"MATS: The Story of the Military Air Transportation Service"

by Stanley M Ulannoff


MATS Aircraft

The story of MATS is the story of men and machines. This chapter deals with the machines - those mighty and versatile aircraft with which the Military Air Transport Service performs its many and varied tasks.

In its principal function - the global airlift mission - MATS has used many types of aircraft ranging from the old faithful World War II twin-engine C-47 "Gooney Bird" and the C-46 Curtis Commando to the four-jet C-135, military version of the Boeing 707. Also in the works for delivery by 1965 is the other long-awaited "C-jet," the Lockheed C-141. This giant four-jet strategic cargo carrier is being custom built for MATS. It has approximately twice the capacity of its current predecessor, the C-130 Hercules, a giant in its own right. Air Evac has the C-131A Samaritan, the tailor-made "flying hospital ward" specifically designed for the transporting of sick and wounded.

Each of the MATS Technical Services has its own specialized aircraft. Air Rescue has its versatile helicopters and the HU-16 Albatross amphibians; the Air Weather Service is equipped with rugged converted bombers for flying into hurricanes; and the Air Photo and Charting Service has its specialized photo reconnaissance aircraft. Like AWS, the APCS and ARS also used converted bombers for their missions.

Just as all types of Air Force aircraft carry a type letter identifying their primary function and particular mission, such as F for Fighter (F-86 Sabrejet), and B for Bomber (B-58 Hustler), so, too, do the MATS aircraft.

All of the MATS airlift aircraft carry the letter designation C, which indicates transport or cargo and includes both passenger and freight carriers with a pay-load capacity greater than 2,000 pounds.

Therefore the Globemaster is the C-124 and the C-130E is the Hercules.

Often the MATS function is indicated by a prefix letter before the regular Air Force type letter. The V such as in the VC-137 designates a staff transport plane for VIP's, such as visiting foreign dignitaries. One example might be the President's aircraft. These are generally part of the Special Air Missions (SAM) unit.

Until 1963, Air Rescue Service aircraft carried an S for "Search and Rescue" in front of their regular Air Force letter. Therefore an SH-19 was a Rescue Helicopter and an SA-16 Albatross was a Rescue Amphibian. Cargo aircraft converted for rescue purposes included the SC-47 and SC-54. Changes have been made, however, and the prefix letter H for "Help" has taken the place of the S. Another change has traded the A formerly designating "amphibian" to U for "utility." So now the SA-16 is known as the HU-16.

A W added to the designation stands for "Weather" and indicates an Air Weather Service aircraft having permanently installed meteorological equipment. An example of this was the WB-29, a weather version of the B-29 Superfortress bomber. By the same token, the addition of an R to the original letter identification, as in the RB-50, singles out a "Reconnaissance" or photo plane of the Air Photo and Charting Service. In this case it is the four-engine Superfortress bomber, modified by the permanent installation of photo or electronic reconnaissance equipment.

Considered an integral part of the MATS strategic airlift capability, rather than one of the Technical Services, Air Evacuation aircraft carry no additional letter other than the standard C as in the C-131 Samaritan.

Described in these pages and a photo section are most of the principal types of MATS aircraft - past, present, and future - along with background history and some pertinent specifications and data. Mileage and airspeed figures are expressed in statute miles. These are the same miles consisting of 5,280 feet used in everyday conversation.

Some of the photos of early MATS aircraft show them with the words Atlantic, Pacific, or Continental across their vertical stabilizers and rudders. These serve as a historical record since they were taken before the changeover to EASTAF and WESTAF. There is no present counterpart for the Continental Division which formerly followed scheduled routes across the United States.

