By Henry M. Holden
The Navy was involved with much of the Aleutians flying operations and the R4Ds were subjected to weather conditions of 50 below zero, where salt water exposure caused engine, airframe, skin and hydraulic problems. Oil became as thick as molasses, grease froze, and rubber hoses crystallized, shattering like glass. But the crews learned how to winterize the rugged Douglas and it continued to fly.
All photos are courtesy of the USN via The National Museum of Naval Aviation
The R4Ds kept the supplies flowing to Alaska in spite of severe weather conditions like ten knot winds that blew snow across runways often creating optical illusions of the runway moving. By January 1945, they were operating a shuttle between Fairbanks and Point Barrow, Alaska. In one month they moved a quarter-million pounds of cargo. In another operation R4Ds landed over a million pounds of cargo in a three-month period on a frozen 3,000 foot long and 125 foot wide lake.
A fine inflight view of a Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain – BuNo 17197, during Operation High-jump, 1947.
A few years later the Navy R4Ds landed at “Little America” in Antarctica. They were fully prepared for the frigid weather because of what had been learned in the Aleutians.
A Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain seen on board the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47),30 January 1947, during Operation High-jump.
On January 29, 1947, “Operation High-Jump” launched six ski-equipped, Navy R4Ds from the deck of the U.S.S. Philippine Sea. Since its wing span was wider than the usable flight deck it began the take-off roll forward of the carrier’s island. To help boost the takeoff, they rigged JATO bottles beneath the wing center section. They flew 660 miles to the Naval base at Antarctica, where the R4Ds functioned in a frozen waste land of minus 50 degrees below zero. Since they could not return to the carrier’s deck, when the expedition was over, the R4Ds were consigned to a proper Navy burial at sea on February 21, 1947.
Douglas R4D-5 Skytrains aboard the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), 8 January 1947.
A Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain – BuNo 39092, a former U. S. Army Air Froce C-47A, seen launching from the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), 30 January 1947, during Operation High-jump.
A Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain – BuNo 39092. It is seen on the South Pole – February 1947, during Operation High-jump.
Copyright Henry M. Holden 1996, 2013
For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3”
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