The Douglas C-54 was the military version of the DC-4 airliner. The DC-4 had not yet entered commercial service when the United States Government commandeered the Douglas production line on December 5, 1941. No prototype was built, with the first production aircraft making its first flight February 14, 1942. The C-54D carried 50 passengers and was the most produced variant of the C-54. The Skymaster gained its greatest fame flying over the Russians in the Berlin Airlift from June 1948 to September 1949.
To meet the military’s more stringent needs, the DC-4 was given a cargo door, stronger floor, cargo boom hoist and larger wing tanks. First flight of the military C-54 occurred on 26 March 1942. During the war years, 1242 C-54s were delivered with a wide variety of modifications. A few of the major ones were the C-54A, the original, fully militarized model capable of lifting 50 soldiers or 32,500 pounds of cargo; the JC-54D, which was modified for missile nose cone recovery; the C-54E, with larger Pratt & Whitney engines, bigger fuel tanks for longer range and a specially designed cabin for quick conversion between passenger and cargo roles; the C-54M, which was a C-54E stripped out to serve as a coal-carrier during the Berlin Airlift; the EC-54U, a post-war modification as an electronic counter-measures platform; and at least 14 sub-variants built for the US Navy originally called the R5D (the museum’s airplane is one of these R5D’s). There were numerous other variants which performed countless other roles, from VIP transport to multi-engine training.
The C-54 offered sterling service for both the USAF and the US Navy after the war, and was not fully retired until the late 1960’s. Ex-military Skymasters became popular as cargo transports and fire bombers, and many are still in active use around the world in these roles.
In the photo at the top of this page, taken on January 19th, 2002, the museum’s latest acquisition is shown after landing and taxi-ing over to the museum. Not having flown in nearly seven years, it made the flight from Tucson, AZ, with no problem. Before it was retired, its last duty service was as a fire bomber. More details of the aircraft history are given below.
May 31st, 1945 - delivered to the USAAF (serial number 42-72636), transferred to the US Navy that same date, and redesignated from C-54D to R5D-3 with registration (Bureau Number) 56514. Note that another serial number, 10741, is assigned to this aircraft; this is probably the manufacturers’ serial number. In its fire bomber period, it was designated civilian N67062.
The aircraft history below was provided by the Naval Aviation History Branch, Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, 805 Kidder Breese Street SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060.
DATE - REPORTING LOCATION
Jun-Nov 1945 - VRE-1
Dec 1945 - VR-6
Jan-Feb 1946 - appears as Hdrm Mag 35 (original handwriting)
Mar-Oct 1946 - VMR-953
Nov 1946 to April 1947 - VMR-253
May-Nov 1947 - VMR-152
Dec 1947 to Jun 1948 - Pool Alameda
Jul-Aug 1948 - VMR-352
(records skipped; new record format started)
1950 - BUAER M&S, San Diego, Corpus Christi, VMR-352 El Toro
1951 - VMR-352 at El Toro
1952 - ATTU and ACTRU FLAN F&M, Corpus Christi, VR-21 PAC at Barbers Point; VR-3 NATS at Moffett Field; VR-8 NATS at Hickam Field.
1953 - ACTRU F&M at Corpus Christi; VR-1 LANT at Pautuxent River; VR-24 LANT at Port Lyautey
1954 - VR-24 LANT at Port Lyautey; O&R BUAER M&S at Corpus Christi
1955 to Jul 1957 - VR-24 LANT at Port Lyautey
Jan 1958 to Jul 1958 - O&R BUAER at Norfolk
Aug 1958 to May 1959 - VR-24 at Port Lyautey
Jul 1959 to Jul 1960 - NAS NART at New York
Aug 1960 to Nov 1960 - BWR FR at Dallas
Dec 1960 to Nov 1961 - NAS NART at Grosse
(records skipped here)
1962 - redesignated C-54Q
27 Sep 1965 - NARTU at Norfolk
28 October 1965 - stored at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, with 20,676 hours of flight time.
April 3rd, 1973 - Registered to Robert B. Audiss and was assigned tail number N67062
February 21st, 1975 - Purchased by the Texas Truck Salvage Company
October 11th, 1976 - Registered to Bill Dempsay, Central Air Services with airtanker tail number "148", and flown throughout Southern California on fire-fighting missions out of Hemet-Ryan Airport, CA.
1994 - Storage at Tucson, AZ
January 19th, 2002 - Flown by Bill Dempsay and a crew of two assistants to March Field Air Museum after purchase by the museum for $50,000 from Maricopa Air Services, Tucson, AZ.
Categories: Airplanes - Military - Static Display - Cargo