Douglas DC-4

Last updated
American Airlines NC90423.jpg
RoleAirliner/transport aircraft
National originUnited States
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flight14 February 1942 (production series) [1]
Produced1942 – August 1947
Number built80 [2] DC-4 and 1,163 C-54/R5D
Variants C-54 Skymaster
Canadair North Star
Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair
Developed into Douglas DC-6

The Douglas DC-4 is a four-engine (piston) propeller-driven airliner developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Military versions of the plane, the C-54 and R5D, served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift and into the 1960s. From 1945, many civil airlines operated the DC-4 worldwide.

Airliner aircraft designed for commercial transportation of passengers and cargo

An airliner is a type of aircraft for transporting passengers and air cargo. Such aircraft are most often operated by airlines. Although the definition of an airliner can vary from country to country, an airliner is typically defined as an aeroplane intended for carrying multiple passengers or cargo in commercial service. The largest of them are wide-body jets which are called also twin-aisle because they generally have two separate aisles running from the front to the back of the passenger cabin. These are usually used for long-haul flights between airline hubs and major cities. A smaller, more common class of airliners is the narrow-body or single-aisle. These are generally used for short to medium-distance flights with fewer passengers than their wide-body counterparts.

Douglas Aircraft Company 1921-1967 aerospace manufacturer in the United States

The Douglas Aircraft Company was an American aerospace manufacturer based in Southern California. It was founded in 1921 by Donald Wills Douglas Sr. and later merged with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 to form McDonnell Douglas, when it then operated as a division of McDonnell Douglas. McDonnell Douglas later merged with Boeing in 1997.

Douglas C-54 Skymaster Military transport aircraft derived from DC-4

The Douglas C-54 Skymaster is a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces in World War II and the Korean War. Like the Douglas C-47 Skytrain derived from the DC-3, the C-54 Skymaster was derived from a civilian airliner, the Douglas DC-4. Besides transport of cargo, the C-54 also carried presidents, prime ministers, and military staff. Dozens of variants of the C-54 were employed in a wide variety of non-combat roles such as air-sea rescue, scientific and military research, and missile tracking and recovery. During the Berlin Airlift it hauled coal and food supplies to West Berlin. After the Korean War it continued to be used for military and civilian uses by more than 30 countries. It was one of the first aircraft to carry the President of the United States.


Design and development

Following proving flights by United Airlines of the DC-4E it became obvious that the 52-seat airliner was too large to operate economically and the partner airlines [lower-alpha 1] recommended a long list of changes required to the design. Douglas took the new requirement and produced a new design, the DC-4A, with a simpler unpressurised fuselage, R-2000 Twin Wasp engines and a single fin and rudder.

United Airlines, Inc., commonly referred to as just United, is a major American airline headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. United operates a large domestic and international route network, with an extensive presence in the Asia-Pacific region. United is a founding member of the Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance with a total of 28 member airlines. Regional service is operated by independent carriers under the brand name United Express. United was established by the amalgamation of several airlines in the late 1920s, the oldest of these being Varney Air Lines, which was founded in 1926.

Douglas DC-4E prototype airliner

The Douglas DC-4E was an American experimental airliner that was developed before World War II. The DC-4E never entered production due to being superseded by an entirely new design, the Douglas DC-4/C-54, which proved very successful. Many DC-4E design features found their way into the Japanese Nakajima G5N bomber.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, in December 1941 the War Department took over the provision orders for the airlines and allocated them to the United States Army Air Forces with the designation C-54 Skymaster. The first C-54 flew from Clover Field in Santa Monica, California on 14 February 1942.

Santa Monica, California City in California

Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County, California, United States. Situated on Santa Monica Bay, it is bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles – Pacific Palisades to the north, Brentwood on the northeast, West Los Angeles on the east, Mar Vista on the southeast, and Venice on the south. The Census Bureau population for Santa Monica in 2010 was 89,736.

DC-4 Cabin Kabine DC-4.jpg
DC-4 Cabin

To meet military requirements the first production aircraft had four additional auxiliary fuel tanks in the main cabin which reduced the passenger seats to 26. The following batch of aircraft were designated C-54A and were built with a stronger floor, cargo door with a hoist and winch. The first C-54A was delivered in February 1943. With the introduction of the C-54B in March 1944, the outer wings were changed to hold integral fuel tanks allowing two of the cabin tanks to be removed; this allowed 49 seats (or 16 stretchers) to be fitted. The C-54C was a hybrid for Presidential use, it had a C-54A fuselage with four cabin fuel tanks and the C-54B wings with built-in tanks to achieve maximum range.

