Role Airliner/transport aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flight 14 February 1942 (production series)[1]
Introduction 1942 with United Airlines
Retired 1991
Status In very limited use
Primary users South African Airways Museum Society
United Airlines (historical)
American Airlines (historical)
Trans World Airlines (historical)
Buffalo Airways (historical)
Produced 1942 – August 1947
Number built 80[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 an American four-engined (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.

Design and development

Following proving flights by United Airlines of the DC-4E, it became obvious that the 52-seat airliner was too inefficient and unreliable to operate economically and the partner airlines, American Airlines, Eastern, Pan American, Trans World and United, recommended a lengthy list of changes to the design. Douglas took the new requirements and produced an entirely new, much smaller design, the DC-4A, with a simpler, still unpressurized fuselage, Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp engines, and a single fin and rudder. A tricycle landing gear was retained.

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

DC-4 cabin
Pan Am DC-4 in Trinidad in the 1950s

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 was the first built to military specifications, and was designated C-54A and built with a stronger floor and a 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.

The most common variant was the C-54D, which entered service in August 1944, essentially 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.

In total, 1,163 C-54s (or R5D in US Navy service) were built for the United States military between 1942 and January 1946 and another 79 DC-4s were built after the war. A later variant, with more powerful Merlin engines allowing it to fly over 40% faster, was built in Canada as the Canadair North Star.

Operational history

The DC-4/C-54 proved to be a popular and reliable type, with 1,245 being built between May 1942 and August 1947, including 79 postwar DC-4s. Several remain in service as of 2022.

Douglas continued to develop the type during the war in preparation for a return to airline use when peace returned. Sales of new aircraft had to compete against 500 wartime ex-military C-54s and R5Ds which came onto the civilian market, many of which were 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 civilian C-54/DC-4 operator.

Aerolíneas Argentinas DC-4 starting engines at Buenos Aires international airport in 1958
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. Pressurization was an option, but all civilian DC-4s (and C-54s) were built unpressurized.

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

Purchasers of new-build DC-4s included Pan American Airways, National Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and Western Airlines in the US, 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.[3] Several airlines used new-build DC-4s to start scheduled transatlantic flights between Latin America and Europe. Among the earliest were Aerolíneas Argentinas (1946), Iberia Airlines of Spain (1946), and Cubana de Aviación (1948).

Basic prices for a new DC-4 in 1946–47 were around £140,000-£160,000 (equivalent to £8,383,048 in 2023). In 1960, used DC-4s were available for around £80,000 (equivalent to £2,326,868 in 2023).[4]

As of June 2020, two DC-4s were used for charters in South Africa by the South African Airways Museum Society, with both aircraft (ZS-BMH and ZS-AUB) carrying historical South African Airways livery.[5][6]

Buffalo Airways of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories continues to operate the type commercially.[7]


Main article: List of Douglas DC-4 variants

Main production airliner, postwar
Canadair North Star
Canadian production of a Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered variant, plus a single example powered with Pratt & Whitney R-2800s
Aviation Traders Carvair
British cargo and car ferry with a modified nose with a raised cockpit to allow cars to be loaded more easily


Main article: List of Douglas DC-4 operators

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

Main article: List of accidents and incidents involving the Douglas DC-4

Surviving aircraft

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.[8]

Specifications (DC-4-1009)

3-view line drawing of the Douglas R5D-2 Skymaster

Data from Jane's all the World's Aircraft 1947,[17] McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920 : Volume I[18]

General characteristics

1,100 hp (820 kW) at 14,000 ft (4,300 m)


Maximum cruise speed 246 mph (214 kn; 396 km/h) in high blower at 20,800 ft (6,300 m)

See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists



  1. ^ "History: Products: DC-4/C-54 Skymaster Transport". Boeing. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  2. ^ Piston Engine Airliner Production List 1996
  3. ^ Berry 1967, pp. 70–73.
  4. ^ "de havilland | 1960 | 2687 | Flight Archive". Flight. 18 November 1960. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  5. ^ "SkyClassic". SkyClass Aviation. South Africa. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Our Aircraft". South African Airways Museum Society. South Africa. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  7. ^ Stapleton, Rob (15 August 2009). "Brooks Fuel keeps Alaska supplied using legacy aircraft". Alaska Journal of Commerce. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  8. ^ Blewett 2007, p. 101.
  9. ^ ""Outeniqua" Douglas DC-4 1009 ZS-AUB c/n 42984". South African Airways Museum Society. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  10. ^ ""Lebombo" Douglas DC-4 1009 ZS-BMH c/n 43157". South African Airways Museum Society. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Portfolios: SkyClassic". SkyClass Aviation. 31 March 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  12. ^ "DC4, Vampire planes on display at HARS Aviation Museum Tarmac Days in December 2022". thesenior.com.au. 7 December 2022. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  13. ^ "Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation". Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  14. ^ "Douglas DC-4 "Oil Bomber" Spray Plane at KCGI". seMissourian.com. 28 June 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  15. ^ "N55CW (1942 DOUGLAS C54D-DC owned by AIRCRAFT GUARANTY CORP TRUSTEE) Aircraft Registration ✈ FlightAware".
  16. ^ "Registration Details for N88887". PlaneLogger. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  17. ^ Bridgman, Leonard, ed. (1947). Jane's all the World's Aircraft 1947. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. p. 219c.
  18. ^ Francillon, René J. (1988). McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920 : Volume I. London: Naval Institute Press. pp. 313–333. ISBN 0870214284.
  19. ^ Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2019.