Curtiss C-46 Commando
The largest and heaviest twin-engine aircraft to see service with the Army Air Forces,
this transport gained its greatest fame in airlifting supplies over "the Hump"
(the Himalaya Mountains) in the China-Burma-India theater in World War II, although it saw
action in every theater.
The C-46 began its career as a pressurized, 36-passenger airliner with twin rudders, but
the Army saw greater utility for the aircraft as a transport. The AAF bought the prototype
in 1941, modified it to have a single fin, and designated it C-55. Demand for the C-46
grew rapidly, and manufacturing began at the new Curtiss plants in Louisville, Ky., and
Saint Louis, Mo. The aircraft division of Higgins Industries (the New Orleans, La.–based
boatbuilder that constructed most of the landing craft used in World War II) was given a
contract for 500 aircraft, but only two C-46As were completed. A total of 1,490 C-46As
were built, which included 160 R5Cs for the Marine Corps. The other major variant was the
C-46D, with 1,410 aircraft built. The C-46 could carry more payload than its more famous
stablemate, the C-47, and it offered better high-altitude performance, which was one of
the reasons it was used so extensively in the CBI. C-46 crews began flying the hazardous
air route over the Himalayas in 1943 after the Japanese closed the Burma Road. However, as
a result of the CBI's harsh conditions, the type had a relatively high loss rate, and
maintenance was a problem. In Europe, the C-46 was used to drop paratroopers during the
Rhein River crossing in March 1945. The C-46 could tow two CG-4 gliders. The C-46A, D, and
F models were used in Korea, and a few aircraft were used by Air Force Special Air Warfare
Center in the early years of the Vietnam War.
C-46s were in limited Air Force service as late as 1969. Many went into civilian hands
after World War II, and a fair number are still in use today.
|General characteristics C-46A
|Curtiss-Wright Corp., Higgins Aircraft Co.
|Two Pratt&Whitney R-2800-51 Double Wasp 18-cylinder,
twin-row radials engines
|2x 2,000 HP
|2x 1,492 kW
|1,360 sq ft
|126.34 sq m
|10,000 lb (4,535 kg) or 40 seats
|March 26, 1940
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