C-54E flight deck VH-PAF.jpg
C-54E flight deck

The most common variant was the C-54D, which entered service in August 1944, a C-54B with more powerful R-2000-11 engines. With the C-54E the last two cabin fuel tanks were moved to the wings which allowed more freight or 44 passenger seats.

A total of 1,163 C-54/R5Ds were built for the United States military between 1942 and January 1946; another 79 DC-4s were built postwar. A variant, equipped to fly over 40% faster, was built in Canada postwar as the Canadair North Star.

Canadair North Star

The Canadair North Star is a 1940s Canadian development, for Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), of the Douglas DC-4. Instead of radial piston engines used by the Douglas design, Canadair used Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines to achieve a higher cruising speed of 325 mph (523 km/h) compared with the 227 mph (365 km/h) of the standard DC-4. Requested by TCA in 1944, the prototype flew on 15 July 1946. The type was used by various airlines and by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). It proved to be reliable but noisy when in service through the 1950s and into the 1960s. Some examples continued to fly into the 1970s, converted to cargo aircraft.

Operational history

The DC-4/C-54 proved a popular and reliable type, 1245 being built between May 1942 and August 1947, including 79 postwar DC-4s. Several remain in service as of 2014. One current operator is Buffalo Airways of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. [3]

Buffalo Airways airline based in Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada

Buffalo Airways is a family-run airline based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, established in 1970. Buffalo Airways was launched by Bob Gauchie and later sold to one of his pilots, Joe McBryan. It operates charter passenger, charter cargo, firefighting, and fuel services, and formerly operated scheduled passenger service. Its main base is at Yellowknife Airport (CYZF). It has two other bases at Hay River/Merlyn Carter Airport (CYHY) and Red Deer Regional Airport (CYQF). The Red Deer base is the main storage and maintenance facility. The airline is also the subject of the History television reality series Ice Pilots NWT.

Douglas continued to develop the type during the war in preparation for a return to airline use when peace returned. The type's sales prospects were affected when 500 wartime ex military C-54s and R5Ds came onto the civil market, many being converted to DC-4 standard by Douglas. DC-4s were a favorite of charter airlines such as Great Lakes Airlines, North American Airlines, Universal Airlines and Transocean Airlines. In the 1950s Transocean (Oakland, California) was the largest civil C-54/DC-4 operator.

Great Lakes Airlines airline in the United States

Great Lakes Airlines was an American regional airline operating domestic scheduled and charter services. Corporate headquarters were in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with a hub at Denver International Airport.

North American Airlines, Inc., was an American airline with its headquarters at the HLH Building in Peachtree City, Georgia in Greater Atlanta, USA. Prior to May 2008, it operated scheduled international services from the USA to Africa and Guyana. Later it operated domestic and international charter services and wet lease services. Its main aircraft and maintenance base was Tampa International Airport.

Universal Airlines was a United States airline that operated from 1966 to 1972, based at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It initially grew out of Zantop Air Transport, starting with a small fleet of C-46, DC-6, DC-7, and Argosy AW650 aircraft. Over time Lockheed Electras were added to the fleet. In 1969 Universal took delivery of DC-8 aircraft both standard and stretched versions, and leased three additional DC-8s over the next three years. It operated a number of military contract flights. During its heyday in 1969, Universal Airlines looked into the plausibility of obtaining the Lockheed L-500 to carry passengers and their vehicles from coast to coast. An actual display model of that concept was displayed in the hangar two lobby. The airline went bankrupt in May 1972 and its assets were received by Saturn Airways.

Aerolineas Argentinas DC-4 starting engines at Buenos Aires international airport, ca. 1958. Aerolineas Argentinas DC4 atEZE 1958.jpg
Aerolíneas Argentinas DC-4 starting engines at Buenos Aires international airport, ca. 1958.
Pan American DC-4 in flight Douglas DC-4 Pan Am.jpg
Pan American DC-4 in flight

Douglas produced 79 new-build DC-4s between January 1946 and August 9, 1947, the last example being delivered to South African Airways (8). Pressurization was an option, but all civil DC-4s (and C-54s) were built un-pressurized.

