The Douglas DC-4 originated from the unrelated first DC-4 (which was renamed the DC-4E) that had proved too complicated and lacking in performance prior to World War Two. The advent of the war interrupted the new DC-4s use as a commercial airliner and after the first prototype was constructed nearly 1,170 came off the production lines for the military in a large number of variants. The basic types were named the C-54 Skymaster (for the USAAF) and the R5D (for the US Navy).
Production was split roughly 50:50 between Douglas' plant at Santa Monica and Cook County, Illinois. C-54s and R5Ds were probably the most advanced of the transport aircraft that served in WW2 and following the war itself formed the backbone of the long and medium haul fleets for the recovering airlines of the world. Despite its solid performance it was unpressurised and quickly eclipsed, at least in the USA, by the Lockheed Constellation and other Douglas products derived from itself like the DC-6.
Immediately following the end of the war several hundred C-54s and R5Ds were released from military service. For Douglas this had the unwanted side-effect of destroying the sales potential of new build DC-4-1009s and it is ironic that only 79 real DC-4s were ever built (between January 1946 and August 1947). Within the USA only Pan Am, National Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Western Airlines actually bought DC-4s whereas almost everyone else took up civilianised versions. In passenger service the type could seat up to 88 passengers. Most of the major trunk airlines quite quickly disposed of their DC-4As (as civilianised versions were called) in favour of more suitable types (Constellations and DC-6s on long haul routes and Martins and Convairliners in short haul routes). Some converted aircraft for freighter operations however by the mid-1950s the DC-4 could primarily be seen in the USA operating for supplemental airlines - many of which added square paint around the DC-4's circular windows inorder to lull the unsuspecting into thinking the war surplus DC-4 was really a new DC-6.
The Big Four
American Airlines Douglas C-54B NC90405
MSN / LN 10489 / DC220
Delivery Date 04/46
Sale Date 12/48
Originally built for the USAAF entering service as 42-72384 entering service on the 6th December 1944 this plane was civilianised and passed to American by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. American operated at least 54 C-54s but as with their DC-3s they were mostly quickly sold onto the after market thanks to huge orders for Convair 240s and Douglas DC-6s. Still about fifteen or so made it to the mid 1950s in American colours. This aircraft was sold to TransOcean Airlines in December 1948 who sold her onto Transcontinental and Western (later TWA) one year later. They operated her until May 1957 when she was sold to Amhonat Co, who leased her to CINTA Chile and Central Air Transport with whom she operated until her withdrawal at Tucson in July 1976.
United Airlines Douglas DC-4 N30043
Delivery Date 14/03/46
Sale Date 17/12/57
Originally built as a C-54B-1-DC for the USAAF (as 42-72382) this aircraft was one of many to be given a proper conversion to DC-4 status. She was the 11th airframe to be converted and joined United in early 1946 as Mainliner Golden Gate. United's 30 DC-4s were a stopgap type however they all served for a respectable period not being sold until the mid-late 1950s. N30043 became PP-LES with Loide Aereo Nacional of Brasil in December 1957. After six years of operations with them she became part of the VASP fleet when they took over Loide Aereo Nacional in April 1963. She wasn’t withdrawn from service with VASP until 1970 when she was stored at Fort Worth and subsequently scrapped.
Trans World Airlines Douglas C-54B-10-DO N44994
CN 18352 / DO126
Delivery Date 1946
Sale Date 03/58
Transcontinental and Western picked up 18 C-54s in the immediate postwar period and named them after famous landmarks. They were used on the North African route to Cairo and saw service into the late 1950s despite TWA’s large Constellation fleet. This aircraft had originally been 43-17152 with the USAAF delivered in August 1944. Her service with TWA, as ship 650 ‘The Alhambra’, lasted until 1958 as a freighter. Sold to Eastern Aircraft Sales and then California Airmotive she was with US Overseas Airlines by July 1959. Serving seven further years with them she was withdrawn and stored at Oakland and broken up in August 1966.
Eastern Air Lines Douglas R5D-2 Skymaster NC88707
CN / LN 18378/DO152 / 714
Delivery Date 07/46
Transfer Date 05/51
Eastern operated nearly forty Skymasters roughly 50:50 C54s and R5Ds. By 1952 nearly half of them had been returned though a few soldiered on into 1958. This aircraft was originally 43-17178 with the USAAF and then transferred to the USN as 39121. She was leased by Eastern for five years before being returned to the Navy. Sold in 1956 she joined Braathens S.A.F.E as LN-SUP ‘Norse Commander’ in November 1956 and later became D-ADAR with TF TransportFlug. Bought in August 1968 by Gilbert Bourgeard she operated for Air Trans Africa and was broken up at Harare in 1970.
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: