Aircraft History, Specification and Information
Douglas DC-6
Douglas DC-6B - Conair Airtanker - C-GKUG
1957 Douglas DC-6B - C-GKUG (sn 45177)
Conair - Air Tanker "50" starting up engine number one
Photo taken May. 19, 2007
Whitehorse, YT - Canada (YXY / CYXY)
Photo © Marcel Siegenthaler

The Douglas DC-6 is a piston-powered airliner and transport aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1958. Originally intended as a military transport near the end of World War II, it was reworked after the war to compete with the Lockheed Constellation in the long-range commercial transport market. More than 700 were built and many still fly today in cargo, military and wildfire control roles.

The DC-6 was known as the C-118 Liftmaster in United States Air Force service and as the R6D in United States Navy service prior to 1962 after which all U.S. Navy variants were also designated as the C-118.

Design and development

The United States Army Air Forces commissioned the DC-6 project as the XC-112 in 1944. The Air Force wanted an expanded, pressurized version of the popular C-54 Skymaster transport with improved engines. By the time the XC-112 flew the war was over and the USAAF had rescinded its requirement.

Douglas converted its prototype into a civil transport (redesignated YC-112A, having significant differences from subsequent production DC-6 aircraft) and delivered the first production DC-6 in March 1947. However, a series of mysterious inflight fires (including the fatal crash of United Airlines Flight 608) grounded the DC-6 fleet later that year. The cause was found to be a fuel vent located adjacent to the cabin cooling turbine intake. All DC-6s in service were modified to correct the problem, and the fleet was flying again after just four months on the ground.

Operational history

Pan Am used a fleet of DC-6B aircraft to inaugurate its first trans-Atlantic tourist class flights, starting in 1952. Several European airlines quickly followed with their own transatlantic services. The DC-6A/B/C sub-types were capable of non-stop commercial flights from the eastern US to Europe but normally needed to refuel in Newfoundland when westbound against the prevailing headwinds.

Douglas designed four basic variants of the DC-6: the basic DC-6, and the longer fuselage, higher-gross-weight, longer range versions—the DC-6A with large cargo doors forward and aft of the wing on the port (left hand side) with a cargo floor; the DC-6B, designed for passenger work, with passenger doors only and a lighter floor; and the DC-6C convertible, with the two cargo doors and removable passenger seats.

The DC-6B, originally powered by Double Wasp engines with Hamilton Standard 43E60 constant speed reversing propellers, was regarded as the ultimate piston-engine airliner from the standpoint of ruggedness, reliability, economical operation and handling qualities.

The military version, essentially similar to the DC-6A, was designated the USAF C-118 Liftmaster; the USN R6D version used the more powerful R-2800-CB-17 engines. These were later also used on the commercial DC-6B to accommodate international flights. The R6D Navy version (in the late 1950s and early 1960s) had Curtiss Electric constant-speed reversing propellers.

The USAF and USN renewed their interest in the DC-6 during the Korean War, and ordered a total of 167 C-118/R6D aircraft, some of which later found their way into civilian service. Harry Truman's first presidential aircraft was an Air Force short fuselage DC-6 which was designated VC-118, and named "The Independence". It is preserved in the USAF Museum at Dayton, Ohio.

Total production of the DC-6 series was 704, including military versions.

In the 1960s, two DC-6s were used as transmitter platforms for educational television, based at Purdue University, in a program called MPATI (Midwest Program for Airborne Television Instruction).

Many older DC-6s were replaced in airline passenger service from the mid 1950s by the Douglas DC-7, but the simpler, more economical engines in the DC-6 has meant that the type has outlived the more sophisticated DC-7, particularly for cargo operations. DC-6/7s surviving into the Jet Age were replaced in front line inter-continental passenger service by Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

2006 marked the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the DC-6.


  • XC-112A
    United States military designation of an improved version of the C-54 (DC-4); became the prototype DC-6. Eventually designated YC-112A, pressurized, P&W R-2800-83AM3 engines
  • DC-6
    Initial production variant.
  • DC-6A
    Freighter variant; fuselage slightly lengthened from DC-6 ; fitted with cargo door.
  • DC-6B
    All-passenger variant of DC-6A, without cargo door.
  • DC-6B-ST
    Swing tail freighter conversion to the DC-6B done by Sabena. Two converted.
  • DC-6C
    Convertible cargo/passenger variant.
  • VC-118
    One DC-6 bought as a presidential transport with special 25 seat interior and 12 beds.
  • C-118A
    Designation of DC-6As for the United States Air Force, 101 built.
  • VC-118A
    C-118As converted as staff transports.
  • C-118B
    R6D-1s re-designated.
  • VC-118B
    R6D-1Zs re-designated.
  • R6D-1
    United States Navy designation for the DC-6A, 65 built.
  • R6D-1Z
    Four R6D-1s converted as staff transports.


Current operators of the DC-6

Today, most DC-6s are inactive, stored or preserved in museums, although a number are flying in northern bush operations in Alaska and Canada while several are based in Europe and a few other DC-6s are still in operation for small carriers in South America.

  • One DC-6A, G-APSA, is in use at Coventry, UK. There is also a DC-6B, G-SIXC at the same site.
  • One DC-6B is in use by Red Bull in Salzburg, Austria.
  • One DC-6B V5-NCG "Bateleur" is in use with Namibia Commercial Aviation. This was the last DC-6 off the Douglas production line and the last DC-6 in the world in passenger configuration still flying commercially.
  • Several ( as of 2010 ) are in use as freighters or waterbombers in Canada. They are no longer used as retardant bombers in the western US.
  • As of 2011, Everts Air Cargo operates eight DC-6s and two C-46s.

Civil operators

  • Australia
    Trans Australian Airlines
  • Brazil
    Lóide Aéreo Nacional
    Panair do Brasil
    Real Transportes Aéreos
  • Denmark, Norway, Sweden
    Scandinavian Airlines System
  • Finland
    Kar Air DC-6B, DC-6B-ST
  • Greece
    Olympic Airways
  • Namibia
    Namibia Commercial Aviation
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
    Spantax DC-6B, DC-6B-ST
  • Syria
    Syrian Air DC-6B, DC-6B/F
  • United Kingdom
    Air Atlantique,now West Atlantic; a former cargo carrier based in Coventry, England.
    Cathay Pacific DC-6, DC-6B
  • United States
    American Airlines DC-6, DC-6A, DC-6B
    United Air Lines DC-6, DC-6A, DC-6B
    Delta Air Lines DC-6
    Braniff International Airways DC-6, DC-6A, DC-6B
    National Airlines DC-6, DC-6B
    Northern Air Cargo DC-6A, DC-6B-ST
    Western Airlines DC-6B
    Pan American World Airways DC-6B
    Northwest Orient Airlines DC-6B
    Northeast Airlines DC-6A, DC-6B
    Eastern Air Lines DC-6B
    Pan American-Grace Airways DC-6, DC-6B
    Alaska Airlines DC-6A, DC-6B
    Continental Airlines DC-6B
    Pacific Southwest Airlines DC-6B
    Reeve Aleutian Airways DC-6B
    Trans Caribbean Airways DC-6B
    Flying Tiger Line DC-6A
    Mackey Airlines DC-6, DC-6B
    Everts Air Fuel
    Everts Air Cargo
    Zantop International Airlines DC-6B-ST
  • Yugoslavia
    JAT Yugoslav Airlines
    Adria Airways

Military operators

  • Argentina
  • Belgium
    Belgian Air Force
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
    Republic of China
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • France
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Italy
  • South Korea
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
    Royal New Zealand Air Force
  • Peru
  • Portugal
  • Republic of China
  • United States
    United States Air Force
    United States Navy
  • South Vietnam
    Vietnam Air Force
  • Yugoslavia
  • Zambia

Accidents and incidents

On October 24, 1947, United Airlines Flight 608 crashed near Bryce Canyon, Utah while attempting an emergency landing after an inflight fire broke out, killing all 52 on board.

On June 17, 1948, United Airlines Flight 624 crashed near Aristes, Pennsylvania after a false fire alarm. All 43 on board were killed.

On November 29, 1949, American Airlines Flight 157 crashed while attempting a three-engine landing in Dallas Texas; 28 people were killed.

On August 24, 1951, United Airlines Flight 615 crashed into Tolman Peak and into Dry Gulch Canyon below, 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Oakland, California; all 44 passengers and six crew were killed.

On October 29, 1953, British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines flight 304 from Sydney, Nadi (Fiji), Canton Island, and Honolulu crashed in the Santa Cruz Mountains seven miles (11 km) southeast of Half Moon Bay, California, while preparing to land at San Francisco Airport; all 19 on board were killed, including American pianist William Kapell, age 31, who was returning to the United States following a three-month concert tour in Australia.

On February 13, 1955, a Sabena DC-6 crashed on Monte Terminillo, near Rieti, Italy; 29 people died, including actress and 1953 Miss Italia winner Marcella Mariani.

On November 1, 1955, a time bomb exploded aboard United Airlines Flight 629, a DC-6 flying over Longmont, Colorado, killing all 44 people on board. A passenger's son was later tried and convicted of placing the bomb on board.

On February 1, 1957, Northeast Airlines Flight 823, a DC-6A, crashed due to apparent pilot error onto Rikers Island shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in conditions of poor visibility, killing 20 passengers and injuring many more.

On December 26, 1958, a Union Aéromaritime de Transport DC-6 crashed in Salisbury, Rhodesia

On February 25, 1960, a United States Navy Douglas R6D-1 (DC-6A) registration 131582 flying from Buenos Aires-Ezeiza to Rio de Janeiro-Galeão Air Force Base collided in the air over Guanabara Bay close to the Sugarloaf Mountain with a Real Transportes Aéreos Douglas DC-3 registration PP-AXD which was flying from Campos dos Goytacazes to Rio de Janeiro-Santos Dumont. The probable causes of the accident are disputed but include pilot error and faulty equipment. Of the 38 occupants of the American aircraft, three survived. All 26 passengers and crew of the Brazilian aircraft died.

On July 21, 1961, Alaska Airlines Flight 779, a DC-6, crashed on landing at Shemya, Alaska, after the airport failed to turn the landing lights on, killing all six on board.

On September 10, 1961, all 83 people on board a DC-6 operated by Presidential Airlines, a non-scheduled carrier, were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Shannon Airport in Ireland.

On September 18, 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary General of the United Nations and 15 other passengers and crew died when their DC-6 crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The exact cause of the crash remains contentious with some eyewitnesses reporting a second aircraft shot down the airliner.

On February 6, 1965, a LAN Chile DC-6 operating as Flight 107 flew into the side of a mountain near the San José Volcano in Chile. All 87 passengers and crew on board died in the crash.

On July 8, 1965, Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 21 suffered an explosion inflight and crashed in a forest in British Columbia, killing all 52 on board.

On February 20, 1967, Sahsa Flight 203, had an accident at Toncontin International Airport because of a reverse system failure, in the forced braking, both back tires caught on fire, the DC-6 overran the runway and caught on fire, killing four passengers.

On December 8, 1969, an Olympic Airways DC-6B crashed near Keratea, 21 miles (34 km) to the southeast of Athens. The aircraft was on a domestic flight from Chania to Athens/Hellenicon in very adverse weather conditions (heavy rain, low visibility, gusting crosswind), and it is thought that the pilots were disorientated. All 85 passengers and five crew members were killed.

On April 28, 1971, a Brazilian Air Force Douglas DC-6B registration FAB-2414 en route from Manaus Air Force Base to Rio de Janeiro had problems with engine vibrations which forced the crew to return to Manaus. On the ground one of the right hand engines burst into flames. The fire spread to the fuselage causing the death of 16 or the 83 occupants.

