Douglas DC-6

Last updated
Western Airlines DC-6.tif
A Douglas DC-6B of Western Airlines, Oct 1956
Role Airliner/transport aircraft
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flightFebruary 15, 1946
IntroductionMarch 1947 with American Airlines and United Airlines
StatusOut of production, in limited service
Primary users Pan American World Airways
Northwest Orient Airlines
Capital Airlines
Everts Air Cargo
Produced1946 – 1958
Number built704
Developed from Douglas DC-4
Developed into Douglas DC-7

The Douglas DC-6 is a piston-powered airliner and cargo aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1958. Originally intended as a military transport near the end of World War II, it was reworked after the war to compete with the Lockheed Constellation in the long-range commercial transport market. More than 700 were built and many still fly today in cargo, military, and wildfire control roles.


The DC-6 was known as the C-118 Liftmaster in United States Air Force service and as the R6D in United States Navy service prior to 1962, after which all U.S. Navy variants were also designated as the C-118.

Design and development

The prototype Douglas XC-112A which first flew on 15 February 1946, converted to DC-6 standard in 1956 and flown by TASSA of Spain from 1963 until 1965 Douglas DC-6 EC-AUC TASSA LGW 29.08.64 edited-2.jpg
The prototype Douglas XC-112A which first flew on 15 February 1946, converted to DC-6 standard in 1956 and flown by TASSA of Spain from 1963 until 1965

The United States Army Air Forces commissioned the DC-6 project as the XC-112 in 1944. The Army Air Forces wanted a lengthened, pressurized version of the DC-4-based C-54 Skymaster transport with more powerful engines. By the time the prototype XC-112A flew on 15 February 1946, the war was over, the USAAF had rescinded its requirement, and the aircraft was converted to YC-112A, being sold in 1955. [1]

Douglas Aircraft modified the design into a civil transport 80 in (200 cm) longer than the DC-4. The civil DC-6 first flew on 29 June 1946, being retained by Douglas for testing. The first airline deliveries were to American Airlines and United Airlines on 24 November 1946. [1] A series of inflight fires (including the fatal crash of United Airlines Flight 608) grounded the DC-6 fleet in 1947. The cause was found to be a fuel vent next to the cabin cooling turbine intake; all DC-6s were modified and the fleet was flying again after four months on the ground.

Operational history

Passengers alighting from an SAS DC-6: Note the upper row of windows, indicating this was built as the optional sleeper variant of the original-length DC-6 Douglas DC 6 , SAS , SE-BDC , Kodachrome by Chalmers Butterfield.jpg
Passengers alighting from an SAS DC-6: Note the upper row of windows, indicating this was built as the optional sleeper variant of the original-length DC-6
Sabena DC-6B arriving at Manchester in 1955 after a nonstop scheduled passenger flight from New York Douglas DC-6B OO-CTI Sabena Ringway 13.11.55 edited-1.jpg
Sabena DC-6B arriving at Manchester in 1955 after a nonstop scheduled passenger flight from New York
Universal newsreel about the DC-6

In April 1949, United, American, Delta, National, and Braniff were flying DC-6s in the United States. United flew them to Hawaii, Braniff flew them to Rio de Janeiro, and Panagra flew Miami-Buenos Aires; KLM, SAS, and Sabena flew DC-6s across the Atlantic. BCPA DC-6s flew Sydney to Vancouver, and Philippine flew Manila to London and Manila to San Francisco.

Pan Am used DC-6Bs to start transatlantic tourist-class flights in 1952. These were the first DC-6Bs that could gross 107,000 lb (49,000 kg), with CB-17 engines rated at 2,500 hp (1,900 kW) on 108/135 octane fuel. Several European airlines followed with their own transatlantic services. The DC-6B and C subtypes could perhaps fly nonstop from the eastern US to Europe, but needed to refuel in Goose Bay, Labrador or Gander, Newfoundland when flying westbound into prevailing westerly winds. [2]

Douglas designed four variants of the DC-6: the basic DC-6, and the longer-fuselage (60 in (150 cm)) higher-gross-weight, longer-range versions—the DC-6A with cargo doors forward and aft of the wing on the left side, with a cargo floor; the DC-6B for passenger work, with passenger doors only and a lighter floor; and the DC-6C convertible, with the two cargo doors and removable passenger seats.

