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  1. #1
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    Default C46 Curtiss Commando vs the C47

    How come the C46 never garnered the fame and recognition of the C47? It looks like it was a more capable aircraft........just wondering and perhaps someone here knows the info.
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    The C46 came along later, and had reliability problems at the start. I checked, and the first C46 didn't reach the AAF until May, 1942, meanwhile, almost 1,000 C47s were built in 1941, and over 5,000 in 1942. C47 didn't take as much maintenance or use as much fuel, and was a good performer. So the Commando became a supplement to the C47 fleet.

    My Dad flew for the first time when he was taken from Fort Dix to Nevada for a nuclear test in the 50s. They went in C46s. They were much delayed as two of the aircraft assigned to them crashed, while two two others missed the mission with mechanical problems. Dad always said flying in them bothered him more than the bomb.

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    The C46 was a much newer and much larger airplane with much more performance. The sequence of numbering may be confusing, but the C47 was the Douglas DC3, had been in airline service since 1935, the number assignment was when the military took over production in a version stripped of commercial needs. The C46 was a new design around 1940-41, used PW R2800-34 2100 Hp engines. while the C47 used 1100Hp Wright R1820 engines. The C46 could carry a useful load over the Hump into China, while the C47 could not. There were many problems with the C46, a new design with new engines placed into production with great urgency. The airframe aerodynamic design used newer design parameters for efficiency, which made the pilots handling characteristics less forgiving. The C46 never was commercialized for airline use, because be the time the war ended, the 4 engine C54 (DC-4) was available in quantity and better suited and the twin-engine airliner was a diminishing market.

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    I'm showing my age of course, but when I was discharged from the Army in 1970, I flew out on a C-47 from Fort Polk to Houston. I was on with about 3 other guys, and we had to wait for "additional passengers". Soon a deuce and a half pulled up with guys wearing a strange uniform combination: winter, long sleeved dress shirts, and summer khaki pants, sort of strangely matching. I asked the guy who was seated next to me, "what's with the weird get-up?". He explained that they were all prisoners just released from the stockade, and being given "general" discharges, as opposed to dishonorable, etc. It made the exotic plane ride even more surrealistic. Kind of a poor man's "Con-Air".

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    The shop chief I worked for had a rather exciting experience in a C-46. They were flying cross country at night when the pilot keyed the radio. The props immediatly feathered! There was short in the radio and the prop pitch on a C-46 was controlled electricly, not hydraulicly!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Steve View Post
    The C46 never was commercialized for airline use, because be the time the war ended, the 4 engine C54 (DC-4) was available in quantity and better suited and the twin-engine airliner was a diminishing market.
    Oh, it saw some airline use. If nothing else, this crash database confirms that: http://www.airdisaster.com/cgi-bin/a...t=Curtiss+C-46

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    And not all C-47s were C-47s...the civilian airliners that were impressed flew with quite a roster of military designations. The C-48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 68, 84, 117, and 129 were all DC-3/C-47 based aircraft, as was the Navy R4D.

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    Did the engines/cylinders explode? To go from cruise to feather would put an extreme amount of resistance on the cylinders and crankshaft.

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    Avenger is correct, I think a diligent search will find that the C47 and R4D were government purchased airplanes from the production line, the other Cxx numbers were airplanes purchased, chartered, or requesitioned from various airlines or private parties, some businesses bought DC3s. The government was grabbing anything that would fly. Of course the larger airlines continued to operate, but a lot less flights, and like most things required a priority assignment in those days. Some of those Cxx numbers probably were specially configured airplanes government purchases

    I've never flown in a C46, but generally pressing the "feather" button shuts down the engine as the prop goes to feathered. You have to do specific things to unfeather and restart the engine.

    I do not think the airplane was certified for scheduled airline service in the US, charters, freight, and private use as for instance carrying passengers to your resort require a less stringent class of certification. Foreign operations were not governed by US regulations

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    The electrically controlled pitch mechanism was removed fairly early - I think maybe even before mid war. My father flew both C-46, and C-47 after the war (among other places in Congo), and by FAR preferred the C-46. The C-46,unlike the C-47, was able to keep it's altitude just fine with one engine out as long as it wasn't overloaded. And the cargo capacity of the Curtiss was in a completely different class than the C-47 - which to him meant fewer flights to move the same amount of cargo. One of the C-46 he flew went on to serve with among others,Air America, in Thailand/Laos area until late 70's
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Steve View Post
    I do not think the airplane was certified for scheduled airline service in the US, charters, freight, and private use as for instance carrying passengers to your resort require a less stringent class of certification. Foreign operations were not governed by US regulations
    They may not have had the 1950s equivalent of part 121, but one crashed at MDW and another right outside EWR, and they were used for some time in passenger service around the world. Along with the freight, charters, etc., and along with a lot of ex-C47s. not everyone could afford the new, four engined airliners after the war.

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    One of the problems, if that is the right word, for the "failure" of the C-46 post-war was while surplus airplanes were cheap, the maintenance was still at going rates, and the C-46, with its R-2800s, cost a LOT more to maintain and run than DC-3s and derivatives did. Another was that Curtiss hadn't been in the commercal airplane business for some time when the war ended, and went out of business fairly quickly post-war as well.
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    Went out of the airplane business fairly quickly, that is. I just passed some of their corporate offices last night; they're still around.

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    One thing to remember is that the two planes were in completely different classes. A reasonable comparison using todays mainstays might be an MD80 compared to a 757. From the 30's until yesterday the smaller aircraft have been used in more markets due to their versatility. DC3's can fly into a lot of airports the larger C46 can't....they can get back out too. As others have noted the costs associated with operation are much lower for the DC3 so smaller operators can run them profitably. The useful load of the DC3/C47 is about 6800 lb where the useful load of the C46 is more than twice that at 16000 lb. In the heavier capacity market the C46's were outclassed quickly late in the war and after by the DC4 / C54. The tailwheel was considered a problem for airliners after the war as well. The trigear liners were so much easier to handle and made loading much easier as well with their level floor. The C47 just happened to be in the right place at the right time and filled a niche that wasn't really challenged for many many years. Another good comparison is the Jeep. The little 1/4 ton 4 seater became an Icon after the war but who remembers the transport catagory stuff?
    If you look up the wiki article on the C46 you'll find that they were used in many passenger carrying airlines after the war but the expense of feeding them and maintainence is what killed them. They just weren't competitive with the newer airliners for the bigger routes and cost too much to compete on the smaller routes against the DC3.

    One last note here. The electric props had nothing to do with the demise of the C46. Electric controlled props were used with great reliability from WWII until now. They are still in wide use. For every story of a runaway or unexpected feathering caused by an electric there is a similar incident involving a hydraulic prop. The Curtis electric prop was/is used on the Albatros and many other planes. The C46 didn't have a place in the romantic heart of aviation because it fit in too small of a niche unlike the C47 which had a lot more versatility.

    Frank

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    I have to correct myself in at least one regard, the DC3 was placed in airline service using the Wright 1820, but the normal engine for the C47 was the 14 cylinder P&W 1830, developed about the same power,but there was more production of the 1830, and the 1820s were in great shortage for the B17.

    Curtiss-Wright had an interesting postwar history, the Wright R3350 (engine of the B29) in its commercial versions powered both the DC7 and the Super Constellations, together accounted for a huge share of the airline industry. The 707 changed things very dramatically, between 1958 and 1964 the piston-engined airliners went from new to surplus.

    Fortune magazine ran an article in mid-60s about them, their situation was described as having 750 million dollars in cash accounts, and no business. They then blew about 100 mil in trying to make an efficient engine out of the Wankel, and bought a number of medium and small companies in various aerospace activities, and still maintain those businesses.

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    The DC3 had a much wider use than noted so far in this thread, they were built under license in both Japan and Russia, in Russia they were Li-2, which at least one author has confused with the Il-2, probably the most effective ground-attack airplane in history. Russia bought a license for the R1820 early in the 30s, used in the early fighters and still use it in the big Antonov biplane, of which we have one based at our local airport. The Finns used captured Russian engines to replace engines in their Brewster Buffalos during the Winter War.

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    Well the C 46 is a bit more comfortable/roomy Jump A/C than the C 47. It was also double doored so a larger load of paratroops could be unloaded faster then the 18/20 in a single doored C 47.
    I've got about a dozen jumps from a C 47 and 3 or 4 from a C 46.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Steve View Post
    The DC3 had a much wider use than noted so far in this thread, they were built under license in both Japan and Russia, in Russia they were Li-2, which at least one author has confused with the Il-2, probably the most effective ground-attack airplane in history. Russia bought a license for the R1820 early in the 30s, used in the early fighters and still use it in the big Antonov biplane, of which we have one based at our local airport. The Finns used captured Russian engines to replace engines in their Brewster Buffalos during the Winter War.
    Just as a quick comment. The Finns only mounted the Shvetshov M-63 engine in 5 or 6 Brewster Buffalo's - and they were found to be a somewhat unreliable powerplant, at least in Finnish service. Guess there were no technical manuals in the glovebox of the planes they took the engines from ...or poor quality control at the factory where they had been originally built (or refurbished) :-)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarge View Post
    Well the C 46 is a bit more comfortable/roomy Jump A/C than the C 47. It was also double doored so a larger load of paratroops could be unloaded faster then the 18/20 in a single doored C 47.
    I've got about a dozen jumps from a C 47 and 3 or 4 from a C 46.
    Sarge
    Even though the C-46 (at least according to my dad) in flight was a bit less forgiving than the C-47, he really liked the fact that loading or unloading took comparatively less time (and fewer trips for the same payload) was something he learnt to appreciate when "lingering" around in a place he wanted to get the heck out of :-)
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    Quote Originally Posted by tplan View Post
    Went out of the airplane business fairly quickly, that is. I just passed some of their corporate offices last night; they're still around.
    Yes, my bad. Airplane business.
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    Here is a photo of my brother-in-law in front of a C-46 at the Museum at Robins AFB down below Macon, GA. He told a story of his first job out of college as an entomologist killing gypsy moths in New England. The crusty old WW2 vet pilot talked him to coming along on a spray flight. He took off over loaded on a hot day in a valley. He just barely cleared the ridge at the end of the runway. They pulled leaves and limbs out of the cowlings and off the tail wheel when they landed.
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