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C-119 Flying Boxcar

The C-119, developed from the WW II Fairchild C-82, was designed to carry cargo, personnel, litter patients, and mechanized equipment, and to drop cargo and troops by parachute. Later developments made the C-82's 96-inch standard obsolete, while use by troops demonstrated to Army and Air Force personnel, and to Fairchild, that more leeway was necessary within the fuselage for maneuvering equipment. It was found that visibility over drop zones was not sufficient for the greatest efficiency and accuracy. It was shown that more power was desirable, and this soon became available in the new Pratt & Whitney 4360 engine.

All of these changes were incorporated in the C-119 Packet, which in 1950 set new standards of air-transportability in operational service with the 314th Troop Carrier Wing. It has piled up an outstanding record in the short time it has been in service, especially during Exercise SWARMER, where much of the success of the maneuver was directly traceable to the performance of this one aircraft.

This widely used twin-boom transport was a more powerful development of the C-82, powered by the R-3350 or R-4360 radials. Used in Vietnam by the French and US forces, the C-119 was a capable aircraft, but complicated to operate and hard to fly on one engine. It carried cargo, personnel, litter patients and mechanized equipment and could drop troops and cargo by parachute. For airdrops, the rear loading doors were often removed. In addition to the U.S. forces, the air forces of Canada, Belgium, Italy and India also received C-119s.

Over several years' time, Fairchild strengthened the new aircraft structurally and upgraded its engines and propellers. By 1947, the C-119 was ready for its first flight, and two years later it entered operational service. The aircraft had a maximum load capability of 30,000 pounds and could transport 64 paratroops or 35 patient litters. New features included thermal anti-icing equipment, a monorail automatic aerial delivery system, reversible-pitch propellers, and LORAN (long range) navigation equipment. According to official Air Force press releases, it was the "first truly operational cargo-troop carrier aircraft designed in the 'shoulder wing' configuration to provide a low-slung fuselage for loading ease, taking much of the 'lift' out of airlift."

The first C-119 made its initial flight in November 1947 and by the time production ceased in 1955, more than 1,100 C-119s had been built. The USAF used the airplane extensively during the Korean Conflict and many were supplied to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and to the Air Forces of Canada, Belgium, Italy, and India.

From 1948 to 1955, Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation produced 1,112 C-119 airframes. The US Air Force received 963 C-119s while the US Marine Corps received 149 aircraft, designated the R4Q aircraft. The Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area, now known as the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, annual histories documented the production of only one C-119 Flying Boxcar in the last half of 1952. However, the depot produced more than 38,000 R3350 engines, the power plant of the C-119F/G. The Wright R3350 engine also powered other aircraft such as the B-29, B-32, A-1, C-69, EC/C-121, F/RF-61 and the Navy's P2V and JRM-1 aircraft. The C-119 shares the record of fewest aircraft produced at the Oklahoma City depot with the Navy S03C-1 Scout, the first aircraft repaired at the Oklahoma City Air Depot. Despite the lack of depot maintenance on the C-119, the aircraft became a familiar sight at Tinker Air Force Base. The 305th Troop Carrier Squadron, a Reserve unit, flew the C-119 and in 1961 the unit and its Flying Boxcars were called to active duty during the Berlin Crisis.

The aircraft saw extensive action during the Korean War as a troop and equipment transport. In July 1950, four C-119s were sent to FEAF for service tests. Two months later, the C-119 deployed with the 314th Troop Carrier Group and served in Korea throughout the war.

The C-119's first combat mission included a cooperative airdrop with C-47s on 20 October 1950, when 2,860 Army paratroops and 300 tons of supplies were dropped at Sunchon during the drive to Pyongyang in North Korea. General MacArthur planned to employ the airborne troops of the 187th Airborne Regiment in a drop north of P'yongyang in an attempt to cut off North Korean officials and enemy troops, and to rescue American prisoners of war who it was assumed would be evacuated northward when the fall of the North Korean capital seemed imminent. MacArthur set the airdrop for the morning of 20 October 1950. The regiment loaded into 113 planes, C-119's and C-47's of the 314th and 21st Troop Carrier Squadrons based in Japan. This flight carried about 2,800 men. The planes were crowded-a typical C-119 carried 46 men in 2 sticks of 23 men each, 15 monorail bundles, and 4 door bundles. Each man had a main parachute, a .45-caliber pistol, and a carbine or M1 rifle. After the troop drop came that of the heavy equipment-equipment organic to an airborne infantry regiment, including jeeps, 90-mm. towed antitank guns, 105-mm. howitzers, and a mobile radio transmission set equivalent in weight to a 2 1/2-ton truck. Seven 105-mm. howitzers of the 674th Field Artillery Battalion and 1,125 rounds of ammunition were in the drop. Six of the howitzers were recovered in usable condition. This was the first time heavy equipment had been dropped in combat, and it was the first time C-119'S had been used in a combat parachute operation.

