Aircraft History of the C-119

C-119 Flying Boxcar

For one reason or another airplanes have been given nicknames that stick with them through the ages. Whether it is a distinguishing look or note-able purpose, some of these planes become known exclusively by their nickname rather than their model. One of the more memorable planes would be the C-119 or as it was better known as the C-119 “Flying Boxcar.”

Built as a replacement for the C-82 “Packet”, the C-119 was designed to overcome many design flaws of current cargo planes at the time. While the C-119 was able to overcome the C-82’s structural weaknesses and power output issues, the flying boxcar had troubles of its own. Built between 1947 and 1955, many models of the C-119 were designed to resolve issues such as weak booms, stabilizer issues, and even the engine props sometimes switching to reverse on their own. Another innovative design was that the cockpit was moved flush against the nose rather than over the cargo compartment like on the C-82. This gave the C-119 more cargo space. The first C-119 took flight in November 1947 and ran a rather impressive course through history.

Don’t think that the flying boxcar was known only for its issues. The C-119 was deployed and used at great use during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. These planes were most often used as troop and equipment transport but were also fitted as weapons of war as well. A variant of the C-119 known as the AC-119G “Shadow” was outfitted with mini-guns, armor plating, flare-launchers, and infrared equipment, making it a deadly gunship. It became an even greater gunship when it was upgraded to the AC-119K “Stinger” and given turbojet engines. During the Vietnam War the CIA secretly loaned several C-119 aircraft to the French forces for troop support. Painted as French cargo planes, the flying boxcars played a major role at the siege of Dien Bien Phu, where they dropped supplies to entrenched French troops.

Another talent that the C-119 excelled at was making aerial recoveries. Used frequently by the Air Force, it was able to easily perform aerial recoveries of high altitude balloon-borne instrument packages as well as film return capsules from the Corona spy satellite program. The C-119 also holds the record of the first successful recovery of film from an orbiting satellite as well as the first aerial recovery of an object returning from Earth orbit when it recovered film from the Discover 14 Corona mission.

After the Vietnam War, most C-119 planes were moved into civilian use. Many of the flying boxcars were contracted by the U.S. Forest Service as air-tankers for combating wildfires while others were moved into cargo services. However, after a series of crashes, the aircraft was deemed too old to safely fly and grounded in 1987.

In the eight years that the C-119 was produced, over 1,183 planes were built. While the Flying Boxcar may not be taking to the skies today, it still soars through the skies of aviation history.