Immediately after the United States became engaged in World War II, it was clear that transport aircraft would be of vital importance. Because of the theater of operations envisaged, such aircraft would require both long range and great load-carrying capability.
In early 1942, the Douglas Aircraft Company began development of a new, very large transport aircraft that was to serve the USAAF in multiple theaters. Designated the C-74 Globemaster, the first of 14 production aircraft (#42-65402) flew on 5 September 1945. There were no XC-74 or YC-74 models produced, in order to speed its delivery to operational units. After all production modifications were made, the C-74 Globemaster was the largest land-based transport in the world! It was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all metal construction, with a conventional tail unit, retractable tricycle landing gear with twin wheels on each unit, and four Pratt & Whitney radial engines.
The Globemaster's engines were equipped with full-feathering, reversible Curtiss electric propellers. They shortened the aircraft's landing role and saved brake wear. They also enabled the airplane to back up for positioning on the ground.
In an aerodynamic sense, the airplane was remarkably efficient. Douglas engineers chose a full-span flap arrangement consisting of split flaps under the fuselage center section, double-slotted inboard wing flaps, and complicated triple-slotted "flaperons" on the outboard sections which served as both flaps and ailerons. Low drag airfoil sections were used to cover the 16 protruding flap hinges, giving the aircraft a distinctive "toothed" look.
The aircraft had unusual "bug-eye" canopies which were chosen more for safety than aerodynamics. They allowed the pilots a nearly unobstructed 360-degree view around the aircraft. The crew was provided with quarters, though compact. The engineer's station was behind the copilot, the radio operator was stationed behind the pilot and the navigator was stationed behind him.
The landing gear was patterned after that used on the C-54 but expanded in size to withstand greater tolerances. Hydraulic pressure was only applied to gear after takeoff in order to retract the gear. Extending the gear was done by gravity alone with the gear lever simply releasing an "up" latch and letting the gear free-fall. Hydraulic gear extension was available in case of emergencies and there was even a passageway provided so the crew could access each engine nacelle and manually lower the gear.
The C-74's large-capacity cargo area provided accommodation for 125 troops, or 115 litter patients with medical attendants, or up to 50,000 pounds of cargo. Cargo was loaded via a self-contained loading elevator located in the aft portion of the cargo compartment. Capable of lifting 30 tons, the elevator allowed for radid loading and minimized the need for special ground equipment.
Of the 14 Globemasters built, 12 were delivered between October 1945 and April 1947. Of these 14, the second built crashed during flight testing in August 1946. The fourth was diverted to a static test article at Wright Field, Ohio and virtually every component was tested to destruction between August 1946 and November 1948. This was done in order to determine each individual component's ability to withstand design loads.
The Berlin Airlift
On 24 June 1948, the Russians closed all land routes into the divided western sectors of the city of Berlin, Germany. On 25 June, the Air Force was requested to airlift 25 tons of supplies into Berlin. It responded the next day with over 80 tons, thus beginning what was to become the largest single airlift operation in history. "Operation Vittles," later to be known as the Berlin Airlift, was a distinct operation in which the Globemaster played the significant role of helping to introduce the need for a large transport aircraft.
A single Globemaster arrived at Frankfurt's Rhein-Main Airfield on the 14 August 1948 and landed for the first time three days later at Berlin's Gatow Airfield carrying 20 tons of flour. Over the next six weeks, the Globemaster crew flew 24 missions into the city delivering 1,234,000 pounds of supplies. The aircraft that was flown during the Berlin Airlift was the 13th airframe built, tail number 42-65414. Several airlift records were set by the crew in "414" during Operation Vittles. On 18 September, Air Force Day, the crew flew six round trips into Berlin hauling a total of 250,000 pounds of coal setting a new Airlift Task Force utilization record by flying 20 hours during the 24 hour effort.
During the construction of Tegel Airfield in the French sector of Berlin, large construction equipment was needed to build new runways. But this equipment, including a rock crusher, was too big for even the Globemaster to accommodate. The mission was accomplished by having the equipment cut into pieces by welding torch at Rhein-Main and flown aboard the C-74 into Tegel for reassembly.
After six weeks of Vittles flights, the Globemaster returned to Brookley AFB, Alabama. Reportedly, the Russians complained that the Globemaster could be used as a bomber via the open elevator well in its belly. The fact that the runways in Berlin were not stressed for the airlifter's weight and that the aircraft was not compatible with the corridor's scheduling were other factors considered for its withdrawal.
The last C-74 Globemaster was retired from Air Force service on 31 March 1956. Brigadier General George S. Cassady, who had accepted the first C-74 for the Air Force in 1945, received special permission to pilot the last C-74 from Brookley AFB, Alabama to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.
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