A total of 330 DC-4s and C-54s were used in the Berlin Airlift, which made them the most used types.

Purchasers of new-build DC-4s included Pan American Airways, National Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Western Airlines in the USA, and KLM Royal Dutch Air Lines, Scandinavian Airlines System, Iberia Airlines of Spain, Swissair, Air France, Sabena Belgian World Airlines, Cubana de Aviación, Avianca, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeropostal of Venezuela (1946) and South African Airways overseas. [4] Several airlines used new-build DC-4s to start scheduled transatlantic flights between Latin America and Europe. Among the earliest were Aerolíneas Argentinas (1946), Aeropostal of Venezuela (1946), Iberia Airlines of Spain (1946), and Cubana de Aviación (1948).

Basic prices for a new DC-4 in 1946-7 was around £140,000-£160,000. In 1960 used DC-4s were available for around £80,000. [5]


Main production airliner, postwar.
Canadair North Star
Canadian production of a Rolls-Royce Merlin – powered variant, plus a single Pratt & Whitney R-2800 – powered aircraft.
Aviation Traders Carvair
British cargo and car ferry adaptation.


The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster is depicted on this 1946 U.S. Airmail stamp. The DC-4 was used extensively for airmail service. Airmail 5c 1946 issue.JPG
The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster is depicted on this 1946 U.S. Airmail stamp. The DC-4 was used extensively for airmail service.

Accidents and incidents

Surviving aircraft

A DC-4 painted in the KLM "Flying Dutchman" scheme of the Dutch Dakota Association, Lelystad, Holland Douglas DC-4 Flying Dutchman.jpg
A DC-4 painted in the KLM "Flying Dutchman" scheme of the Dutch Dakota Association, Lelystad, Holland

Very few DC-4s remain in service today. [6] The last two passenger DC-4s operating worldwide are based in Johannesburg, South Africa. They fly with old South African Airways (SAA) colors. They are ZS-AUB "Outeniqua" and ZS-BMH "Lebombo" and are owned by the South African Airways Museum Society [7] [8] and operated by Skyclass Aviation, [9] a company specializing in classic and VIP charters to exotic destinations in Africa.

A 1944-built DC-4 is currently being restored in New South Wales, Australia. [10] Buffalo Airways in Canada's Northwest Territories owns eleven DC-4s (former C-54s of various versions); four for hauling cargo and three for aerial firefighting. [11] A 1945-built DC-4 (C-54E) c/n 27370 is currently operating as a flying museum of the Berlin Airlift. Called the "Spirit of Freedom", it has been touring the world for nearly 20 years. [12] Alaska Air Fuel [13] also operates two DC4s out of Palmer, Alaska. One ex-Buffalo DC4 [14] (N55CW c/n 10673, currently registered to AIRCRAFT GUARANTY CORP TRUSTEE) is fitted with spray bars on top of the wings and is currently based in Florida on standby for oil pollution control. [15]

Specifications (DC-4-1009)

DC4 Silh.jpg

General characteristics


See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. The partners in the project were American Airlines, Eastern, Pan American, Trans World and United

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  1. 1 2 "History: Products: DC-4/C-54 Skymaster Transport". Boeing . Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  2. Piston Engine Airliner Production List 1996
  3. Stapleton, Rob (15 August 2009). "Brooks Fuel keeps Alaska supplied using legacy aircraft". Alaska Journal of Commerce. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  4. Berry 1967, pp. 70–73.
  5. "de havilland | 1960 | 2687 | Flight Archive". Flight. 18 November 1960. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  6. Blewett 2007, p. 101.
  7. ""Outeniqua" Douglas DC-4 1009 ZS-AUB c/n 42984". South African Airways Museum Society. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  8. ""Lebombo" Douglas DC-4 1009 ZS-BMH c/n 43157". South African Airways Museum Society. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  9. "Portfolios: SkyClassic". SkyClass Aviation. 31 March 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  10. Morgan, Ben. "Engineering Underway on the Douglas DC4". Archived from the original on 31 January 2012. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  11. "Buffalo Airways Aircraft Fleet" . Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  12. "Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation" . Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  13. "City: airport's future bright".
  14. "Douglas DC-4 "Oil Bomber" Spray Plane at KCGI". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  15. "N55CW (1942 DOUGLAS C54D-DC owned by AIRCRAFT GUARANTY CORP TRUSTEE) Aircraft Registration ✈ FlightAware".