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Budd RB-1 Conestoga

A contemporary of the Curtis Commando and the DC3/C47, the welded stainless steel Budd Conestoga first flew in October 1943. Not surprisingly, the stainless steel construction used in the Conestoga resulted in a very heavy aeroplane. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Budd was primarily a manufacturer of railway carriages!

Employing the same engines as the C47, but weighing considerably more, the Conestoga was not a lively performer and its consequent high fuel burn resulted in a very limited range.

The Conestoga featured a long, unobstructed cargo bay and over 800 were initially ordered, 600 for the US Army Air Force, the remainder for the US Navy. However, the Conestoga's shortcomings soon became evident and the USAAF order was cancelled.

The US Navy took delivery of the first of just 17 Conestogas in March 1944, barely five months after the first flight. The aeroplane was not a success and never entered full military service.

Passing from the military to civilian operators, the Conestoga continued to cause problems, proving very unreliable and troublesome.

Several were lost in accidents, perhaps the most bizarre of which was, following a forced landing, the aircraft ran over its own flight deck crew, killing the captain and first officer!!

A strange, bizarre aeroplane with a strange and bizarre history, the Conestoga was actually ahead of its time in a number of ways. Unfortunately, at just the time aluminum stressed construction was becoming cheaper and quicker to produce, Budd went down the blind alley of stainless steel.

This Budd Conestoga can be seen at Pima Air & Space Museum.

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All images Copyright Avery Little