The C-119's greatest feat during the Korean War, however, was a mission to aid the retreat of United States Marine Corps and Army troops from Chosin in December 1950. During this unprecedented mission, the 314th successfully dropped eight 2,500-pound bridge sections, each measuring 16 x 5 feet. The assembled bridge allowed the troops to span a deep gorge that was blocking their only escape route. In December 1950 two Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) divisions, numbering over 300,000 men, entered Korea practically undetected and began closing the jaws of a giant trap. Air Force C-119 "Flying Boxcars" dropped supplies to the US Marines, but on 7 and 8 December the Chinese closed the sack by blowing the bridge across an otherwise impassible 1,500-foot-wide gorge south of Koto-ri. Without help, the Marines would be forced to leave behind their heavy equipment and make it out on foot, a trek many of the wounded and frostbitten would not survive. Air Force C-119s again answered the call and dropped eight two-ton spans of a treadway bridge for Marine engineers, who kept the column moving by bridging the gap under intense fire.

Following the recapture of Seoul, Communist forces retreated northward. Operation COURAGEOUS was designed to trap large Chinese and North Korean forces in the area between the Han and Imjin Rivers north of Seoul, opposite I Corps. The operation featured a parachute drop by the 187th Airborne RCT onto the south bank of the Imjin River near Munsan-ni, twenty miles north of the current front line, and a rapid advance by an armored task force. Both the airborne drop, which used over a hundred C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft, and the armored movement were successfully executed. The drop took place on 22 March 1951, and Task Force Growdon (made up of armored elements from the U.S. 24th Infantry Division's 6th Medium Tank Battalion, borrowed from IX Corps, and infantry elements from the U.S. 3d Infantry Division) linked up with the paratroopers on the twenty-third. The 187th faced only weak resistance, and the armored task force faced primarily minefields rather than active defenses. However, once again Communist forces withdrew more rapidly than the UN forces could advance to trap them.

In addition to airlifting supplies, the C-119s performed other tasks. For example, during Operation SNOWBALL in the fall of 1951, the 315th Air Division used the aircraft to drop napalm-filled 55-gallon drums on enemy troops.

Some C-119 units complained that the aircraft was not as robust as some older cargo aircraft types. In fact, the stability of the aircraft had been rated as poor, and the C-119 had continual problems with engines, propellers, and violent stall characteristics. Additionally, users had noted engine mount, control lock, and landing gear failures. Most distressing was the accident rate of the C-119, which was up to four times higher than other transport types in the Air Force inventory. On 29 March 1951, the right engine on two different C-119s fell off while the planes were in flight. Later, in response to a rash of cracked propellers, FEAF immediately grounded the aircraft and recommended complete reconditioning. In February 1953, WADC engineers redesigned the propeller regulators, which seemed to resolve the problem.13 After that, most of the effort expended on the C-119 program was in relation to the H model, of which only one was built.

In the mid-1950s the US Air Force Tactial Air Command acquired a number of airplanes optimized for airborne and assault operations, including the C-82, C-119, C-123, and, above all, the C-130 Hercules, built to TAC requirements at a time when its design could benefit from the lessons of the Korean War.

In 1954 the French leaders in Vietnam selected the Dien Bien Phu site to prevent the flow of supplies between Hanoi and Laos. The French had approximately 130 aircraft available in northern Vietnam to provide close air support and interdiction, consisting of fighters, fighter-bombers, B-26 medium bombers, and C-119 transports equipped for napalm bombing.

The C-119 made history when it became the first aircraft to make a midair recovery of a capsule returning from orbit 19 August 1960. It caught the Discoverer XIV satellite at 8,000 feet altitude 360 miles southwest of Honolulu. The specially converted Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar made history as it approached the Discoverer XIV reentry capsule descending by parachute over the Pacific Ocean. The C-119 snagged the parachute and made the first midair recovery of a film return capsule! The day before, the Discoverer had been launched into orbit. The satellite carried a camera, which took the first intelligence photos of the Soviet Union from space and verified Schrievers vision of the Air Forces future beyond earth's atmosphere.

By late 1960, the the C-119J was being phased out of the active force, and replaced by the much larger and faster C-121 "Constellation." While the C-130E model's performance was an improvement upon that of both the C-119 and C-123, the aircraft it was designed to replace, its 18- to 23-ton payload could not compete with the cargo-carrying capability of aging C-97, C-121, and C-124 aircraft.

Prior to 1970, the Air National Guard still operated 359 Korean War era F-84 fighters, and the Air Force Reserve operated 332 Korean War vintage C-119 cargo airplanes. After nearly 30 years of service, the Air Force phased out its last AC-119 in 1973 and two years later, the Air National Guard retired its last C-119 transport.



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