Douglas C-54 Skymaster

The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was the military version of the DC-4 airliner, and was the first truly effective four-engined transport aircraft to enter USAAF service. The DC-4 that reached production was the second Douglas aircraft to carry that designation. The first had been judged to be too complex by the airlines, and in 1939 American, Eastern and United Air Lines got together with Douglas to draw up the specifications for a simpler machine. The resulting DC-4 had a circular fuselage, was powered by four engines, and used a tricycle undercarriage. It could carry 40 passengers in ten rows of four seats, or 28 passengers in a sleeper version.

Douglas C-54 Skymaster

The DC-4 attracted a satisfactory number of civilian orders, but the outbreak of the Second World War almost ended production. Only after Donald Douglas assured the War Department that the DC-4 would not delay production of the large number of military aircraft already ordered (amongst them the C-47, C-53 and A-20), was he given permission to prepare to built the DC-4.

The first DC-4 was not completed until February 1942, and by then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had forced the United States into the war. The USAAF requisitioned every DC-4 on the production line, taking the aircraft nearest to completion as C-54 Skymasters, with little military equipment, and the rest of the aircraft as fully militarised C-54A Skymasters. Eventually the USAAF would receive 1,163 C-54s, of which 205 would go to the US Navy as the R5D, and 23 to the RAF, as the Skymaster.

Second World War Service

The first C-54 Skymaster entered USAAF service on 20 March 1942, and by the end of the year enough had been delivered to begin to make a real impact. The C-54 was used on the long range routes that linked the continental United States with the various theatres of war, while the shorter ranged C-47s did much of the work in-theatre. Over the next five years Air Transport Command Skymasters made 79,642 transoceanic flights, with only two forced ditching.

Douglas C-54 Skymaster from the left
Douglas C-54 Skymaster from the left

The C-54 Skymaster was involved in rather fewer unusual missions than the C-47 Skytrain. One notable exception saw the Presidential VC-54C, accompanied by 33 other four-engined transports, take President Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference. At the end of the war the C-54 played a large part in the operation to move the American occupation troops into Japan, while one set a new Tokyo to Washington record of 31 hours, 25 minutes to bring film of the Japanese surrender ceremony back to Washington.

The RAF received a small number of Skymasters (22 C-54Ds), and they were used by Nos.231, 232 and 246 Squadrons, No.1 Ferry Unit and Air Command, South East Asia. At the end of the war all of the remaining Skymasters were returned to the United States.

Post War Service

The C-54 gained more attention after the Second World War. It was used on a weekly scheduled round-the-world flight starting late in 1945. In 1947 a C-54D flew on auto-pilot all the way from Newfoundland to Brize Norton, England. In 1948 another C-54D flew from Fairbank to Oslo via the North Pole in 22 hours.

The C-54 played a major part in the Berlin airlift of June 1948 to September 1949, carrying a large proportion of the 1,783,826 tons of supplies taken to Berlin by US military aircraft.

The C-54 returned to combat during the Korean War, at first evacuating 851 American civilians from South Korean, and then as a transport and casualty evacuation aircraft.



Douglas C-54 Skymaster from the front-left
Douglas C-54 Skymaster from the front-left

Twenty four C-54s were delivered to the USAAF during 1942. These aircraft could carry twenty six passengers, and had four long range auxiliary fuel tanks in the main cabin. They were powered by four 1,350hp Pratt & Whitney R-2000-3 engines.


The C-54A was a fully militarized version of the DC-4, with a reinforced cargo floor, a large (2.38m by 1.7m) cargo door and built-in cargo loading hoist. It was powered by four 1,350hp R-2000-7 engines, and could carry a maximum payload of either 32,000lb of cargo or 50 troops, or carry a lighter load of 22,000lb over a range of 2,000 miles. 97 seven were built at Santa Monica and 155 at Chicago. When all four auxiliary fuel tanks were used the C-54A could carry 3,620 US gallons of fuel. Fifty six C-54As went to the US Navy as the R5D-1.


On the C-54B two of the auxiliary fuel tanks were removed, and were replaced by tanks built into the outer wing panels. The total fuel capacity went up to 3,740 US gallons. Early aircraft had the -3 engines, later production had the -7. 100 were built at Santa Monica and 120 at Chicago. One of the C-54Bs went to the RAF for use by Churchill, while 30 went to the US Navy as the R5D-2.

VC-54C “Sacred Cow”

The single VC-54C was President Roosevelt’s personal transport. It was equipped with a state-room, three conference rooms and an electric left for the President’s wheelchair. The VC-54C carried a crew of seven, the President and fourteen staff. Fuel capacity was increased to 4,510 US gallons.


A total of 380 C-54Ds were built, all at Chicago. They were similar to the C-54B, but were powered by four 1,360hp R-2000-11 engines. 86 went to the Navy as the R5D-3.

After the Second World War a number of C-54Ds were modified for special purposes. These included the AC-54D (EC-54D from 1962) electronic reconnaissance aircraft, the JC-54D missile nose cone recovery aircraft, the SC-54D (HC-54D from 1962) search and rescue aircraft, the TC-54D trainer and the VC-54D staff transport.


The C-54E saw another change in the fuel arrangement. The final two auxiliary cabin tanks were removed, and replaced by collapsible bag-type fuel tanks built into the inner wing sections. Fuel capacity was reduced to 3,520 US gallons. The interior of the C-54E was designed to allow a rapid change between cargo plane, 50 seat troop transport or 44 seat staff transport. 125 C-54Es were built, twenty of which went to the US Navy as the R5D-4.


The XC-54F was the prototype for a planned series of paratrooper transports, which would have had two jump doors. Only the prototype was built.


The C-54G was similar to the C-54E, other than in the use of R-2000-9 engines, which provided slightly more power at take-off. 162 were built at Santa Monica, of which 13 went to the Navy as the R5D-5. Production of a further 235 C-54Gs was cancelled after VJ-Day.


The C-54GM was built under licence by Canadair. It was similar to the C-54G, but was powered by four 1,725hp Merlin 620 engines. These aircraft were known as the North Star in RCAF service.  Canadair produced one prototype, seventeen  North Star Mk Is, and five North Star Mk MI with Merlin 622 engines.


The C-54H was to have been a paratrooper transport powered by R-2000-9 engines. None were built.


The C-54J was to have been a dedicated staff transport based on the C-54G. None were built.


The XC-54K was a single aircraft modified to use Wright R-1820-HD radial engines.


The C-54L was a single aircraft modified to use a different fuel system.


This designation was given to 38 C-54Es that had their interiors stripped to allow them to carry an extra 2,500lb of coal during the Berlin Airlift.


The MC-54M was a medical evacuation version of the C-54E produced during the Korean War. They could carry 30 stretchers and the related medical staff.








1,360hp R-2000-11



1,100hp at 7,000ft
1,350hp at take off

1,100hp at 7,500ft
1,350hp at take off

1,100hp at 7,500ft
1,450hp at take off

Wing span

117ft 6in


93ft 10in


26ft 6in

Empty weight




Loaded weight




Maximum weight




Maximum speed

265mph at 10,000ft

275mph at 20,000ft

275mph at 20,000ft

Cruising speed

192mph at 10,000ft

203mph at 10,000ft

190mph at 10,000ft

Service ceiling




Normal range

2,000 miles with 22,000lb payload

3,100 miles with 14,100lb payload

4,000 miles with 10,000lb payload

Air War Home Page - Air War Index - Air War Links - Air War Books
WWII Home Page - WWII Subject Index - WWII Links - WWII Books - Day by Day

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 November 2008), Douglas C-54 Skymaster ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies