The C-46 was developed from the new and unproven commercial aircraft design, the CW-20, which first flew in March 1940. The Curtiss C-46 Commando originated in 1940 as a large, thirty-six- passenger airliner, clearly intended to leapfrog the successful Douglas DC-3. As a bigger, potentially more productive twin-engine military The C-46 was quickly taken over by military authorities at the outbreak of World War II.
Deliveries of the AAF C-46s began in July 1942 for the Air Transport Command and Troop Carrier Command. During WW II, the AAF accepted 3,144 C-46s for hauling cargo and personnel and for towing gliders. Of this total, 1,410 were C-46Ds.
The C-46 eventually served in every theater of the war, although it became most closely associated with operations over the "Hump" in the China-Burma-India theater. Its Pratt & Whitney en-gines, rated at 2,000 hp each, gave it a top speed of 260 mph. The air-plane's range of nearly three thousand miles with a combat load of sixteen thousand pounds made it a heavily used workhorse; it also carried fifty combat troops or thirty-three litter patients for medical evacuation. The airplane's size and cargo load justified a three-man crew, including pilot, copilot, and crew chief, with an occasional cabin assistant or extra cargo loader as needed. The C-46 entered service in 1942, and combat opera-tions quickly resulted in a host of variants to meet rapidly changing com-bat conditions and specialized loads.
Early experience with the C-46 saddled it with a poor reputation. Beset at first by hydraulic failures and related problems, it became known as a "plumber's nightmare." The C-46 was temperamental to fly; its instabil-ity at slow speeds made it unsuitable for airdrop missions at low altitudes, and loading the aircraft called for a careful distribution of weights and balance. But despite an initial distaste for the C-46 among ATC aircrews, it soon gained devoted adherents. Aircrews came to appreciate its big car-go doors and roomy fuselage. The C-46 had excellent visibility, comfort-able seats that were adjustable, and power-assisted hydraulic controls that eased pilot strain on long missions. Factory design changes and opera-tional experience mitigated a spate of early complaints about engines and pesky maintenance problems as crews integrated the C-46 into their military duties.
The C-46 gained its greatest fame during WW II transporting war materials over the "Hump" from India to China after the Japanese had closed the Burma Road. C-46 flights on the treacherous air route over the Himalayas began in May 1943. The Commando carried more cargo than the famous C-47 and offered better performance at higher altitudes, but under these difficult flying conditions, C-46s required extensive maintenance and had a relatively high loss rate. In Europe, C-46s dropped paratroopers during the aerial crossing of the Rhine River near Wesel in March 1945.
C-46s saw additional service during the Korean War. Three World War II-era transport planes served in Korea: the C-46 Commando, the C-47 Skytrain, and the C-54 Skymaster. The three were designed to carry troops or equipment, and the C-47 and C-54 also had provisions to carry cargo under the fuselage. The Skytrain and the Skymaster could both carry paratroops, but the Commando proved inadequate for this mission because its tail often fouled the parachutes. All three aircraft filled an airlift role in Korea, supplying everything from aircraft engines, ammunition, medical supplies, rations, and fresh fruit. The C-46 was used to spray insecticide over some parts of South Korea and to drop psychological warfare leaflets over North Korea.
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