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Home > Fact Sheets > Cargo Aircraft Development in WWII


Posted 6/24/2009 Printable Fact Sheet

With the approach of World War II, the Army Air Corps began a large buildup of aircraft. Initially concentrating on bombers, the development cargo/transport aircraft was given a low priority during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The Air Corps continued to buy small numbers of aircraft adapted from existing civilian aircraft. Several types were adapted from the Lockheed Electra and Douglas DC-3.

The Lockheed C-40 was an adaptation of the Model 12 Electra Junior. The Army acquired less than 25 of these planes and used them primarily in the light staff transport mission. Fourteen planes were purchased in 1938, and an additional 10 planes were impressed once the war began. Depending upon the model and specific mission, the plane carried between three and six passengers and a crew of two.

The Douglas C-41 and C-42 were VIP transport versions of the C-39 and DC-3.

The Beechcraft C-43 Traveler was another aircraft bought in small numbers during the late 1930s. Like the C-40, the C-43 was intended for use a light fast transport. Only three planes were initially bought for testing; however, when the war began, the Air Corps ordered more than 200 aircraft and impressed more than 150 commercial and civilian owned Staggerwings for use during the early war emergency.

The United States bought one Messerschmitt Bf 108 for use by the U.S. Military Attaché in Berlin during 1939 and part of 1940. The U.S. Air Corps designated the aircraft XC-44. The plane could carry three passengers and a pilot over a range of about 650 miles at 160 mph. When the U.S. Military Attaché left Berlin in 1940, the XC-44 was impressed for use by the German Luftwaffe.

The Beechcraft C-45 was the premier light staff transport plane built during WWII. More than 8,000 planes were constructed. In addition to use as an eight-passenger transport, the plane also was adapted for use as an airborne communications and photo reconnaissance aircraft. The plane had a range of about 900 miles and cruised at approximately 210 mph.

The Curtiss C-46 was designed initially as the CW-20 passenger plane, but with the approach of WWII, the plane was adapted for use as a large capacity cargo/transport plane. The C-46 was most famous for its role in the Pacific War. In particular, the C-46 flew the treacherous "Hump" route over the Himalayan Mountains to supply Allied forces in China.

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