With growing political instability and conflict across South East Asia in the mid 1950s, the US Army were keen to increase their tactical airlift capabilities to supply and extract battlefield troops to remote operational areas.
Like many post-war countries, the US Army had been dependant on the WWII workhorse - the Dakota C47 but its limited cargo capacity, cumbersome side-door loading and lengthy takeoff rendered it increasingly impractical to meet the demands of modern warfare.
The solution was the De Havilland DHC-4 Caribou - a twin engine short take off and landing (STOL) cargo lifter.
With its powerful twin Pratt and Whitney R2000 14 cylinder radial engines, heavily reinforced landing gear and rugged airframe construction, the Caribou could carry up to 4 tonnes of cargo or troops and their equipment and cruise at 145 kts with a range of over 2100 km.
Its high mounted tailplane featured a large rear loading ramp, while its inverted gull wing configuration delivered extraordinary lifting capability for short take offs and landings. The US Army were so impressed they purchased 159 of the aircraft. The Australian government soon followed with an order for 18.
Also looking to replacing their ageing fleet of Dakota C47’s, the RAAF ordered 18 Caribous in 1963 with the first 6 aircraft delivered directly to the RAAF Transport Flight in Vietnam.
Over a distinguished service life of some 45 years with RAAF No. 35 and 38 Sqn’s, the DHC-4 flew in and out of some of the most inaccessible regions, conducting both military and humanitarian operations.
Besides it’s 8 years of service during the Vietnam War, the Caribou also saw service across the rugged and remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Other RAAF aircraft conducted aerial survey work in Indonesia and Irian Jaya and supported UN Peacekeeping and Red Cross missions. One RAAF Caribou even provided transport support to the UN peace keeping mission on the North-West Frontier of Kashmir.
No. 35 Sqn Caribou’s transported aid to refugees in Portuguese (East) Timor in 1975 and more aircraft would later support Australian peacekeeping forces in Bougainville and again in East Timor in 1999 and the Solomons in 2003.
Finally retired in 2009, the Caribou had more than proven its reliability and ruggedness.
One example of this ability to survive sustained damage was Caribou A4-208 - hit by .30 calibre automatic weapons fire which severed the aircraft’s rudder cables and damaged the fuselage as it descended into Dak Seang Airfield, South Vietnam in 1967.
Two years later, with the airbase under enemy attack, 3 mortar rounds hit the runway only 25 m from the taxiing A4-208. With both pilots injured, aircraft hydraulics, flaps and brakes damaged as well as flat main tyres, the aircraft still managed to get airborne and was later found to have been hit by over 100 pieces of shrapnel.
After Caribou A4-208 received its unique desert ‘Pizza’ camouflage, it continued in its transport support role with 35 Sqn until suffering wing and fuselage damage after running off the runway during a military training exercise. Patched and repaired, it later provided flood relief support during the big NSW floods of May 1990 before being retired for spares in 1992.
Responsive and highly maneuverable, the Caribou introduced new RAAF pilots to a wide range of ‘hands-on’ operational flying including tactical and mountain flying, short and rough field landing and takeoff, cargo delivery and parachute deployment of combat and special forces.
All DHC-4 Caribou Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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