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C-54 Skymaster
Role Military transport aircraft
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
Introduced 1942
Retired 1975
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Navy
United States Air Force
Number built 1,170
Developed from Douglas DC-4

The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces and British forces in World War II and the Korean War. Besides transport of cargo, it also served in a wide variety of non-combat roles from transport of presidents and military staff to scientific and military research, air-sea rescue, 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 the United States and over thirty countries.


Design and development

Like the C-47 Skytrain, the C-54 Skymaster was derived from a civilian airliner (the Douglas DC-4).

Operational history

C-54s began service with the US Army Air Forces in 1942, carrying up to 26 passengers. (Later versions carried up to 50 passengers.) The U.S. Navy also acquired the type, under the designation R5D. The C-54 was one of the most commonly used long-range transports by the U.S. armed forces in World War II. 515 C-54s were manufactured in Santa Monica, California and 655 were manufactured in Chicago, Illinois.

After World War II, the C-54 continued to serve as the primary airlifter of the new United States Air Force and with the United States Navy.

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.[1]

On July 23, 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 Communist La-7 fighters off the coast of Hainan Island, killing 10.[2][3][4][5]

President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created the U.S. Air Force, on board "Sacred Cow", the Presidential C-54 which is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. 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 C-54 was the personal aircraft of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, and Winston Churchill (along with an Avro York). The C-54 was also used by the Royal Air Force, the Armée de l'Air, and the armed forces of at least twelve other nations.


Berliners watching a C-54 land at Tempelhof Airport (1948).
A Douglas C-54 Skymaster, called Spirit of Freedom, currently operated as a flying museum regarding the Berlin Airlift.
VC-54C, the first aircraft used in the role of Air Force One (by President Franklin D. Roosevelt).
C-54D repainted in USAAF wartime markings. Chico, California, October 1992
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.
Optional designation for C-54As used for medical evacuation.
Increased fuel capacity in the wing, One was used by Winston Churchill, 220 built.
One C-54A converted as Presidential transport version used by Franklin D. Roosevelt and later Harry Truman.
Same as C-54B but with R-2000-11 engines, 380 built.
Small number of aircraft modified with special electronic calibration and communications equipment. The aircraft were redesignated EC-54D.
Redesignation of the AC-54D.
HC-54D Rescuemaster
Redesignation of the SC-54D.
Nine C-54Ds temporary converted for missile tracking and nose-cone recovery.
38 aircraft converted by Convair, as search and rescue aircraft. Later redesignated HC-54D.
C-54Ds converted into multi-engine training aircraft.
C-54Ds converted into VIP transport aircraft.
C-54Ds converted for weather reconnaissance.
Further revision to fuel tanks and provision for rapid conversion from passenger to cargo, 125 built.
C-54Es converted for airways calibration, redesignated EC-54E in 1962.
AC-54E redesignated in 1962.
SC-54E redesignated in 1962.
C-54E converted for air-sea rescue, redesingated HC-54E in 1962.
C-54Es converted as a staff transport.
Proposed experimental paratroop version, not built.
Same as C-54E but with different version of the R2000 engine.
SC-54G redesignated in 1962.
C-54Gs used for temporary testing.
C-54Gs converted for air-sea rescue, redesignated HC-54G in 1962.
C-54Gs converted into VIP/staff transport aircraft.
The designation of the DC-4 version with Merlin engines built by Canadair.
Paratroop transport. None built.
Staff transport project, none built. Navy designation R5D-6.
Long range version, one aircraft built with Wright R-1820 engines.
One C-54A aircraft tested in 1947 with an experimental fuel system.
Specialized modification of C-54 to carry coal during the Berlin Airlift, 38 conversions.
Specialized modification of C-54E for medical evacuation, 30 conversions.
R5D-1Z redesignated in 1962.
R5D-2 redesignated in 1962.
R5D-2Z redesignated in 1962.
R5D-3 redesignated in 1962.
R5D-3Z redesignated in 1962.
R5D-4R redesingated in 1962.
R5D-5 redesingnated in 1962.
R5D-5Z redesignated in 1962.
R5D-5R redesingated in 1962.
R5D-4 redesignated in 1962.
R5D-3P redesignated in 1962.
56 C-54As transferred to the United States Navy.
R5D-1s modified in US Navy service, with a fuel system based on the one used in the C-54B.
Naval staff transport conversions of the R5D-1, redesignated R5D-1Z then VC-54N.
Interim designation of the R5D-1F.
30 C-54Bs transferred to the United States Navy, redesignated C-54P in 1962.
Naval staff transport conversion of the R5D-2, redesignated R5D-2Z then VC-54P in 1962.
Interim designation of the R5D-2F.
U.S.Navy R5D-3 Skymaster at Blackbushe, Hampshire, in 1954
95 C-54Ds transferred to the United States Navy, redesignated C-54Q in 1962.
Photo survey conversions of the R5D-3, redesignated RC-54V in 1962.
Naval staff transport conversions of the R5D-3, redesignated VC-54Q in 1962.
20 C-54Es transferred to the United States Navy, redesignated EC-54U in 1962.
Passenger only conversion of the R5D-4, redesignated C-54R in 1962.
R5D-2 and R5D-3s re-engined to approximate C-54G standards, redesignated C-54S in 1962.
Passenger only conversion of the R5D-5, redesignated C-54T in 1962, 86 conversion.
Staff transport conversion of the R5D-5, redesignated VC-54S in 1962.
Proposed USN version of the C-54J with passenger interior, not built.
Pressurized variant of the C-54B with Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines. None built.
As XC-112. One built. Developed into DC-6 / C-118 family.
Stretched C-54E powered by Allison V-1710 engines. One built.
XC-114 with Packard V-1650 engines. None Built.
XC-114 with thermal de-icing rather than rubber boots for testing, one built.
Skymaster I
Royal Air Force designation for 22 C-54Ds.


