This article reproduces the original specification document for the Higgins-Bellanca Cargo Model 39-60 of 1944, an enormous transport aircraft designed for the USAAC which combined an elegant blended wing-fuselage with a twin boom tail assembly. According to various sources, this project began in 1941 and was also referred to as the “HC-57,” with the HC likely referring to Higgins Cargo. The Model 39-60 was designed by the great Giuseppe Mario Bellanca, who joined Higgins Industries, Inc. of New Orleans that same year. At the time, the German U-boat campaign posed a grave threat to allied shipping and the USAAC considered the transport of enormous numbers of troops and materiel by air to the European Theater as a serious alternative. The specification presented here claimed that the Model 39-60 could load, stow and drop a tank by parachute, in addition to being exceptionally suited for long range transportation of large payloads. The airplane was also suited to the transportation of varied cargo and personnel. In addition, large accessible and conveniently located doors were provided, with suitable safety provisions when open, for loading and dropping by parachute, personnel and/or mechanized equipment on small islands where no landing facilities were available. The following paragraphs summarize the main features of the aircraft.
The airplane was equipped with two Pratt & Whitney Model R-4360 two-stage radial engines driving two full feathering, constant speed, four blade propellers. The tactical mission of the airplane was the mobile transportation of cargo and/or personnel. Installation of hoist mechanisms, jacks and quick release mechanisms for the express purpose of loading, stowing and dropping by parachute one M5-A1 tank or equivalent cargo was provided.
This airplane was also suited, and provisions were made as required, for transportation of fuel or for the transportation of engines, propellers, aircraft parts, jeeps, armament, or other varied cargo. The design was readily suited for the convenient handling, loading, stowing, and long-range transportation of large and heavy items of cargo or large loads not easily handled by existing service airplanes of this class.
The Model 39-60 had a gross weight of 95,000 lbs. The service ceiling was 32,500 ft, with an absolute ceiling of 39,000 ft. The average cruising speed for a range of 2,500 miles was 185 mph. The high speed at 27,990 ft with ram was 357.3 mph. The maximum range at a cruising speed of 189.1 mph was 4,827 mi. The Model 39-60 had a wing area of 3,925 sq ft and a span of 200 ft. It was 97 ft long and 31 ft 1 in in height. Additional technical data on the type can be found in the report.
The normal operating crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, radio operator and mechanic. The radio operator was also the navigator. No armament was carried.
The wing was of two spar, duraluminum (“dural”) construction, broken down into center section and outer wing subassemblies. The body group of the airplane included two tail booms and the wing nose section. The airplane, being essentially a flying wing, had the cargo compartments in the center portion of the wing. The pilot’s compartment was in the wing nose section extending partially aft into the center section of the wing. The nose section extending forward of the leading edge of the wing was constructed as a true airfoil section and did not deviate from the lines of the wing in front or side elevation.
The engines were located completely within the wing with no nacelles or another protrusion through the airfoil section of the wing. The airplane was equipped with a pair of Pratt & Whitney Model R-4360 two-stage radial, air-cooled engines weighing approximately 3,325 lbs. each. The propeller shafts ran aft from the engines, through the aft section of the upper surface of the wing, where they were covered by housings extending aft to the propellers. Two Curtiss-Wright P-26B constant speed full feathering propellers were installed; these had a diameter of 17 ft.
The undercarriage was of the tricycle type with completely retractable main gear and nose wheel. Automatically operated fairing doors, flush with the bottom surfaces of the wing when closed, completely enclosed the landing gear in retracted position.
To read the report in depth, please click through the image gallery below.
Nothing ultimately became of the giant Higgins-Bellanca Model 36-90, likely because the requirement for it diminished when the German U-boat campaign was effectively neutralized in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Air Force may have also been skeptical that Higgins Industries, known primarily as a producer of the LCVP amphibious landing craft, was capable of producing such a large and complex aircraft. There is likely a great deal more to the story behind this unusual aircraft; hopefully more information on it will eventually emerge in the years ahead.
All images from NARA Archives II, College Park, MD, RG 341
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