The Douglas DC-3 revolutionized
commercial air travel with its introduction in 1935, and the military version, the
C-47 Skytrain (aka Dakota),
proved an invaluable workhorse for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Without reliable and
effective radio communications, the aircraft's success would have been much less. Companies like
Bendix Radio led the way with rugged avionics
that could take the harsh conditions of flight that include vibration, shock, pressure changes, and temperature
variations. Replacement parts were usually not conveniently on-hand and the radio operator often needed to also
be a trained electronics technician or engineer. "Necessity is the mother of invention," never proved truer than
during wartime as evidenced by the many technology advances realized during the 1940s.
The DC-3 / C-47
is by far my favorite multi-engine passenger plane. I have plans printed and balsa purchased for a
control line C-47 model that will have a 48" wingspan.
Communications on the World's Greatest Airline
By Lt. Col. Howard J. Haines, Adj. Gen. Ferrying Div., ATC
The Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command has led the way in securing the most modernized air-ground
Take a C-47, converted for evacuation transport, put it in the air between New York and Nashville with a precious
human cargo consisting of 10 litter patients and 8 ambulatory cases, all recently returned from battlefields of
Europe and bound now for general hospitals near their homes, and you have a responsibility on your hands which demands
constant air-ground communications between the pilot and radio stations along the route.
Remove the litters and the seats from the same plane, load it with vital engine parts which must be rushed from
Newark to Miami, Florida where
the "Fireball Express" will pick up the parts and carry them across Africa and Asia for delivery to the battle fronts,
and you would not want your strictly nonexpendable crew, plane, and cargo to get lost on the way to Miami.
C-47, called the workhorse of the Army Air Forces, flies over the radio-control tower at the 2nd Ferrying Group's
base near Wilmington. Delaware.
Put 21 seats back in the same plane, and fill them with highly trained pilots and navigators who have just ferried
planes from Detroit to Long Beach, California and are now being returned to their home stations, and it would not
be sound flying procedure to be out of touch with the plane for very long - the cargo would be much too valuable.
Do these three jobs every day of the week on 27 separate airlines, stretching up and down these United States
for more than 86,000 miles, and in doing them fly 1,000,000 ton miles a month and evacuate more than 6,500 wounded
fighters per month from coastal hospitals to hospitals near their homes, call the whole thing Military Air Transport,
and you would be operating just about the world's greatest airline, and would need the world's finest air-ground
radio communication system to make sure that your planes would be able to fly around storms, avoid mountains, and
arrive at their destinations with clock-like regularity.
Late in May, 1944, the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command was called upon by its parent organization
to do those three jobs. It was directed by Air Transport Command Headquarters in Washington, D. C., to take over
eighteen air routes formerly operated by private airlines in the United States.
The Ferrying Division, which is under the command of Brig. Gen. Bob. E. Nowland, command pilot and veteran of 26
years with the Army Air Forces, was eminently equipped from almost every standpoint to do the jobs.
Radio specialist checks ground station transmitter with a call to the tower.
Radio check and instructions are obtained from control tower prior to takeoff.
Brigadier General Bob E. Nowland, Comm. General of the Ferrying Division of the ATC.
An invaluable aid to safe and efficient flying is this Bendix transmitter-receiver. Specially-trained men
are employed for the installation of this type of equipment.
From its Headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, it could call upon nine Ferrying Groups for the planes and for the
trained pilots and crews to operate them. Moreover, the fliers were superbly trained, for they had long been performing
such missions of the Ferrying Division as ferrying planes from factories to the battle sectors, and had been flying
foreign transport routes reaching across ocean and desert for thousands of miles, as far as India. There were mechanical
crews handy to service the planes; almost every imaginable essential for successful operation of such a group of
military air transport lines.
Only one thing was missing - adequate air-ground radio communications, facilities for talking from plane to ground
comparable to those in use by the commercial airlines.
True, the Army Airways Communications System, which functions under the Air Communications Officer, who is a
member of the Air Staff with Headquarters in Washington, had approximately 80 AACS stations set up throughout the
country; but these stations were not equipped to provide the same service as the air-ground stations maintained
by commercial airlines. Successful scheduled commercial operations hinge upon periodic voice communication from
plane to ground and vice versa, keep the aircraft virtually in constant contact with the ground, and afford consequent
flexibility of operation and a tremendous safety factor.
