C-54D Skymaster, 56498 built at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Chicago Plant in 1944 saw her delivery on the 20th of May 1945 to VR-11, Naval Air Transport Squadron at Guam. Her first task came in the form of repatriations of wounded soldiers, as well the supplying vital medical supplies and blood to the battlefields of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The post war world saw her transferred to VR-6, on the 2nd of February 1946 she was moved for a few months to MAG-15, Marine Air Group 15, before being moved on to Hawaii in 1946. She was a part of a top secret operation in the repatriation of the surviving British prisoners of war from the ‘Death Railway’ in Burma, these men greatly remembered in the famous film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. Such reasoning behind the operations secretive nature was mainly down to the conditions and treatment that the man had suffered at the hands of the Japanese imperial forces.
Unlike other C-54’s this aircraft was kept in the Pacific during the Berlin airlift, through VR-6 did send many of their aircrafts as support for the effort for the people of Berlin. 56498 remained in the Pacific, as the growing communist threats from North Korea was imminent, she was needed for support efforts for US Navy. During this time along with other C-54’s from VMR-253 and VR-6, were responsible for logging 11,000 flying hours, carrying 30,170 passengers, and carried 5,213,383 Ibs of cargo, and that was only between January and June of 1952 & ’53.
She was then used again during the Vietnam War flying out of Agana, Iwakuni, Atsugi and Guam (just 27-years prior she was based there during WWII), delivering vital supplies of whole blood for the wounded on the battlefield, she operated up until 1972 flying between NAS Atsugi, Iwakuni in Japan, NAS Sangley Point, Cubi Point in the Philippines, Barbers Point, Hawaii, and El Toro. Finally at the ending of the Vietnam campaign she was finally retired from active military service, becoming a copper spare in civilian hands spending most of their time in Arizona. In 1991 she was purchased by Atlantic warbirds and began a life as a display aircraft. During this time, she put into her current scheme Berlin Air Lift era Air Transport Command, Atlantic Division livery, worn as a tribute to those men and women who bravely flew during the airlift of 1948/49 also known as Operation Vittles.
2001 saw HBO and Steven Spielberg plan out a film on the Berlin Air Lift for this 56498 and a DC-4 were flown to North Weald. However, the film fell through, and the aircraft was left there many years. They remained as a landmark of the airport until 2017 when both aircraft were put up for scrap. Henry Hyde came in and purchased them, however the DC-4 was judged unfeasible to repair and was broken up for parts. 56498 was found to be in much better condition and a society was formed to restore the aircraft to which Henry officially gifted the society the aircraft.
‘Save The Skymaster’ the society behind return airworthiness for this the aircraft, working tirelessly over the years to restore this legend of the sky back to flight. This year saw for the first time in which three of the four Pratt & Whitney R-2000-11 Twin Wasp engines run for the first time in 18 years. The team are closer and more determined than ever to get the fourth and final engine up and fully running. The aircraft currently and will remain on the CAA register on an N-reg, this meaning that flights will be limited to 90 per year in the UK. However, this does mean less modification will be needed and will keep the airframe as original as possible compared with the requirements of a G-reg.
The society plan on 56498 to become a flying museum being kitted out as both flying hospital and depictions of other historic aircrafts. With this goal being an immersive living history experience for newer generations to recognise and connect with the importance of the men and women associated with the aircraft, ultimately it will become a flying memorial much like many aircraft within the UK historic aviation scene.
Looking towards the future of Skymaster, 2024 is pushed as a massive aim target for the project, with the 80th anniversary the Berlin airlift commemorations that will be taking place, with this being less than two years away this will all depend on sun rising. However, in the short term they are hoping to complete the 4th engine undertake taxi runs with passengers and complete an undercarriage overhaul which will be the next massive step within the completion of the airworthiness. But this can’t be done without your help. If you found this story interesting and want to help bring this beast, this legend the skies back to life you can find more information out savetheskymaster.org or find them through Facebook by searching ‘Save the Skymaster’.