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Curtiss C-46/R5C Commando Transport

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C-46 Commando - Navy's Largest Twin-engine Aircraft

C-46 Commando - WWII American transport plane

C-46 Commando in flight over snow-capped mountains.
USAAF photo.

First introduced in October 1941, Curtiss C-46 Commando was the US Army Air Force's largest twin-engine aircraft. The Commando was rushed into action after Pearl Harbor and initially acquired a poor reputation due to hydraulic failure problems and leaking fuel in the wing fuel tanks.

The Coronado proved to be a reliable transport aircraft after initial problems were corrected and aircrews found the “C-46 had excellent visibility, comfortable seats that were adjustable, and poser-assisted hydraulic controls that eased pilot strain on long missions,” Airlift and airborne Operations in World War II by Roger E. Bilstein. Powered with two 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines, there were three production models as well as the Navy version, the R5C.

The C-46 used in China-Burma-India & European Theaters

Route of "hump" airlift - India to China

The Hump Route to China. Drawing based on United States Military Academy map.

During World War II, t he C-46 Commando was used in the Pacific, China-Burma-India, and European Theaters for troop and cargo transport. One of its most critical combat applications was the transport of supplies over the 'Hump' to American and Chinese Nationalists Forces in China.

The only supply line after the closing of the Burma Road by the Japanese in 1942, the Hump was the most hazardous air route of the war, running from bases in Assam in northeastern India, to Kunming in China.

Flying over a most hostile terrain which included the Himalayas, the pilots faced incredibly demanding conditions including monsoons, crude airstrips, enemy aircraft, and overloaded planes. They flew the route from April 1942 to November 1945 ferrying approximately 650,000 of cargo over the Hump. In Europe, numerous Commandos took part in the Rhine crossing as paratroop transports and glider tugs.

Construction and Capacity of the Commando

C-46 Commando during air evacuation.

Air evacuation, showing interior of the Commando. USAAF photo.

The Commando had a double-lobed semi-monocoque or “stressed-skin” fuselage which allowed it to carry large bulky loads with its 2,300 cubic foot main cargo compartment. A Stressed-skin was accomplished by curving the metal skin over the aircraft's frame, so it would become strong without internal cross-bracing, analogous to the skin of a yacht's curved hull, allowing much more usable space in the fuselage. Able to transport up to 40 passengers or about 15,000 pounds of cargo, the Commando could carry more and operate at higher altitudes than the C-47 Skytrain. “The main compartment could accommodate (in addition to general cargo) 40 fully-equipped troops, up to 33 stretchers, five Wright R-3350 engines [as replacement parts], or an equivalent tonnage in other freight,” Encyclopedia of Aircraft of WWII, by Paul Eden.

After WWII, the C-46 Commando saw service in both the Korean and and Vietnam Wars.



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* C-46 Commando facts

Category Transport plane
Manufacturer Curtiss-Wright Corporation
Introduced 1941
Used in
USs Army Air Forces
US Marine Corps
US Navy
Produced 1940–1945
Number built 3,181
Cruising speed 173 mph
Max. speed 269 mph
Altitude 27,600 feet service ceiling
Range 2,950 miles
Crew 4
* Numbers are approximate