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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 06:00
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In 1953, GMC contracted with the military to produce the XM147 DUKW “Super Duck” prototype. Just like the original DUKW, it was amphibious. Based on the post-WWII GMC M135 series truck, it was capable of carrying up to 4 tons of cargo at 50 mph on land and 5.6 nautical mph at sea.

The Super Duck was produced from 1953 to 1957, but because of mechanical problems, it was never really adopted by the military as a suitable replacement for the original DUKW. The vehicle was said to be underpowered and always suffering from problems with its brake system. The Super Duck was replaced by the Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo 5-ton capacity (LARC-V), which was used during the Vietnam War.

Lucky Ducks

“Although the DUKW has not been manufactured since 1945, some are still in use today,” says Gilmore. The end of World War II made DUKWs available for civilian and municipal use. Fire departments and the Coast Guard continue to deploy Ducks today in emergency rescue situations, transporting victims of such disasters as Hurricane Katrina. Many Ducks are owned and restored by private collectors and museums.

Starting as early as 1946, the DUKW was used for amphibious tours. The first Duck tour company, Dells Army Ducks, was established in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., and is still in operation today under the name Original Wisconsin Ducks. According to Gilmore, “Many companies feature duck tours using the original World War II-era boats, but they have been completely gutted and restored, with new engines, drivetrains and enhanced safety features.”

Most Ducks, however, have been replaced by modern variations of the DUKW design. These vehicles are termed “purpose-built” for the intended use of providing amphibious sightseeing. To facilitate tours in all seasons, they can be configured with enclosed or open-air passenger compartments. While the new Duck boats bear a striking resemblance to the classic DUKWs, they are modern, with up-to-date amenities.

Duck boats are now tested and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard using “Guidelines for Certification of DUKW Amphibious Vehicles.” These guidelines contain best practices on the inspection and operation of such vehicles, to ensure that they are certified to meet all modern safety standards. Each vehicle must qualify for on-highway passenger, and passenger-use-boat certifications.

Once again, a vehicle produced for a war demand takes on a new responsibility in civilian life. No one could imagine that the DUKW would become what it is today from what it was yesterday. From its multi-faceted military use, to rescuing stranded flood victims, or providing leisurely tours, this misjudged and underappreciated “Ugly Duck” is one of the most uniquely versatile vehicles of our time.

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