Everyone knows about the Douglas C-47 Skytrain (military version of the DC-3) but do you know about the Curtiss Wright C-46 Commando? The C-46 actually made its first flight on March 26, 1940 compared to the C-47 first flight on December 23, 1941 (although the DC-3 maiden flight was December 17, 1935) and at the time was considered the largest and heaviest twin engined airplane in the world.
The Curtiss CW-20 prototype which would become the C-46, was designed in 1937 by George A. Page Jr., the chief aircraft designer at Curtiss-Wright. Originally powered by two 1,700 hp (1,300 kW) R-2600-C14-BA2 Wright Twin Cyclones, the C-46′s were re-engined with the more powerful 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines. With these engines the C-46 was capable of carrying a substantial payload, and could fly well on one engine. (An empty aircraft single engine climb rate was about 200–300 ft/minute.)
The C-46′s cargo volume (twice that of the C-47), three times the payload (14,331 vs. 5000 lbs.), large cargo doors, powerful engines and long range made it suitable for the vast distances of the Pacific island and China-Burma-India theater “The Hump” campaigns.
The airplane had its share of mechanical nightmares and was costly to operate earning it a reputation among pilots as “the flying coffin” and among mechanics as “a plumber’s nightmare”. Self sealing fuel tanks were never installed on C-46′s and the wings were never vented which allowed fuel to accumulate in the wing roots causing some airplanes to catch on fire. Standard 4 bladed, Curtiss-Electric electrically controlled pitched propellers proved to be problematic on the C-46 but eventually the problems were solved and the airplane continued to be employed in the China-Burma-India theater throughout the war years.
|Specifications Curtiss C-46 Commando
• Crew: 4
• Maximum speed: 270 mph (235 knots, 435 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,600 m)