On July 24, 1977, a Chilean Air Force DC-6 crashed in a swamp while attempting to land at El Tepual Airport amidst heavy rainfall. All seven crew and 31 of the 75 passengers were killed.

On December 8, 1978, HK-1707X an LAC Colombia DC-6 disappeared over the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy on a cargo flight from El Dorado International Airport, Bogota to Trinidad, Casanare. A crew of three was lost with the aircraft.

On July 24, 1985, an engine fire occurred on a Colombian Air Force DC-6, which crashed into the jungle, killing all 80 people on board.

On May 1, 1986, an engine fire occurred on a Salvadoran Air Force DC-6 shortly after takeoff. The DC-6 crashed into a mountain, resulting in the deaths of all 37 people on board.


Several DC-6s are preserved in museums. In all, There are 147 surviving aircraft including 47 airworthy ones.

  • The most well-known is President Harry S. Truman's VC-118 Independence (s/n 46-505), which is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It was retired to the Museum in 1965. In 1977–1978 museum personnel restored "Independence" to its former presidential markings and eagle-like paint scheme. The aircraft is on display in the Museum's Presidential Hangar.
  • A DC-6B currently owned by Red Bull, was formally the private luxury transport of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.
  • As of March 2010, there was a C-118 located in the "bone yard" of MCAS Cherry Point which was at one time the official aircraft of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The aircraft was often left open to the weather and has deteriorated quite a bit, the interior is damaged, but the airframe is largely intact.
  • The Navy's initial R6D, #128424, was converted along with six other #128 series R6Ds to VC executive transport configuration with delivery of #424 to VR-21, NAS Barbers Point in February 1955 remaining in service 28 ½ more years until October 1, 1983 based at Barbers Point as flag transportation for CINCPACFLT. #424 is now located at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, FL.
  • A DC-6B ZS-MUL #45329 named Empress of Suva is preserved on a small holding at Wallmanstahl north of Pretoria South Africa. This aircraft was stored at Swartkops Air Force Base for over 10 years and after two years of restoration by enthusiasts was ferried to Wallmanstahl where a temporary runway had to be constructed.
  • C-118 Liftmaster at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; notable as the aircraft in which Elvis Presley returned to the United States after service in the US Army, based in Germany. Presently, as of October 2009, under restoration.


  DC-6 DC-6A DC-6B
Crew Three to Four
Capacity 48-56 Passengers 28,188 lb (12,786 kg) of Cargo 54 Passengers
(102 Max Seating)
Length 100 ft 7 in (30.66 m) 105 ft 7 in (32.18 m)
Wingspan 117 ft 6 in (35.81 m)
Height 28 ft 5 in (8.66 m)
Wing Area 1,463 sq ft (135.9 m2)
Empty weight 52,567 lb (23,844 kg) 45,862 lb (20,803 kg) 55,357 lb (25,110 kg)
Max takeoff weight 97,200 lb (44,100 kg) 107,200 lb (48,600 kg) 107,000 lb (49,000 kg)
Powerplant (4x) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CA15
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
1,800 hp (1,300 kW) with
water injection each
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB16
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
2,400 hp (1,800 kW) each
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB17
"Double Wasp" radial engine,
2,500 hp (1,900 kW) each
Propellers Hamilton Standard 43E60 "Hydromatic" constant speed props with autofeather and reverse thrust
Cruise speed 311 mph (501 km/h) 315 mph (507 km/h)
Range 3,983 nmi (7,377 km) 2,948 nmi (5,460 km) Max payload
4,317 nmi (7,995 km) Max fuel
2,610 nmi (4,830 km) Max payload
4,100 nmi (7,600 km) Max fuel
Service ceiling 21,900 ft (6,700 m) 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
Rate of climb 1,070 ft/min (330 m/min)
Last updated November 18, 2011
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Douglas DC-6".
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