The Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar (Navy designation R4Q) was an American military transport aircraft developed from the World War II Fairchild C-82 Packet, designed to carry cargo, personnel, litter patients, and mechanized equipment, and to drop cargo and troops by parachute. 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. Its cargo hauling ability earned it the nickname "Flying Boxcar".
In contrast to the C-82, the cockpit was moved forward to fit flush with the nose rather than its previous location over the cargo compartment. This resulted in more usable cargo space and larger loads than the C-82 could accommodate. The C-119 also featured more powerful engines, and a wider and stronger airframe. The first C-119 prototype (called the XC-82B) first flew in November 1947, with deliveries of C-119Bs from Fairchild's Hagerstown, Maryland factory beginning in December 1949.
In 1951 Henry J. Kaiser was awarded a contract to assemble additional C-119s at the Kaiser-Frazer automotive factory located in the former B-24 Liberator plant at Willow Run Airport in Belleville, Michigan. Initially, the Kaiser-built C-119F would differ from the Fairchild aircraft by the use of Wright R-3350-85 Cyclone engines in place of Fairchild's use of the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engine. The Wright engine was a proven design used previously on the B-29, and though it lacked the R-4360's superchargers it proved to be virtually identical in performance, and possibly superior at higher altitudes. Kaiser would build 71 C-119s at Willow Run in 1952 and 1953 (s/n 51-8098 to 51-8168) before converting the factory for a planned production of the Chase C-123 that would never occur. The Kaiser sub-contract was frowned upon by Fairchild, and efforts were made through political channels to stop Kaiser's production, which may have proven successful. Following Kaiser's termination of C-119 production the contract for the C-123 was instead awarded to Fairchild. Most Kaiser-built aircraft were eventually turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force.
The AC-119G "Shadow" variant was fitted with four six-barrel 7.62 mm mini-guns, armor plating, flare-launchers, and night-capable infrared equipment. Like the AC-130 it would be a potent weapon. The AC-119 was made more deadly by the introduction of the AC-119K "Stinger" version, 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 lbf 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 is the "Jet-Pack" version, which incorporates a 3,400 lbf Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine in a nacelle above the fuselage.
Two additional airframes were built by Fairchild for static tests
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-119s saw service with the 456th Troop Carrier Wing which was attached to the Strategic Air Command from 25 April 1955 to 26 May 1956. The C-119s performed aerial recovery of high altitude balloon-borne instrument packages. C-119s from the 6593rd Test Squardon based at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii performed several aerial recoveries of film-return capsules during the early years of the Corona spy satellite program. On 1960-08-19 the recovery by a C-119 of film from the Corona mission code-named Discoverer 14 was the first successful recovery of film from an orbiting satellite and the first aerial recovery of an object returning from Earth orbit.
The C-119 would go on to see extensive service in Vietnam, beginning in 1954 with aircraft secretly loaned by the CIA to French forces for troop support. These aircraft were generally flown in French markings by American CIA pilots often accompanied by French officers and support staff. The C-119 was to play a major role during the siege at Dien Bien Phu, where they flew into increasingly heavy fire while dropping supplies to the besieged French forces.
After its retirement from active duty, many C-119s and R4Qs soldiered on in the US Navy, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard until the mid-1970s, and until recently they were still in use by the Taiwanese Air Force. The last military use of the C-119 by the United States ended in 1974 when a single squadron of Navy R4Qs based at Selfridge ANG Base near Detroit, Michigan, and two squadrons based at Naval Air Station, Long Beach, California replaced their R4Qs with newer aircraft.
Many were provided to other nations as part of the Military Assistance Program, including Belgium, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Nationalist China, and as previously mentioned, South Vietnam. The type was also used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, and by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps under the designation R4Q.
A number of aircraft were acquired by companies who were contracted by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management to provide airtankers for fighting wildfires. Others were pressed into civilian cargo service. After a series of crashes, the age and safety of the aircraft being used as airtankers became a serious concern, and the U.S. C-119 airtanker fleet was permanently grounded in 1987. Many of these aircraft wound up being provided to museums across the U.S. in a complicated - and ultimately illegal - scheme where stored USAF Lockheed C-130A Hercules transports and Navy P-3 Orion anti-submarine patrol aircraft were provided to the contractors in exchange for the C-119s. (See U.S. Forest Service airtanker scandal.)