General Descriptions of MATS Global Airlift Aircraft

C-141 Starlifter

Wide-sweeping wings indicate this giant's mission - airlifting huge military loads across long reaches of the world's oceans and continents. The C-141 Starlifter, approximately twice the capacity of the Hercules, was rolled out for display on August 22, 1963. Its first flight was completed successfully in December, 1963, and it will join the Military Air Transport Service global airlift force in the spring of 1965. Capable of airlifting 50,000 pounds 4,600 miles nonstop, or 20,000 pounds between California and Japan (6,325 miles), its versatility includes airlifting 154 fully equipped combat troops or 80 patients. An all-jet 500-mph aircraft, with wide rear doors for big cargo, it dwarfs the tiny Wright Flyer, the first military air transport built in 1908.

C-130 Hercules

The extended-range Lockheed C-130E Hercules provides valuable interim modernization to the airlift force of MATS. The first several were delivered in August, 1962, and MATS now has more than 100.

Refinements over the C-130B, already in service, give the high-winged Hercules 10 tons more gross takeoff weight - 155,000 pounds. Also, additional fuel tanks (between the nacelles of the turboprop engines), which each carry 1,360 gallons, enable the "E" version to fly the Atlantic nonstop with normal loads, and the Pacific with one stop. Rear loading at truck-bed height, ability to land and take off from comparatively short runways, and a relatively high speed (more than 300 mph) all make this aircraft valuable for global airlift tasks, including training for assault airdrop of combat paratroops.

These C-130E aircraft will help fill MATS' needs even after pure-jet aircraft designed specifically for cargo are available in mid-1965. Its normal load is about 16 tons and it can carry 92 combat troops or 74 litter patients or 64 paratroops.

C-135 Stratolifter

The Boeing C-135 Stratolifter is the first pure-jet cargo aircraft in military service. The 500-mph aircraft, with nonstop over-ocean range, can fly at twice the speed, twice the height, and can carry three times the load for a 50 per cent greater range than most airplanes MATS currently uses. It can carry 38,000 pounds of pay load 3,600 miles at 40,000 feet. Basic crew is six.

The aircraft, similar to the Boeing 707, is slightly smaller in most dimensions. Primarily a cargo carrier, it can be converted to carry troops or litter patients. It is the only aircraft now used for aero-medical evacuation from overseas points to the United States. The first'aircraft was delivered to MATS in June, 1961. More than half of the C-135's in service with MATS have turbofan engines for greater range and lift.

C-133 Cargomaster

The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, originally named Globemaster III, is the largest aircraft in the MATS global airlift inventory. Designed to handle outsized cargo, the Cargomaster can airlift all U.S. operational missiles. With it, MATS has cut delivery time from manufacturer to launch site to hours instead of days required by overland hauling.

In December, 1958, a C-133 established the world's record for a single cargo airlift. It flew 118,000 pounds of cargo to an altitude of 10,000 feet, topping previous records by 40,000 pounds. The plane continually demonstrates its tremendous capacity by carrying everything from giant missiles to rocket launchers.

The Cargomaster normally operates between 15,000 and 30,000 feet, cruising at nearly 300 mph. With a 20-ton pay load, its range is more than 3,700 miles. It carries a basic crew of five and is powered by four Pratt and Whitney T-34 turboprop engines developing 6,000 equivalent shaft horsepower each. These aircraft are assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and to Travis Air Force Base, California.

C-124 Globemaster II

The Douglas C-124 Globemaster is the backbone of MATS' airlift force. Introduced to MATS in June, 1950, it has been in on every major airlift since Korea. It has even become a missile carrier, airlifting the Thor IRBM and its component parts to England for RAF use.

This aircraft flew cargo airdrop missions for seven consecutive years in Operation Deep Freeze, the resupply of scientific stations in the Antarctic. It bore the brunt of the Chile, Congo, and Cuba air- lifts, and is now being used by MATS in training for assault airdrop of combat paratroops.

It can carry 200 fully equipped combat troops or 127 litter patients or a 20-ton cargo pay load. With diis load, it has a range of 1,808 miles. Its speed is 230 mph at a normal cruise altitude of 7,000 to 10,000 feet. Its four Pratt and Whitney piston engines develop 3,800 horsepower each. The basic crew is six.

