MIAMI – Today in Aviation, US legacy carrier Delta Air Lines (DL) began its cargo operations with the creation of Delta Cargo in 1946.

The cargo arm of DL currently transports more than 2.2 billion ton-miles each year.

Photo: Delta Air Lines

The Setup and Early Fleet


Established in 1924 with a fleet of 18 aircraft, Delta Air Corporation became DL in 1945 as the airline expanded, setting up a Cargo department that carried out an experimental run with nearly 160,000 live tomato plants on an unconverted military freighter. That year, DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft were used for initial cargo services.

In 1946 and just as the war concluded, the airline launched regularly scheduled freight transport services under the name Delta Cargo.

Operations commenced on August 15, 1946, and the airline offered extremely low rates, almost 60% cheaper than competitor Air Express. As the freight movement and size of parcels increased, the DC-3 and Dc-4 were unable to accommodate; thus, the airline brought in three all-cargo C-47 ‘Skytrain’ planes that were used extensively by the Allies during WWII.

The Skytrain could carry a payload of around 6000 pounds (2,700 kgs) and fly a range of approximately 1,600 miles (~2600 km).

The three C-47 were:

  • Ship 53, registration NC86553
  • Ship 59, registration NC51359
  • Ship 61, registration N57539

Scheduled C-47 cargo flights started on April 1, 1947. With initial service between Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Chicago. It also was the first to connect Atlanta with Northern American states for cargo purposes.

Magazines, shrimp, vegetables, flowers, and automobile parts were some of the most frequently transported goods. Freight was also carried on board the passenger fleet of aircraft whenever space allowed it.

During the following decade, even the C-47 succumbed to the substantial growth of cargo (a whopping 724% increase in 10 years) and had to replace it with the all-cargo Curtiss C-46 that had a massive payload capacity of 11,630 pounds (~5300 kg) nearly double of the Skytrain.

Photo: Delta Air Lines

Comments from Delta Air Lines on 75 Years of Cargo Arm


“Today we celebrate a momentous occasion – 75 years of Delta Cargo!” Allison Ausbard, EVP and Chief Customer Experience Officer, DL, said on her LinkedIn account.

“Since 1946, Delta Cargo has provided best-in-class service to customers and communities alike and continues to make history in more ways than one.”

Ausbard went on to say, “In the face of one of the most difficult times in our company’s history, and in our lives, the Cargo team came together in remarkable ways to take care of our customers and each other, and this year expects to see strong operational performance and revenue growth.”

She concluded, “I cannot express how proud I am to work alongside our Cargo colleagues. Thank you, Cargo team, for everything you do each day to drive Delta forward and for your hard work and dedication to our customers.”


Featured image: Delta Air Lines