A year before the famous Dakota DC-3 flew for the first time, American airlines had already asked the manufacturer Douglas for a larger, speedier aircraft. The specifications were established by United in 1935 and soon six other companies contributed $100,000 each for further development. The resulting 42-passenger DC-4E had a triple tail, like the future Constellation, and boasted several new features: a nosewheel, pressurisation, power-boosted flight controls, alternating current electrical system and even air conditioning.
After a complex and expensive testing period, the prototype – first flight: 7th June, 1938 – was abandoned. Douglas went back to the drawing board and simplified things, making it smaller, with no pressurisation, just one tail fin and Twin Wasp engines instead of Hornet, both from Pratt. Meanwhile, the military took control of production. The new plane emerged as the C-54 Skymaster transporter, armed with reinforced floor, double doors and winch, which flew for the first time on 14th February 1942. Of the different variants, the most interesting was the VC-54C, the first US presidential aircraft, which was built for Roosevelt, and better known as the Sacred Cow. After the war, the C-54s were demobbed and became DC-4s, a cheaper reconversion than the civilian DC-4s by Douglas, which produced only 79, compared to 1,241 C-54s.
In Portugal, TAP replaced its Dakotas with the DC-4 in 1947., which operated mainly on European routes, leaving the now inappropriate DC-3 on the Imperial Route (Portugal-Angola-Mozambique), as more complex aircraft struggled with conditions in Africa. In addition to this, the motorisation of the new version wasn’t profitable on the route to Brazil, which was limited to just 20 passengers. TAP stopped flying the DC-4 in 1960, replacing them with Super-Constellation aircraft.
by Ricardo Reis
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