Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando


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 DesignationC-46A Commando
Unofficial NicknamesOl’ Dumbo
Primary RoleMilitary transport
National OriginUSA
Original ContractorCurtiss-Wright
Wingspan108 feet
Length76 feet, 4 inches
Height at Tail21 feet, 9 inches
EnginesTwo Pratt & Whitney R-2800-51 Double Wasp 18-cylinder, twin-row radials
Horsepower2,000 shp each
Cruise Speed173 mph
Max Speed270 mph
Range3,200 miles
Service Ceiling24,500 feet
Operating WeightUnknown
Max Payload15,000 pounds or 50 troops
Max Takeoff Weight45,000 pounds
Date Deployed1942
Total ProducedOver 3,000 aircraft