It’s not often that one gets such an interesting aviation photo that would be enjoyed by the elder aviation generation and which also deserves an article of its own.
Probably one of the industry’s first car transports by air is highlighted with our picture shown here of the Riddle Airlines Curtiss 46 I freighter loading cars in the 1960s. The cars are Heinkel Microcar models and it’s not sure whether the loading was taking place in Miami or Buenos Aires.
Once well known - now long gone
Air freight back in the late 1940s and early 1950s was already in full swing - however mainly for the U.S. military. There were various small carriers on the scene who had contracts with the military to not only carry goods throughout the United States, but also into central and southern American countries.
Riddle Airlines was one of those.
Founded in Miami in 1945 by John Paul Riddle, the carrier started as a non-scheduled airline carrying passengers and cargo. These were mainly for the U.S. army. Riddle Airlines operated a mixed fleet of DC-4s, DC-6s, DC-7s, DC8s and the venerable Curtiss C46. The carrier also had the famous Armstrong Whitworth Argosy turboprop in their fleet. All of which have almost disappeared from the skies.
Riddle Airlines commenced operations in 1945 using the C46 and Douglas DC-4 aircraft between Miami and Puerto Rico. Services were expanded to New York City in 1951, and later to Detroit and Chicago. Charter flights to Europe were introduced in 1960, using the longer-range Douglas DC-7. It was in the early ‘60s that the Argosy freighter was put into service, only to be replaced by the faster Douglas DC-8 which offered a much higher payload.
Riddle Airlines - today almost unknown, was a true aviation pioneering company which experimented with many types of aircraft. These also included the Super Constellation, The Canadair CL-44, the Lockheed Hercules and the Boeing 707C and 727F jets.
It was in 1965 that Riddle Airlines was renamed as Airlift International and operations, still mainly for the military, were expanded to South America. Times became rough for Airlift due to increased competition and fewer military contracts. They entered Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 1981 and were able to continue flying until financial pressure forced them to dissolve and cease operations in June of 1991.
The C46 - a flexible freighter
The C46 was first manufactured by the Curtiss-Wright Company in 1940, with an introduction into service for the U.S. military in 1941. Records show that at that time it was the world’s largest twin motor aircraft in service. Just over 3,000 were produced between 1940 and 1945. After the war it seems that the majority were scrapped, and some went into cargo duties with carriers such as Riddle Airlines. It is said that today there are still a few in service, operating rugged cargo transport in remote regions and the Arctic circle.
It did not last that long in commercial service because of its heavy fuel consumption and high maintenance costs but was up until the 1970s still a common sight in South America.
Somewhat nostalgic, however a carrier and an aircraft not to be forgotten and worthy of a special mention.
John Mc Donagh