The DC-6B, originally powered by Double Wasp engines with Hamilton Standard 43E60 constant-speed reversing propellers, was regarded as the ultimate piston-engine airliner from the standpoint of ruggedness, reliability, economical operation, and handling qualities. [3]

The military version, similar to the DC-6A, was the USAF C-118 Liftmaster; the USN R6D version used the more powerful R-2800-CB-17 engines. These were later used on the commercial DC-6B to allow international flights. [4] The R6D Navy version (in the late 1950s and early 1960s) had Curtiss Electric constant-speed reversing propellers.[ citation needed ]

The USAF and USN renewed their interest in the DC-6 during the Korean War, and ordered 167 C-118/R6D aircraft, some of which later found their way to civil airlines. Harry Truman's first presidential aircraft was an Air Force short-fuselage DC-6 which was designated VC-118, and named The Independence. It is preserved in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, Ohio.

Total production of the DC-6 series was 704, including military versions. [5]

In the 1960s two DC-6s were used as transmitter platforms for educational television, based at Purdue University, in a program called the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction. [6]

Many older DC-6s were replaced in airline passenger service from the mid-1950s by the Douglas DC-7, but the simpler, more economical engines in the DC-6 have meant the type has outlived the DC-7, particularly for cargo operations. DC-6/7s surviving into the jet age were replaced in frontline intercontinental passenger service by the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.

Basic prices of a new DC-6 in 1946–47 were around £210,000–£230,000 and had risen to £310,000 by 1951. By 1960, used prices were around £175,000 per aircraft. [7] Prices for the DC-6A in 1957–58 were £460,000–£480,000. By 1960, used prices were around £296,000. [7] Equivalent prices for the DC-6B in 1958 were around £500,000. Used prices in 1960 were around £227,000. [7]

From 1977 to 1990, five yellow-painted Douglas DC-6Bs were used as water bombers in France by the Sécurité Civile. They were registered F-ZBAC, F-ZBAD, F-ZBAE, F-ZBAP, and F-ZBBU. [8]


Original length DC-6 of KLM at Manchester Airport in 1953 Douglas DC-6 PH-TPT KLM RWY 18.07.53 edited-2.jpg
Original length DC-6 of KLM at Manchester Airport in 1953
United Airlines DC-6 at Stapleton Airport, Denver, in September 1966 6609-UAL-DC-6-NorthRampStapletonDEN.jpg
United Airlines DC-6 at Stapleton Airport, Denver, in September 1966
Northern Air Cargo operated one of only two DC-6s that had been converted to swing-tail configuration DC-6 N867TA Northern Air Cargo at ANC 1989, F294-08A-b.jpg
Northern Air Cargo operated one of only two DC-6s that had been converted to swing-tail configuration
Pan Am DC-6B at London Heathrow in September 1954 on a transatlantic tourist flight Douglas DC-6B N6531C PAA Heathrow 09.54.jpg
Pan Am DC-6B at London Heathrow in September 1954 on a transatlantic tourist flight
United States military designation of an improved version of the C-54 (DC-4); became the prototype DC-6. Eventually designated YC-112A, pressurized, P&W R-2800-83AM3 engines
Initial production variant produced in two versions.
DC-6-1156 a 53- to 68-seat domestic variant with 2,400 hp (1,800 kW) R-2800-CA15 engines
DC-6-1159 a 48- to 64-seat trans-ocean variant with extra crew, increased fuel capacity to 4,722 US gallons (17,870 l), increased takeoff weight to 97,200 lb (44,100 kg) and 2,400 hp (1,800 kW) R-2800-CB16 engines.
Freighter variant; fuselage slightly lengthened from DC-6; fitted with cargo door; some retained cabin windows, while others had windows deleted. Originally called "Liftmaster" as USAF models. The rear cargo door came standard with a built in 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) lift elevator and a Jeep. The Jeep was a public relations stunt and shortly after, was dropped. [9]
All-passenger variant of DC-6A, without cargo door.
DC-6B-1198A a 60- to 89-seat domestic variant with 2,400 hp (1,800 kW) R-2800-CB16 engines
DC-6B-1225A a 42- to 89-seat trans-ocean variant with increased fuel capacity to 5,512 US gal (20,870 l), increased takeoff weight to 107,000 lb (49,000 kg) and 2,500 hp (1,900 kW) R-2800-CB17 engines.
Swing tail freighter conversion to the DC-6B done by Sabena. Two converted, only one survives currently stored with Buffalo Airways [10]
Convertible cargo/passenger variant.
United States military designation for one DC-6 bought as a presidential transport with special 25-seat interior and 12 beds. [11]
Designation of DC-6As for the United States Air Force, 101 built.
C-118As converted as staff transports.
R6D-1s redesignated.
R6D-1Zs redesignated.
United States Navy designation for the DC-6A, 65 built.
Four R6D-1s converted as staff transports.