C-118 Liftmaster

The Douglas C-118 Liftmaster, one of the very dependable combat troop and cargo aircraft in MATS, joined the airlift force in September, 1952. It made the first MATS nonstop flight across the Atlantic in early 1954. The Liftmaster had a key role in Operation Safe Haven when 14,000 Hungarian refugees were airlifted to the U.S. in late 1956 and early 1957. The large four-engine transport is a direct lineal descendant of the C-47 and C-54. On commercial airlines it is known as the DC-6B.

The aircraft can carry 60 combat troops and their equipment and can deliver them within a range of 2,760 miles. It cruises at 18,000 feet at 276 mph. Basic crew is seven.

C-121 Super Constellation

The Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation joined MATS in 1953 and has been used as a convertible carrier for both cargo and personnel. It flew both oceans from its two bases of operation, Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, and Moffett Naval Air Station, California. Besides normal troop and cargo operations, the C-121 was used on the State Department "embassy runs" operating into South America. A C-121 served as President Eisenhower's personal aircraft, the Columbine.

Super Connies flown by the MATS Navy Squadron were designated R7VS.

The C-121 cruises at 17,000 feet at 282 mph and carries a basic crew of eight. All the Super Constellations could be converted for troop, cargo, or air evacuation missions. It can carry 76 fully equipped troops over a 3,050-mile range. These are being phased out of the force in favor of the C-130E. The C-121 is easily recognized from its triple bank of fins and rudders.

C-74 Globemaster I

Forerunner of today's Globemaster C-124 was the Douglas C-74.

The four-engine transport carried large pay loads of cargo and personnel on die MATS global routes in the late 1940's and early 1950'$. This particular C-74 was assigned to what was then known as the Continental Division which had routes across the United States. Scheduled flights over continental United States, however, are no longer made by MATS. Also named the Globemaster, it was the military version of the DC-7.

C-97 Stratofreighter

Boeing's twin-deck, heavy-duty C-97 Stratofreighter (also called Stratocruiser) was designed as a pressurized, long-range air transport of bulky cargoes at high speeds. The dependable MATS transport had a built-in loading ramp to facilitate handling of howitzers, ambulances, and other mobile equipment. Normal cruising speed on MATS flights was 270 mph with a cargo capacity of 68,500 pounds, or 130 fully equipped troops. C-97's were also used extensively as patient air evacuation planes in the Pacific area and could carry 79 litter patients, attendants, and supplies. Maximum speed was 350 mph.

C-54 Skymaster

Big sister of the C-47 was the Douglas C-54 known on the commercial airlines as the DC-4. This four-engine Skymaster was used on the Air Transport Command's Atlantic crossings during World War II. With a range of more than 3,000 miles they were also used on U.S. continental routes for "express" runs. Like the C-47 lt joined MATS when the ATC and NATS teamed up to become MATS in 1948. The Skymaster bore the brunt of the Berlin Airlift.

C-47 Skytrain

"Old Faithful" of air transports was the C-47 Douglas Skytrain, designated the Dakota by the RAF and more popularly called die "Gooney Bird." From 1932, for a period of over twenty years, this twin-engine workhorse was a mainstay of the civilian airlines. As the DC-3 it was one of the best-known and most widely used American commercial aircraft. It is also a World War II veteran of the Hump operation, where with the Air Transport Command, the MATS predecessor, it carried supplies from India over the high Himalayan Mountains into China.

General Descriptions of MATS Specialized Aircraft

Aeromedical Evacuation

C-131 Samaritan

The Convair C-131 is used by MATS primarily as a flying "hospital ward" between military hospitals in the United States. The first twin-engine, fully pressurized transport in the USAF inventory, it is used by aeromedical evacuation units of MATS and can carry 40 ambulatory or 27 litter patients. It has a speed of 230 mph, a range of more than 1,000 miles, and can operate above 20,000 feet. Fifteen similar aircraft were also used by Special Air Missions to carry VIP's on short to medium range trips.

