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C-124 Globemaster II

The C-124 is a four-engine, long-range monoplane. The C-124, nicknamed "Old Shaky," served as the backbone of strategic air transport for the U.S. Air Force for the decade of the 1950s. The C-124 replaced the C-54 as the primary airlifted of Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and was the predecessor of the C-141 "Starlifter." C-124s provided heavy airlift during the Korean War and the Southeast Asia War. Other important airlifts conducted by C-124s included resupply missions to Antarctica, refugee evacuation in the Congo and mercy flights to Morocco, Chile and elsewhere throughout the world following floods and other natural disasters.

The C-124 was officially the Globemaster II but the military types never called her that. "Ol' Shakey", as it was affectionately known [also called Old Shaky, Shaky, or the Shakemaster], was given its name by crew members because of the constant in-flight shaking, rattling and squeaking. It was also called "The Great Aluminum Cloud", "The Flying Reynolds-Wrap", "Aluminum Cloud", "Aluminum Overcast" and "The Douglas Vibrator".

The redesign of the Douglas C-74 Globemaster was initiated in 1947, but the new Douglas C-124 Globemaster II did not make its first flight until Nov. 27, 1949. The C-124 used the same wings, tail, and engines as the C-74, but featured a new and enlarged fuselage, as well as stronger landing gear to handle higher weights. The US Air Force would have purchased many more C-74 Globemasters, but one key feature was missing - it could not accommodate wheeled vehicles. Douglas found that they could make the C-74 fuselage taller, and put in clam shell doors in the nose of the aircraft right under the cockpit. What emerged was the C-124 Globemaster II. Its primary advantage was its combat radius of 1,000 miles, which allowed it to transport cargo or troops to a remote base and return without refueling. The new aircraft had cabin heat, clam-style nose loading doors, hydraulically operated ramps, and an electrically operated elevator. It also sported power augmentation, in the form of a 60-gallon water/alcohol fluid injection system, for takeoffs.

Despite its problems, the C-124 demonstrated that it was the cheapest air transport per ton-mile in the Air Force inventory. To facilitate cargo handling, the C-124 featured "clamshell" loading doors and hydraulic ramps in the nose and an elevator under the aft fuselage. The huge aircraft could carry a maximum load of 74,000 pounds of cargo. It was capable of handling such bulky cargo as tanks, field guns, bull dozers, and trucks. When used in a transport role (with two decks installed), the Globemaster II could carry a maximum of 200 fully-equipped troops, or 123 stretcher cases plus 45 ambulatory patients and 15 medical attendants.

The C-124 had loading ramps in the front of the plane that were ideal for loading cargo and the front doors opened like a clam shell. The ramps were steep -- at a 17-degree angle with a 30-percent slope. troops could back vehicles in with or as cargo and could load in passengers and go. It just took them a little bit of time. The plane was also good at carrying missiles. The C-124 was also used for airdrops. The way it operated was much different from planes of today, but the cargo was much the same. They could airdrop paratroopers -- up to 180 of them, and cargo. In the back of the plane, the underneath of the airplane had elevator doors that opened up and the crew could drop cargo out, or paratroopers could jump out. They used the A-22 airdrop containers for cargo - the same ones that are being air dropped in Iraq in 2003. They are basically the same container. In some cases, airdrops didn't go so well with the C-124.

The advantages presented by an autonomous, self-contained cargo loading system are glaring; they give cause to question why such systems have not been integrated into current aircraft. In point of fact, there were earlier cargo aircraft designed with limited enhanced cargo-handling capability. Both the Douglas C-74 and its more widely produced follow-on, the C-124, had an internal elevator system to accommodate the split-level cargo compartment. Each also had a built-in crane to aid in cargo loading. These aircraft were designed in 1942 and 1949.

The "48 Group Program" in effect for Fiscal Year (FY) 1949 authorized the purchase of giant Douglas C-124 Globemaster IIs. The procurement schedule called for the first to reach the flightline in May 1950. Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Corporation at Long Beach, California, deliveries of C-124As began in May 1950. The USAF bought 448 C-124s before production ended in 1955. A total of 204 C-124As were built, to be followed by 243 C-124Cs. In July 1950 Douglas received a letter contract to begin work on the YC-124B. The turboprop-powered KC-124B tanker variant was considered, which emerged as a single YC-124B transport prototype that flew in 1954.

The C-124C featured more-powerful engines (3800 vice 3500 horsepower) with a manually operated two stage blower and larger diameter, clipped-tip propellers. The C-124C also featured wingtip-mounted combustion heaters that provided cabin heating and wing and tail surface deicing, and an APS-42 weather radar in a distinctive nose "thimble." These latter improvements were eventually retrofitted to the C-124As. The early models had a forward-facing flight engineers station behind the copilot in a separate compartment with the radio operator and navigator. The captain and copilot had their own compartments with a door. Later models had a side-facing engineer's panel and everything was one large, open compartment.

On 23 May 1951, a C-124 Globemaster crashed in a field near New Castle, Indiana, during an experimental flight originating from Wright-Patterson AFB. One hour after leaving the base, the propellers on the huge aircraft reversed pitch, causing it to lose altitude. As the pilot attempted an emergency landing, the C-124 clipped several trees, which "caused the plane to hit the earth with such violence that parts of the plane were strewn over a charred and churned path several hundred feet long before it finally came to rest right side up." The plane burst into flames, and firefighters were stationed at the scene throughout the night attempting to keep an intact fuel tank from exploding. The twelve personnel on board were assigned to the Air Development Force at Wright-Patterson. There were five survivors.

