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. 

However, the aircraft demonstrated greater than expected fuel consumption; the range with a standard payload was only 700 miles, 650 miles with a maximum payload. Three prototype aircraft: NX37097, NX41810, and NC45354 were built; one was used for testing radio equipment, while the other two were used for flight test evaluations. During testing, a few aircraft had difficulty with the simultaneous deployment of the right and left landing gear. With the same engines as the C-47, but 3,000 pounds heavier (empty), the aircraft was relatively underpowered; it was reportedly said that, for an aircraft built by a railroad car company, it indeed handled like one. 

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 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.In‚Äč 

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.

Budd Conestoga Walkaround