After the introduction of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster to USAAF service in 1942 one possible problem was evident. In the planned island hopping campaign against Japan the use of forward airbases would be needed quickly, but the Skymaster’s nosewheel arrangement, while no problem at most bases, was a distinct disadvantage for front-line personnel who would often be required to ‘hand-bomb’ material on and off. Without the luxury of fork-lifts and other equipment the use of the otherwise very capable aircraft could be limited, so research was conducted into producing a tailwheel version which would bring the rear cargo door closer to the ground. Small modifications to the airframe resulted in a sufficient rearward movement of the center of gravity, and one test aircraft was produced, but without the installation of a rear door.
Initial testing revealed no difference in handling in the air, and pilots trained on conventional gear aircraft had no problems with ground-looping on landing. Ground crews who were used to the C-47 indulged in the predictable grumbling about having another larger monster to load and unload, but the concept had been proven. It was a low priority however, and those higher in command were slow to implement production of the new design. Their reasoning became obvious on August 6, 1945, when even more impressive scientific developments halted any island hopping and led to Japan’s surrender.
After the war the
aircraft sat for several years until American Airlines bought it surplus and
used it on some routes where passenger embarking equipment was non-existent, and
although it was useful with the implementation of small steps the destinations
themselves did not prove profitable, and the aircraft was resold. After serving
in a cargo capacity for a few years it disappeared on a flight from Miami to
Cuba, and as a result few people have ever heard of this variant.
Photos and text © by Dave Bailey, aka "The Rat