G-APSA in British Eagle scheme Dc-6-g-apsa-far2008-01.jpg
G-APSA in British Eagle scheme
G-APSA displaying at Hamburg DC-6 G-APSA.jpg
G-APSA displaying at Hamburg
The Red Bull DC-6B landing at Salzburg DC6-Redbull.jpg
The Red Bull DC-6B landing at Salzburg
A DC-6A of Everts Air Cargo at Deadhorse Airport, 2016 DC-6 of Everts Air Cargo at Deadhorse Airport, 2016.jpg
A DC-6A of Everts Air Cargo at Deadhorse Airport, 2016

Current operators

Today, most DC-6s are inactive, stored, or preserved in museums. A number of DC-6s are still flying in northern bush operations in Alaska, while several are based in Europe and a few are still in operation for small carriers in South America.

Former operators

A great number of airlines and air forces from several countries included the DC-6 in their fleets at some point in time; these are further detailed in the list of Douglas DC-6 operators. Beginning in the 1980s, several DC-6Bs were used as fire retardant tankers by Conair Aerial Firefighting of Abbotsford, Canada. The last aircraft was sold to Everts Air Cargo in Fairbanks, AK in the late 2000s.

Accidents and incidents

Surviving aircraft

As of 2014, 147 DC-6s survived, of which 47 were airworthy; several were preserved in museums.

On Display
Harry Truman's VC-118, The Independence Douglas VC-118 Independence in flight c1947.jpg
Harry Truman's VC-118, The Independence
On Display
On Display
In Storage
On Display


Comparison of models [25] [26]
CrewThree to four
Capacity48-68 passengers28,188 lb (12,786 kg) of cargo42-89 passengers
Length100 ft 7 in (30.66 m)105 ft 7 in (32.18 m)
Wingspan117 ft 6 in (35.81 m)
Height28 ft 5 in (8.66 m)
Wing area1,463 sq ft (135.9 m2)
Empty weight52,567 lb (23,844 kg)45,862 lb (20,803 kg)55,357 lb (25,110 kg)
Max takeoff weight97,200 lb (44,100 kg)107,200 lb (48,600 kg)107,000 lb (49,000 kg)
Powerplant (4x) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CA15
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
2,400 hp (1,800 kW) with
water injection each
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB16
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
2,400 hp (1,800 kW) with
water injection each
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB17
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
2,500 hp (1,900 kW) with
water injection each
Propellers Hamilton Standard 43E60 "Hydromatic" constant-speed props with autofeather and reverse thrust
Cruise speed311 mph (501 km/h)315 mph (507 km/h)
Fuel capacity4,260 US gal (16,100 l)
4,722 US gal (17,870 l)
up to 5,512 US gal (20,870 l)
Range3,983 nmi (7,377 km)2,948 nmi (5,460 km) Max payload
4,317 nmi (7,995 km) Max fuel
2,610 nmi (4,830 km) Max payload
4,100 nmi (7,600 km) Max fuel
Service ceiling21,900 ft (6,700 m)25,000 ft (7,600 m)
Rate of climb1,070 ft/min (330 m/min)

See also

Douglas DC-6 Douglas DC-6 3 view.svg
Douglas DC-6

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists

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