines (AOA) was an airline that operated between the United States and Europe between 1945 and 1950. It was headquartered in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

List of Douglas DC-4 operators

This is a list of operators of the Douglas DC-4, Douglas C-54, Canadair North Star and Douglas R5D.

M22 Locust

The M22 Locust, officially Light Tank (Airborne), M22, was an American-designed airborne light tank which was produced during World War II. The Locust began development in 1941 after the British War Office requested that the American government design a purpose-built airborne light tank which could be transported by glider into battle to support British airborne forces. The War Office had originally selected the Light Tank Mark VII Tetrarch light tank for use by the airborne forces, but it had not been designed with that exact purpose in mind so the War Office believed that a purpose-built tank would be required to replace it. The United States Ordnance Department was asked to produce this replacement, which in turn selected Marmon-Herrington to design and build a prototype airborne tank in May 1941. The prototype was designated the Light Tank T9 (Airborne), and was designed so that it could be transported underneath a Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft, although its dimensions also allowed it to fit inside a General Aircraft Hamilcar glider.

After a series of modifications were made to the initial prototype, production of the T9 began in April 1943. It was significantly delayed, however, when several faults were found with the tank's design. Marmon-Herrington only began to produce significant numbers of the T9 in late 1943 and early 1944, and by then the design was considered to be obsolete; only 830 were built by the time production ended in February 1945. As a result, the Ordnance Department gave the tank the specification number M22 but no combat units were equipped with it. However, the War Office believed that the tank would perform adequately despite its faults, so the tank was given the title of "Locust" and 260 were shipped to Great Britain under the Lend-Lease Act. Seventeen Locusts were received by the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment in late 1943, but mechanical problems led to the tanks being withdrawn in favour of the Tetrarchs previously used by the regiment.

In October 1944 however, the remaining Tetrarchs of the regiment were replaced by Locusts and eight were used during Operation Varsity in March 1945. The tanks did not perform well in action; several were damaged during the landing process and one was knocked out by a German self-propelled gun. Only two Locusts were able to reach their planned rendezvous point and go into action, occupying a piece of high ground along with an infantry company. The tanks were forced to withdraw from the position after several hours however, because they attracted artillery fire that caused the infantry to suffer heavy casualties. The Locust never saw active service with the British Army again and was classified as obsolete in 1946. A number of Locusts were used by foreign militaries in the post-war period however; the Belgian Army used Locusts as command tanks for their M4 Sherman tank regiments, and the Egyptian Army used several company-sized units of Locusts during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

Medal for Humane Action

The Medal for Humane Action is a military award of the United States Armed Forces which was created by an act (63 Stat. 477) of the United States Congress on July 20, 1949. The medal recognizes those military service members who performed extended duty in support of the Berlin Airlift. The medal is based on the design of the Berlin Airlift Device.

Raisin Bombers

Raisin Bombers (German: Rosinenbomber) or (in US English) "Candy Bombers" were colloquial terms Berliners gave to the Western Allied (American and British) transport aircraft which brought in supplies by airlift to West Berlin during the Soviet Berlin Blockade in 1948/1949.

Snag, Yukon

Snag is a village located on a small, dry-weather sideroad off the Alaska Highway, 25 kilometres (16 mi) east of Beaver Creek, Yukon, Canada. The village of Snag is located in a bowl-shaped valley of the White River and its tributaries, including Snag Creek. It was first settled during the Klondike Gold Rush. An aboriginal village was also located approximately 8 kilometres (5 mi) away. It was the site of a military airfield, established as part of the Northwest Staging Route, which closed in 1968. In 1947, the village of Snag boasted a population of eight to ten First Nation people and fur traders. An additional staff of fifteen to twenty airport personnel — meteorologists, radio operators, aircraft maintenance men — lived at the airport barracks.

Transmeridian Air Cargo

Transmeridian Air Cargo (IATA: KK, ICAO: ·, Call sign: Transmeridian) was a British cargo airline that operated from 1962 until 1979 when it merged with IAS Cargo Airlines to form Heavylift Cargo Airlines.

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