There was only one solution if the Army Air Forces was going to operate efficient military air transport lines
within the United States. The Ferrying Division, designated to do so, would have to lead the way to securing modernized
air-ground communications for the Army, comparable in every way to those used by the finest commercial air lines.
The writer, who has the title of Adjutant General for the Ferrying Division, but is also Director of Communications
and Signal Officer and still likes to think of the days when he was radio "ham" W2EIS, drew the job of forming a
sort of flying wedge, to use old time football parlance, which could smash through any potential lines of delay
and secure modern air-ground communications in a hurry.
Carrying the football analogy a yard or two further, it had been possible, fortunately, to get the wedge force
in shape with some "Spring training," during which fundamentals were implanted which would lead to a speedy drive
to the goal of modern air-ground communications.
On March 9, 1944, a board from the office of the Air Communications Officer had visited Ferrying Division Headquarters.
The board was endeavoring to determine the communications requirements of the entire Army Air Forces.
The members of the board were told that the Ferrying Division needed Army Airways Communications System air-ground
stations which would maintain the same standard of efficiency as those operated by private airlines.
When, on May 25, the Ferrying Division actually assumed operation of the eighteen airlines, and called them Military
Air Transport, M-A-T for short, the new air-ground stations were still nebulous and far from realization.
Soon, however, a conference was held in the office of Maj. Gen. Harold L. George, Commanding General of the Air
Transport Command. It was attended by representatives of AACS, by a communications man from the Secretary of War's
office, by representatives of the Air Communications Office, and by high-ranking officers of the Ferrying Division.
At the conference, the air-ground communication needs, already known for the most part because of the earlier
visit by the board from the office of ACO, were discussed in greater detail.
A short time later, a letter went forward from the Ferrying Division to Gen. George, for the attention of his
Assistant Chief of Staff in the Communications Division of Operations, Lt. Col. W. D. Innes.
The letter set forth clearly the reasons why the Ferrying Division must have air-ground radio stations. Maps
were attached showing the routes to be flown, and the number of aircraft to be flown on each route was indicated.
It was suggested that as many such stations as possible be put into operation immediately. Request was made that
each station be able to use two frequencies. In all, 47 stations were requested.
The result was instant cooperation on the part of the Air Transport Command, the Air Communications Office, and
the Army Airways Communications System.
It was agreed that 47 modernized AACS stations would be set up along the M-A-T routes to be operated by the Ferrying
Division. It was also agreed that the identical air-ground radio equipment used in commercial planes, the Bendix
transmitter-receiver, would be installed in all Ferrying Division transports as speedily as possible.
Radio technician of the 2nd Ferrying Group tunes up a transmitter unit.
Work went forward immediately. In August, a new AACS ground-air radio station, known as the New Castle airways
station, opened at the 2nd Ferrying Group at Wilmington, Delaware. Other stations, of course, had already been in
operation, with older facilities altered to meet present needs.
Installation of the Bendix receiver-transmitters went forward apace. By midsummer, most of the planes flying
under the M-A-T purple and brown Flying Hawk insignia were equipped with this invaluable aid to safe and efficient
Work is still in progress, but should be completed early in the fall of this year, with all 47 AACS stations
in full operation and every plane flown by M-A-T equipped with the new equipment.
With this system in operation, it is possible for an M-A-T plane in flight anywhere over the country, to communicate
at any time directly with Ferrying Division Headquarters in Cincinnati. The pilot of the plane talks to the nearest
AACS station, which in turn talks to the Headquarters of the Ferrying Group which is operating the M-A-T route.
The Ferrying Groups, evenly spaced throughout the United States, are connected by land-line network with Headquarters
of the Ferrying Division. Thus, the pilot can at any time avail himself not only of the latest weather reports,
but of advice from the wisest heads in the business of flying.
In the first half of 1944 the Ferrying Division established
a record of 40,000,000 ton miles over foreign routes.
A C-47 is shown landing at one of its airfields.
Posted February 12, 2015