View Full Version : Corps used R4Y aircraft as executive transports

10-16-04, 07:02 AM
October 18, 2004

The Lore of the Corps
Corps used R4Y aircraft as executive transports

By Robert F. Dorr
Times staff writer

Over the span of about 30 years, Marines flew the military version of the Convairliner, a twin-engine, propeller transport known in military jargon initially as the R4Y and later as the C-131. The plane was given the popular name Samaritan. It was one of the last aircraft in service with reciprocating engines.
As described in “United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911,” by Gordon Swanborough and William Green, the aircraft’s story began in 1952 when the Navy acquired 36 transports known as R4Y-1 models, each powered by two 2,500-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines. The planes were configured to carry 44 passengers and had a maximum speed of 275 miles per hour.

Over time, several R4Y-1 airplanes were modified as executive transports for high-ranking officials and were renamed R4Y-1Zs. The Marine Corps acquired about five of these, including planes that were assigned to the commanding generals of Marine Forces Atlantic and Pacific.

Two additional planes were transferred from the Air Force in 1957 and were dubbed R4Y-2 models. One remained in the Navy, but the other was assigned to Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, D.C., to carry the commandant and other top brass.

The unit moved to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where several commandants used the plane. Because it had an executive configuration, proper usage would have required calling the plane an R4Y-2Z, but it never received that designation.

The interior of the R4Y-2 was sumptuous, with both forward- and side-facing first-class seats. Interior photos from the era suggest that considerable effort went into keeping the accommodations polished, waxed and spotless. One officer who flew aboard the R4Y-2 as a passenger recalled, “It was way better than the airlines, and in those days, airliners were pretty comfortable.”

When the Pentagon revamped its system for naming airplanes in 1962, the R4Y-1, R4Y-1Z and R4Y-2 became the C-131F, VC-131F and C-131G, respectively.

According to the book “Convair C-131 Samaritan,” by Nicholas Williams, the Marine Corps operated at least one of these piston-powered executive transports until 1983. The Corps never converted its Samaritans to turboprop power, but the Navy modified some Samaritans to use turboprop engines and kept them on duty until 1990.

In an interview, author Williams said the R4Y/C-131 “made a huge contribution to naval and Marine aviation.”

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of numerous books on Air Force topics, including “Air Force One.” His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net