On 27 September 1951, a C-124A began FEAF-hosted service tests labeled Operation PELICAN. In a little over one month, the aircraft flew 26 missions between Japan and Korea, carrying an average load of 34,000 pounds, double the amount carried on the C-54. In one mission in 1951, a C-124 airlifted a record 167 patients from Pusan in South Korea. The first operational C-124 arrived in the Far East in May of the following year, at which time the 315th Air Division began to convert from C-54s to the new transport.

The Globemaster conducted its first operational FEAF mission on 3 July 1952 and was scheduled for one flight daily between Japan and Korea. In addition to transporting troops and equipment, the C-124 also participated in medical evacuations in Korea. Unfortunately, because of the weight of the aircraft, it was limited to only four airstrips in Korea. A heavy-duty runway was constructed at Seoul Municipal Airport in October 1952, but logistical difficulties kept the C-124 from fulfilling its airlift potential.

The C-124 had a variety of problems associated with its anti-icing equipment, autopilot, brakes, and instrument visibility. Until WADC engineers could devise a solution to ice formation, pilots were simply told to avoid icy conditions. At the end of 1952, all C-124s of the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron were grounded because of fuel tank leaks. Early in February, after fuel cell modifications, the big planes returned to the skies. In July 1953, a number of C-124s were grounded again pending inspection of their engines after a number of engine fires. On 18 June 1953, the worst air disaster up to that time occurred at Tachikawa Air Base in Japan when an engine fire caused the crash of a C-124 shortly after takeoff, killing all 129 passengers aboard. Some of the planes were returned to service the following month, but many remained grounded at the war's end, awaiting new generators. Despite its problems, the C-124 had demonstrated that it was the cheapest air transport per ton-mile in the Air Force inventory.

The C-124 was introduced late in the Korean War to both Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and Tactical Air Command [TAC]. However, MATS argued for possession of all C-124s due to the shortage of strategic airlift. TAC wanted the new aircraft to meet Army demands for direct delivery of troops from the US to combat. Finally, in 1956, a DOD directive, Single Manager for Airlift Service, designated the SECAF as the single manager for airlift with MATS identified as the operating agency. Some Navy airlift aircraft and all of TAC's C-124s were transferred to MATS. The C-124 would become the workhorse of MATS, but the concept of direct delivery began to blur the distinction between strategic and tactical airlift.

The C-124 "Globe Master" came under the category of heavy transport. By 1960 it was the principal heavy transport aircraft within the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). The Army's military force known as STRAC - the Strategic Army Corps that was a high contender as the forerunner of a major force that may be initially employed if our nation is plunged into war. The headquarters of STRAC was the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Corps had one infantry division and two airborne divisions as its major divisional units. The C-124 was considered the principal aircraft for a STRAC strategic move. It was used for parachute operations, evacuation, and the carrying of cargo. The C-124 has an allowable cargo load of 43,000 pounds. It can carry this weight 1,500 nautical miles. It can carry 200 troops or 112 jumpers. By the early 1960s airborne forces had not used this aircraft for parachute operations in training, because the dispersion of troops on the ground was too great. Representative loads were three 2-ton trucks, one M41 light tank, or four H-13 helicopters.

The original REDSTONE and JUPITER missiles built in-house under the direction of Dr. Wernher von Braun were flown in a C-124 Globemaster from the arsenal's airfield to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for testing. The JUPITER C launch vehicle which carried the Free World's first satellite -- EXPLORER I -- into orbit around the Earth in January 1958, began its historic journey from the arsenal to outer space via the Redstone Army Airfield. The "much-publicized space monkeys," Able and Baker, were moved around the country before and after their pioneering flight in May 1959 on planes provided by the AOMC Aviation Section. In November 1957, the airfield also furnished the aircraft which flew the JUPITER C #40 nose cone, the first man-made object to be recovered intact from outer space, to Washington, DC, for use in a television broadcast by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In January 1961 the Air Force Reserve received its first C-124 aircraft assigned to the 77th Troop Carrier Squadron at Donaldson AFB, South Carolina. The 442nd Airlift Wing received the Air Force Reserve's C-124 Globemaster cargo planes in April 1961. The wing flew these aircraft until 1971 when the wing transitioned to C-130 Hercules aircraft. By 1970, most C-124s were transferred to the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. Although in production for only five years, the C-124s had a long and useful service life. The C-124C Globemaster was the last large American transport powered by piston engines. The last C-124 was phased out in 1974. During its 25 years of service, the C-124 served as the U.S. Air Force's primary airlift/airdrop aircraft. When the first Globemasters ended their useful service life, some were acquired by civil cargo operators. While most of the C-124s were melted down, 9 still survived in museums as of 2004.

The combat air-lift mission was greatly enhanced with Military Airlift Command [MAC] all-jet C-141/C-5 combat airlift force. The difference is perhaps best illustrated by a typical scenario from onload at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, to airlanding or airdrop in Southeast Asia. With the C-124 type of force, 73 hours elapse between first takeoff at Pope and destination. The time is generated by the low speed of the aircraft, mid-Pacific routing to maximize the allowable cabin load (ACL), and a 12-hour ground time at Kadena to transfer to the theater's C-l30 aircraft for the final (employment) segment of the mission. With the C-141/C-5 force, the elapsed time is 27 hours from first takeoff at Pope to arrival of the formation over the objective area. The C-141 proved herself quickly by making the world seem a little smaller as she closed the distances and seemingly moved the time zones closer together in replacing the Air Force's prime airlifter of the day, the C-124 Globemaster II.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:27:56 ZULU