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Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando - United States, 1941

Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Twin-Engine Long-Range Transport Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 9/25/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando  
Picture of Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando
Picture of Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Picture of Curtiss-Wright C-46 CommandoPicture of Curtiss-Wright C-46 CommandoPicture of Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando

The often overshadowed Curtiss C-46 Commando of World War 2 fame superseded the Douglas DC-3 transports of the era.

The United States Air Force utilized the C-46 Commando series as their primary transport workhorse in the Pacific Theater of War during the Second World War. The system was initiated to replace the Douglas series of DC-3 transports and first appeared in prototype form in March of 1940 as the twin-rudder CW-20T. Design specifications called for the Commando to feature a pressurized cabin for up to 36 combat-ready troops, longer range than anything available to the USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) and an above average cruising speed.

The CW-20T prototype later evolved into the CW-20A that featured a revised tail in the form of the more recognizable single rudder assembly. Later development focused in on the requirements as put forth by the United States Army Air Corps which put the CW-20A under trials with the designation of C-55, which consequently ordered a production version of the model now designated as the CW-20B.

The CW-20B was redesignated to the more familiar C-46 identification. Final trial models were provisioned to fit up to 45 combat-ready troops and fitted with two Pratt & Whitney-brand R-2800-51 radial engines. The C-46 entered service with the plain designation of simply "C-46" in the Pacific Theater - and used almost exclusively there up until about March of 1945, to which the Commando would be seen across the European Theater as well. From its initial acceptance into service with the USAAF, the C-46 system would become the heaviest aircraft in that branch of service and make a name for itself as a true warrior workhorse, transplanting troops and cargo alike, across battlefields and beyond.

Variants abound with the C-46 Commando. The United States Navy utilized a designation of R5C for their own Commando version with 160 models of the R5C-1 going to the United States Marine Corps. Specialized utility and troop models would be produced from the hundreds to the thousands. The C-46A Commando itself could carry up to 50 infantrymen and load/unload cargo through a large cargo door on the port side of the aircraft.

The C-46 was officially retired from service in 1968, replaced by the equally effective C-130 series of transports.

Curtiss-Wright C-46A Specifications

Service Year: 1941
Type: Twin-Engine Long-Range Transport Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss-Wright - USA
Total Production: 3,181

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 4
Overall Length: 76.44 feet (23.3 meters)
Overall Width: 78.54 feet (23.94 meters)
Overall Height: 21.75 feet (6.63 meters)

Weight (Empty): 32,408 lb (14,700 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 45,007 lb (20,415 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 2 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-51 "Double Wasp" 18-cylinder, air-cooled, radial piston engines developing 2,000 horsepower each and driving four-bladed propeller units.

Maximum Speed: 235 knots (270 mph; 435 kph)
Maximum Range: 2,738 nautical miles (3,150 miles; 5,070 km)
Service Ceiling: 27,559 feet (8,400 meters; 5.22 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,175 feet-per-minute (358 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload


Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Argentina; Bolivia; Brazil; Cambodia; Canada; China (Taiwan); Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curacao; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; Egypt; West Germany; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Jordan; Kenya; Laos; Lebanon; Luxembourg; Mexico; Nicaragua; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Republic of the Congo; South Korea; Soviet Union; Sweden; United Kingdom; United States; Uruguay; Venezuela

Model Variants

CW-20T - Twin-Finned Prototype Model
CW-20A - Converted from the CW-20T Prototype Model; revised tail unit now featured single rudder fin assembly; flattened tailplane halves.
C-55 - US Army Air Corps evaluation designation of the CW-20A model.
CW-20B - US Army Air Corps militarized order production model of the CW-20A/C-55 evaluation model; redesignated to the C-46.
C-46 - Curtiss Model CW-20B based on the CW-20B.
C-46A - Improved and definitive C-46 model; 1,493 produced; fitted with R-2800-51 radial engines; reinforced fuselage flooring; accommodations for up to 50 troops; large port-side loading/unloading door.
XC-46B - Stepped windshield
XC-46C - Became C-46G, then XC-113
C-46D - Improved C-46A; troop transport; double-door model with modified nose assembly.
C-46E - Single Door Model; 17 produced.
C-46F - Improved C-46A; utility transport; 234 produced.
C-46G - XC-46C model
XC-113 - C-46G model
R5C - United States Navy Model
R5C-1 - United States Marine Corps Model; 160 produced.

Images Gallery


Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Cockpit