The C-119 was a redesign of an earlier Fairchild transport design, the C-82 Packet, which was built for the USAAF between 1945 and 1948. While the Packet provided valuable service to the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command and Military Air Transport Service for nearly nine years, its design had some limitations and these were addressed in the new C-119 transport.
It was designed to carry cargo, litter patients and mechanized equipment and to drop cargo and troops by parachute. The C-119 had the same major design feature as the C-82-a rear-loading, all-through cargo hold-but featured more- powerful engines and a relocation of the flight deck.
First, the cockpit was moved into the nose of the airplane from its previous location over the cargo compartment. This resulted in much more usable cargo space and larger loads. The C-119 also featured more powerful engines (Pratt & Whitney R-4360s), a widened fuselage and a strengthened structure. The first C-119 prototype (actually called the XC-82B) flew in 1947 and deliveries began in December 1949 as the C-119B.
The C-119B saw extensive action in Korea and Vietnam and many were provided to other nations as part of the Military Assistance Program, including Belgium, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Nationalist China and South Vietnam. The type was also used by the Royal Canadian Air Force and by the US Marine Corps under the designations R4Q-1 and R4Q-2. C-119s were also used to ferry supplies to the Arctic for construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line radar sites.
It was in Vietnam that the lowly troop-carrying C-119 took on various tactical, offensive roles which its designers never could have foreseen. In its AC-119G “Shadow” variant, it was fitted with four six-barrel 7.62-mm mini-guns, armor plating, flare-launchers and night-capable infrared equipment. Now a potent weapon, the C-119 was made even more so by the introduction of the AC-119K “Stinger”, which featured the addition of two 20-mm cannon, improved avionics and two underwing-mounted J-85-GE-17 turbojet engines, adding nearly 6,000 lbs. of thrust.
Other major variants included the EC-119J, used for satellite tracking; and the YC-119H Skyvan, with larger wings and tail. Another variant still seen today is the “Jet-Pack” version, which incorporates a 3,400-lb thrust Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine in a nacelle above the fuselage. In a reversal of the normal course of events when airplanes are improved and modified, most variants after the C-119B incorporated lower-powered Wright R-3350 Cyclone engines.
After its retirement from active duty, many C-119s soldiered on in the US Air National Guard until the mid-1970s and until recently they were still in use by the Taiwanese Air Force. In recent years, several civilian-operated C-119s have found work as firebombers in the northwest United States and a few have even begun making appearances at warbird airshows.
The C-119G was the most common variant and was powered by two 3,500-hp Wright R-3350-85 Cyclone radial piston engines. Empty it weighed 39,982 lbs. and was capable of a maximum takeoff weight of 74,000 lbs. The C-119′s wing span was 109ft. 3in. with a length of 86ft. 6in. and a height of 26ft. 4in. The Flying Boxcar’s maximum speed was 296 mph. with a cruising speed of 200 mph. which gave it a range of 2,280 miles. It had no armament, although later variants used in Vietnam were armoured and heavily armed. In an effort to speed production during the Korean War, Kaiser was chosen to establish a second assembly line (151 C- 119F/Gs built; 41 C-119Cs assembled) Production at Kaiser ended in 1955.
A total of 68 C-119F/Gs were modified with an upward-hinged beaver-tail design cargo door and were redesignated C-119J. A few C-119Js were specially modified for midair retrieval of capsules containing Corona program satellite imagery reentering the atmosphere. The first successful effort came on August 18, 1960, when a C-119 crew flying over the Pacific snagged the parachute lowering the Discoverer XIV imagery capsule returning from orbit at 8,000 feet altitude 360 miles southeast of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Due to its being produced in several facilities, only an approximation of the total number built is available, believed to be 1184, of which three to five are believed to be flying today.
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