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Budd RB-1 Conestoga

The RB-1 Conestoga was a twin-engine, stainless steel cargo aircraft designed for the United States Navy during World War II by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although it did not see service in a combat theater, it pioneered design innovations in American cargo aircraft, later incorporated in modern military cargo airlifters.

World War II created a great demand for military transport aircraft in the United States. Because of initial fears of a shortage of aluminum, the War Department explored the use of other materials for aircraft construction. Budd, the developer of the shotweld technique for welding stainless steel and a manufacturer of stainless steel railroad cars, automobile, bus, and truck bodies, hired an aeronautical engineering staff and worked with the U. S. Navy to develop a new twin-engine transport aircraft constructed primarily of stainless steel. The U.S. Navy accepted the proposal for the new aircraft, and placed an order for 200, to be designated RB-1. The U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) followed with an order for 600, designated C-93.

The RB-1/C-93 was radical for its day, introducing many of the features now standard in military transports. The flight deck could accommodate three crew members, pilot and copilot side-by-side, the navigator behind them. Stairs connected the flight deck to the cargo area, which was 25 feet (7.6 m) long with an unobstructed cross-section of 8 × 8 feet (2.4m) throughout its length. Cargo loading and unloading could be accomplished in two ways: through 40 × 60 inch (102 × 152 cm) doors on both sides of the fuselage or by an electrically operated 10 × 8 foot (3.0 × 2.4 m) ramp at the aft end of the cargo area under the upswept tail, a similar development to what had been initially fitted to the Germans' own Ju 90 four-engined transport aircraft as their Trapoklappe ramp in 1939. The RB-1's loading ramp, accessed by manually operated clamshell doors, along with the tricycle landing gear, meant cargo could be loaded/unloaded at truck-bed height. A manually operated two-ton (907 kg) hoist for unloading trucks and a one-ton winch for pulling cargo up the ramp were also provided in the cargo area. The aircraft could accommodate:

  • 24 paratroopers, or
  • 24 stretchers and 16 sitting wounded, or
  • 9,600 pounds of cargo, or
  • a 1½ ton truck, or
  • The largest ambulance in use by the U.S. military.
  • Production RB-1 aircraft never entered squadron service with the Navy, but a few were briefly used by Naval Air Stations as utility aircraft. With only 17 aircraft in inventory, the RB-1 was not feasible to maintain on the active list, and it was retired from U.S. Navy service in early 1945. The extant RB-1s were then transferred to the War Assets Administration (WAA) to be sold as war surplus. In 1945, the WAA sold 12 Conestogas to the National Skyway Freight Corp[5] for $28,642 each at a time when new C-47s were selling for approximately $100,000 each. The new company, founded by members of the AVG Flying Tigers immediately sold four RB-1 aircraft to other buyers, which paid for the entire WAA contract.[5]

    The seven remaining National Skyways aircraft were used to transport a variety of cargo, shipping fruit and furniture from its base in Long Beach, California. [N 1] Pilots reported that the Budd transports were temperamental; in particular, exhaust stacks kept falling off and causing engine fires.[5] There were three more crashes of Conestogas while in service with National Skyway Freight, one each in Virginia, New Mexico, and Michigan.[5] [N 2] The crash in Virginia was a belly landing at a country club brought on by fuel exhaustion following weather-related problems. The Albuquerque, New Mexico crash was due to a downdraft during a snow storm, 80 miles (130 km) from Albuquerque.<Widow of Lawrence Molloy Feemster, Ruth Mae (Feemster) Hill & preserved newspaper clippings>[better source needed] Pilot and copilot were killed when they were thrown through the windshield and the aircraft skidded over them; the flight engineer survived.[5]

    In 1947, the U.S. Army (and later the U.S. Air Force) gave National Skyway Freight a large contract for trans-Pacific freight, for which it leased military aircraft. The company changed its name to Flying Tiger and replaced the RB-1s with C-47s for its U.S. freight routes; the RB-1s were sold off to other buyers. One of these aircraft, a prototype RB-1, "NC45354" was sold to the Tucker Motor Company to transport its demonstration 1948 Tucker Sedan to auto shows around the U.S.; it was reportedly later abandoned at an airfield in Oakland, California after repeated mechanical troubles.

A single unrestored Budd RB-1 is on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Model Scale 1:65

Natural Metal Prototype

US Navy Tricolor

Flying Tiger Lines