Special Air Missions (SAM)


Assigned to the Special Air Missions 1254th Air Transport Wing, Washington, D.C., this military version of the Boeing 707 is used to move top government and military officials. It can fly above 40,000 feet at more than 600 mph. It is a sister ship of the C-135 Stratolifter.

VC-140 Jetstar

The small Lockheed VC-140 Jetstar has two engines clustered on each side of the fuselage near the tail. MATS has ten in the 1254th Air Transport Wing, Washington, D.C., to move top government and military officials. It carries eight passengers, two crew members, has a range of about 1,900 miles, 500-mph speed, and flies to altitudes up to 45,000 feet. It was the first U.S. jet utility aircraft and replaced Special Air Missions' piston engine C-131.

Air Photographic and Charting Service

RC-130 Hercules

This Lockheed aircraft, equipped with the latest electronic aerial survey equipment, is used by the 1370th Photo Mapping Group of MATS' Air Photographic and Charting Service. The turboprop plane has a ceiling of more than 30,000 feet, a 2,000-mile range, and flies over 350 mph. Except for the specialized reconnaissance equip, ment within, it closely resembles the global airlift C-130.

Air Rescue Service (ARS)

HH-43B Husky

These twin-rotor, turbine-powered helicopters are assigned to the MATS Air Rescue Service. This Kaman helicopter has a useful load of 1,200 pounds, a range of 190 miles, and a speed of about 125 mph. It can hover in midair or land in otherwise inaccessible places. It can carry six ambulatory patients or four litter patients.

HH-19 Chickasaw

One of the most utilitarian aircraft in the Air Rescue Service, this Sikorsky helicopter had a useful load of 1,800 pounds, a range of 500 miles, and a speed of 112 mph. It could hover motionless or land in otherwise inaccessible places. It was able to carry eight ambulatory patients or six litter cases. To aid pickups, it had a hydraulic-electric hoist and 100-foot cable and sling to haul up survivors. HH-19 crews were the first to administer in-flight plasma transfusions, and to fly helicopters from the U.S. across the North Atlantic to Europe in 1952.

HH-21 Workhorse

Another of the ARS rotary wing rescue aircraft is the HH-21 capable of carrying 20 troops or 12 litter patients plus attendants. This Vertol helicopter is larger than the Sikorsky SH-19 and has rotor blades mounted in tandem - one set in the front and another in the rear. It was dubbed the "Flying Banana" by the troops.

HU-16 Albatross

The Grumman amphibian is the backbone of MATS' Air Rescue Service. Capable of landing on choppy water and of short, jet assisted takeoffs, the Albatross is used by ARS throughout the world. In use since 1947, it has a 2,500-mile range, a 212-mph speed, and can carry ten passengers.

SB-17 Flying Fortress and SB-29 Superfortress

The tables are turned! In the Air Rescue Service giant bombers become "angels of mercy." The photo shows two SB-i7's, on either flank, escorting an SB-29. Each of the former World War II bomber types carried large lifeboats suspended below the fuselage. They were dropped by parachute to shipwreck or crash survivors at sea.

Air Weather Service

WB-47 Stratojet

Here another bomber does duty as a Weather plane. This WB-47 is a modification of the Strategic Air Command's Stratojet bomber. The six-jet aircraft cruises at better than 600 mph and is used by the Air Weather Service for studying the problems of "all-weather" jet operations at high altitudes as well as in climatological research. They are flown over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on regularly scheduled weather reconnaissance and hurricane hunting missions.

WB-50 Superfortress

The Boeing WB-50 is used for weather reconnaissance and hurricane hunting by MATS Air Weather Service. It has special electronic weather gear and often flies into the middle of storms for data. It has a range of up to 6,000 miles, a cruising speed of 210 mph, and a ceiling of 40,000 feet.

Chapter 11 Appendix A