In 1942 the Army Air Corps asked Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation to design an airplane specifically for military troop and cargo use. In response, the company threw away all old concepts of transport-aircraft design. There was good reason for this, since virtually every transport ever built had been designed with the civilian passenger in mind. And there was good reason for coming to Fairchild for this cargo airplane, since the Fairchild YC-24, built in 1932, had been the first cargo type large aircraft built for the military services. It had many of the innovations later incorporated in the C-47 and other military cargo planes current in 1942, such as flat loading-floor and truck-width hatches.
Fairchild's proposal for the C-82 Packet marked a new era of dedicated military transports. Wartime operations certainly demonstrated the value of airlift assets. Civil airliner designs continued to equip many squadrons during the early postwar years, but it had become clear that the AAF needed specific kinds of aircraft designed expressly to fulfill military airlift missions. Even before the end of World War II, aeronautical firms began addressing these requirements with twin-engine and four-engine transports.
It wasn't easy to toss out established ideas and start anew to work out what we thought would be the ideal type plane for paratroop and heavy cargo work. It isn't human nature to work that way. But it was done, the resulting airplane being the C-82 Packet. Design studies showed the advantages and disadvantages of certain configurations, with the best compromise (and every airplane design must, to some extent, be a compromise) found to be the now-familiar twin-boom, high-wing pattern with a box-car-like fuselage to permit easy loading and unloading as well as clear jump areas for dropping of paratroopers and air-dropped equipment.
Fairchild Corporation had concentrated on building small aircraft until World War II when the Army wanted a specialized troop and cargo carrier. The company recommended a high-wing, twin-boom design with a large capacity nacelle suspended under the wing between the booms for the crew, passengers and cargo. It would have a hinged rear section for loading vehicles, artillery and similar items that were too large for the doors of the C-46 or C-47. The rear clamshell cargo doors had embedded standard doors so those two rows of paratroopers could jump at the same time.
Based on wartime reports, the Fairchild design tried to maximize ease of loading and unloading both troops and bulky cargo and to facilitate the efficient delivery of paratroopers into the battlefield. To these ends, Fairchild engineers laid out a twin-engine airplane with a central fuselage nacelle to carry crew, cargo, and personnel. Shoulder-mounted wings and engines provided low ground clearance for easy loading, with twin tail booms stretching back to the tail assembly. This layout permitted oversized, clamshell doors at the rear of the fuselage nacelle, facilitating the loading of heavy equipment such as field guns, light tanks, and trucks up to a weight of 11,500 pounds. The fuselage had been designed to accommodate the 96-inch standard equipment of the Army.
With two 2,100 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines, it was clearly the most capable aircraft in its class. Wingspan was 106 feet 5.5 inches, and wing area was 1,400 square feet. The aircraft weighed 32,500 pounds empty and 54,000 pounds loaded. Other characteristics were a maximum speed of 281 mph at 18,000 feet, an initial climb of 950 feet per minute, a service ceiling of 21,200 feet, and a range over 3,000 miles. As a troop carrier, the C-82 handled forty-two equipped paratroopers, and had a range of nearly four thousand miles with a top speed of 250 mph. The clamshell doors at the rear of the fuselage also permitted faster, safer parachute drops.
The mock-up was approved in October 1942 and the first prototype of XC-82 Packet flew Sept. 10, 1944. But delivery of production models did not occur until September 1945, after the war's end. The company received large orders, but the war ended in 1945 and it was generally perceived that most of the military need ceased to exist. Delivery began in 1945 and Fairchild ultimately built 220. They proved out the general configuration, but some of the shortcomings of that particular design began to show up as field tests were conducted.
On 16 September 1948, five C-82s were assigned to the Berlin Airlift for the purpose of carrying heavy and bulky cargo. The C-82 with its hangar-like compartment and clamshell rear loading doors was an ideal tool for the Airlift, but was not available in sufficient numbers to make a great contribution. The C-82's capacity was relatively unimpressive; each carried just over four tons. Between the 14 September and 30 November 1948, five Packets made 252 flights, delivering 1,054 tons of cargo, about 4.18 tons per trip. The Packet's advantage lay in its wide fuselage and access through the rear, which made it excellent for hauling vehicles. Initially, plans called for the aircraft to evacuate vehicles from Berlin, but they provided tremendous assistance hauling bulk items and heavy construction equipment like bulldozers, asphalt machines, and graders. Berlin Airlift commander General Tunner had originally planned to use the C-82s for a short time; however, their particular value changed his mind and they remained a part of the airlift for several months.
The World War II-era Fairchild C-82 Packet had been disappointing in performance and reliability. Like the C-74 and the C-124, the C-82 was the forerunner of a greater airplane - the C-119 "Flying Boxcar." The Packet's more famous successor, the C-119 Flying Boxcar (or Dollar-Nineteen), introduced in 1947, eventually set new standards for airlift operations.
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