The Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando was the largest and heaviest twin-engine aircraft to see service with the USAAF. It gained its greatest fame in airlifting supplies over “the Hump” (the Himalaya Mountains) in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater in World War II, although it saw action in every theater.
The Commando began its career as a pressurized, 36-seat commercial airliner (designated as CW-20) with twin rudders, but the Army saw greater utility for the aircraft as a transport. The USAAF first flew the prototype on 26 March 1940, modified it to have a single fin, and designated it the C-55. Demand for the aircraft grew rapidly, and manufacturing began at the new Curtiss plants in Louisville, Ky., and St. Louis, Mo. Redesignated as the C-46 Commando, the aircraft entered service with the USAAF in 1942. The aircraft division of Higgins Industries (the New Orleans, La. based boatbuilder that constructed most of the landing craft used in World War II) was given a contract for 500 aircraft, but only two C-46As were completed. All totaled, over 3,000 Commandoes were built before production ended.
The C-46A had a large cargo door on the port side of the rear fuselage, folding seats to accommodate 40 troops, could carry a far greater payload than its more famous stablemate, the C-47, and it offered better high-altitude performance, which was one of the reasons it was used so extensively in the CBI theater. Commando crews began flying the hazardous air route over the Himalayas in 1943 after the Japanese closed the Burma Road. However, as a result of the CBI’s harsh conditions, the type had a relatively high loss rate and maintenance was a problem. In Europe, the C-46 was used to tow gliders and drop paratroopers during the Rhein River crossing in March 1945.
The C-46A, D, and F models were used in Korea, and a few aircraft were used by Air Force Special Air Warfare Center in the early years of the Vietnam War. C-46s were in limited Air Force service as late as 1969. Many went into civilian hands after World War II, and a fair number are still in use today.
|Official Designation||C-46A Commando|
|Unofficial Nicknames||Ol’ Dumbo|
|Primary Role||Military transport|
|Length||76 feet, 4 inches|
|Height at Tail||21 feet, 9 inches|
|Engines||Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-51 Double Wasp 18-cylinder, twin-row radials|
|Horsepower||2,000 shp each|
|Cruise Speed||173 mph|
|Max Speed||270 mph|
|Service Ceiling||24,500 feet|
|Max Payload||15,000 pounds or 50 troops|
|Max Takeoff Weight||45,000 pounds|
|Total Produced||Over 3,000 aircraft|