In the late 1940's, the USAF was in need of a cargo aircraft of greater speed and capacity to replace its World War II designs, such as the Curtiss C-46 Commando and the Douglas C-47 Skytrain. This blog will follow the career of their replacement, an aircraft with a unique design, the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar.
Sherman Fairchild, founder of the company, first produced cameras for the Army Air Corps during World War I. Fairchild discovered that the biplanes in use at the time could not keep pace with the shutter speeds of existing cameras, producing low quality film. He developed a camera with a compatible shutter speed, but the war had ended before it was put into use. Fairchild branched out in the 1920's with the acquisition of the Caminez Engine Company in 1925. By the early 1930's the Fairchild Engine Company, which later became the Ranger Engine Division, produced a number of successful aircraft engines, including the L-440 six-cylinder series, which powered more than 6,500 aircraft during World War II. In 1927 Fairchild Aviation was incorporated as a holding company. One unit of the new entity was the Fairchild Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation of Farmingdale, New York. In 1928 Fairchild acquired the Kreidner-Reisner Aircraft Company of Hagerstown, Maryland. Fairchild's first foray into aircraft production was the C-7 monoplane produced in the late 1920's. A version with an enclosed cockpit, the C-8 was introduced in 1930. Some models of the C-8 included optional twin-float seaplane landing gear. Fairchild also built a similar aircraft, the Model 71 in Canada in 1930, which developed into the Super 71 in 1936. The Super 71 was a capable aircraft for its day, holding eight passengers or a ton of freight. To satisfy an Army Air Corps requirement in 1938 for a rugged monoplane primary trainer, Fairchild produced the M-62 trainer in 1939. Built in both open and enclosed cockpit versions, the M-62, also designated the Cornell, was not only manufactured for the United States Army Air Corps but also Canada, Norway, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil with 7,742 Cornells produced for the U.S. military alone.
During World War II, Fairchild entered the military transport segment. The concept developed by Fairchild engineers was to build a multi-mission transport capable of replacing both the Douglas C-47 Skytrain and the Curtiss C-46 Commando. Work on the C-82 Packet began in 1943 with the first flight in September 1944. The C-82 had two unique design features, the first having its engines mounted on twin booms, similar to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The Packet was the first cargo plane with a twin boom configuration. The C-82 had two other firsts for a cargo aircraft, a rear-loading ramp enabling both passengers and vehicles to enter the plane from the rear and an empennage set door mounting some fourteen feet above ground level, which permitted trucks and trailers to back up to the doors without obstruction. With the first aircraft delivered in June 1945, the Packet played a limited role in World War II. By the time it was deployed overseas, the Packet already began to experience problems. The engines proved inadequate for heavy loads with the airframe experiencing structural problems. Due to these problems only 223 Packets were produced when production ceased in 1948. Fairchild was approached by the Army Air Corps in 1945 to resolve both the engine and airframe problems.
Instead of upgrading the C-82, Fairchild chose to build an entirely new aircraft based on it. One of the problems of the C-82 was limited room in the cargo bay from which to maneuver vehicles, as well as limited cockpit visibility over drop zones, from which to place cargo. The engine power issue was resolved with the introduction of the more powerful Pratt & Whitney 4360 engine, which could produce up to 4,300 hp., becoming available in late 1945. Structural improvements were also incorporated in the new design. By 1947, the new transport, designated the C-119 Flying Boxcar, was ready for its first flight. The aircraft had a maximum load capacity of 30,000 lbs. and could transport 35 patient litters or 64 paratroops. Improvements to the Boxcar included LORAN (long range) navigation equipment, thermal anti-icing equipment, reversible-pitch propellers and a monorail automatic aerial delivery system. The C-119 entered service in 1949 and was used extensively during the Korean War, transporting both cargo and troops. The first C-119s were deployed to South Korea in July 1950 with additional units arriving by September, deploying with the 314th Troop Carrier Group. Though the Boxcar played a pivotal role in a number of engagements during the war, one particular mission stands out. In December 1950 United States Marines and Army troops were retreating from the Chosin Resevoir, with two Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) divisions of over 300,000 men attempting to close a pincers around the United States forces. The Boxcars dropped supplies to the Marines, as well as dropping a number of bridge sections, ranging from two to four tons, which enabled them to retreat over a 1,500 ft. gorge, saving many lives in the process. In addition to airlifting supplies, C-119s also dropped napalm-filled 55 gallon drums on enemy troops during OPERATION SNOWBALL in the fall of 1951. This tactic was also used by the French in Indo-China in 1954, attempting to block supplies from Hanoi to the border of Laos.
The C-119 had the distinction of making the first midair recovery of a capsule returning from orbit on August 19, 1960. The Boxcar caught the Discoverer XIV satellite at 8,000 ft. approximately 360 miles southwest of Honolulu. The specially converted C-119 snagged the parachute of the film capsule-making the first midair recovery. Though the Boxcar began to be phased out in favor of newer cargo aircraft in the 1960's, The C-119 found a new purpose, that of a ground support gunship in the skies over South Viet Nam. The AC-119G Shadow gunship variant was fitted with four six-barrel 7.62mm (0.30 caliber) miniguns, armor plating, flare launchers and night-capable infrared equipment. The Shadow proved to be a deadly weapon and more so with the introduction of the AC119K Stinger version, which featured the addition of two General Electric M61 Vulcan 20mm (0.79 in) cannon, improved avionics, and two underwing mounted General Electric J85-GE-17 turbojet engines. In civil use, a number of C-119s incorporate a Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine in a nacelle above the fuselage. The USAF retired its last C-119 in 1973 and the Air Force Reserve its last unit in 1975. Nearly 1,200 Boxcars were produced from 1947 to 1955. While the plane had its share of problems, it provided a stable platform for both guns and butter.