Netherlands Government Air Transport C-54A on display at the Aviodrome.
USAF C-54 Skymaster.

Military operators

Royal Danish Air Force 6 C-54D/G, 1959–1977
Icelandic Coast Guard
Israeli Air Force
Netherlands East Indies
  • Netherlands East Indies Air Force - four C-54As operated in 1946.[6]
  • Portuguese Air Force - Four C-54Ds operated from 1952 supplemented in 1961 by four former C-54As that had been modified to DC-4 standard.[7] In 1965 ten former USAF HC-54Ds were obtained with an additional four as spares.
 Republic of China
  • Chinese Nationalist Air Force - former USAF aircraft 2 × C-54D (one bought in 1965 and one in 1966), and 1 × C-54G (bought in 1968)[7]
 Saudi Arabia
 South Korea
  • Spanish Air Force - Four former C-54Ds given to Spain by the USAF in 1959 were later supplemented by another 13 second-hand aircraft which included C-54, C-54A, C-54B, C-54E, C-54G and 5D-3s.
 United Kingdom
 United States
United States Army Air Forces, US Air Force, United States Navy, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard

Civilian operators

Trans Australia Airlines
Sabena, Avions Fairey, Belgian International
Buffalo Airways (14 registered as of 11 March 2010 with 4 in operation[10][11]), former airlines; Canadian Pacific, Curtiss Reid Flying Services Canada, Kenting Aviation, Maritime Central Airways, Pacific Western, Transair
 Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Airways
Icelandair, Loftleidir
El Al
Paraguayan Airways Service, Lloyd Aéreo Paraguayo S.A.
 Republic of China
China Airlines
 United Kingdom
Invicta, Starways,
 United States
Pan American, Trans World Airlines, Aero Union, Pacific Southwest Airlines, Capital Airlines, Eastern Airlines

Specifications (C-54G)

C-54 Silh.jpg

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Capacity: 50 troops
  • Length: 93 ft 10 in (28.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 117 ft 6 in (35.8 m)
  • Height: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
  • Wing area: 1,460 ft² (136 m²)
  • Empty weight: 38,930 lb (17,660 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 62,000 lb (28,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 73,000 lb (33,000 kg)
  • Powerplant:Pratt & Whitney R-2000-9 radial engines, 1,450 hp (1,080 kW) each


See also

Related development

Related lists


  1. ^ Berry, 1967, p.7
  2. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Douglas C-54A-10-DC VR-HEU Hainan Island - Aviation Safety Network
  3. ^ Accident details - VR-HEU - Plane Crash Info
  4. ^ VR-HEU Account by passenger: Valerie Parish - Major Commercial Airline Disasters
  5. ^ VR-HEU - The Life & Times of James Harper
  6. ^ a b c Roach 1991, p. 164
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Roach 1991, p. 158
  8. ^ a b Roach 1991, p. 165
  9. ^ Roach 1991, p. 159
  10. ^ Douglas DC-4 Retardant Tankers
  11. ^ Enter "C54" in "Model name"
  • Berry, Peter and others (1967). The Douglas DC-4. Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN none. 
  • Francillon, René (1979). McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I. London: Putnam. ISBN 0-87021-428-4. 
  • Yenne, Bill (1985). McDonnell Douglas: A Tale of Two Giants. Greenwich, Connecticut: Bison Books. ISBN 0-517-44287-6. 
  • The PSA History/Oldtimers Page [1]
  • Eastwood, Tony; John Roach (1991). Piston Engine Airliner Production List. The Aviation Hobby Shop. ISBN 0 907178 37 5. 

External links

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