|A Short History of the Cargo Aircraft|
|The bulk cargo role has always been a specialised one for the aviation
requirement to shift large loads over long distances were a pipe-dream in the 1920s and
much of the 1930s due mainly to the limited power engines could offer during this period.
The Douglas DC-2 / DC-3 series of the mid 1930s were the first glimmer of hope in carrying
a sizeable amount of passengers / freight and making it both practical and profitable for operators.
However, the design was still geared towards passenger carriage, not pure freight transport. A
shortcoming that would be a thorn in the side of air operations in the looming conflict ahead.
The mainstay of freight / paratroop operations during World War II was catered for by the
legendary Douglas C-47 Dakota, Curtiss C-46 Commando and later on the Douglas C-54
Skymaster. All great aircraft in their own right (10,654 Dakotas alone!), but they were built
as pre-war civil passenger aircraft, not as dedicated cargo aircraft. The side entry doors severely
hampered army logistics in getting material into the battlefield. Additionally, the C-47 and C-46
had sloping floors requiring great effort to push cargo “uphill” once onboard. The C-54 was slightly
better in this respect with a level deck but required a forklift to get cargo uploaded and unloaded at
each end of the journey due to the height of its fuselage off the ground.
What the US armed forces really needed was a dedicated, purpose built cargo aircraft and with the
twin-boom Fairchild C-82 Packet they finally got it. Although several German, Japanese, British and
US manufacturers had experimented with pure cargo aircraft designs, the C-82 was the first one to
enter production and service in a wide capacity. The concepts introduced on the C-82 of a high-mounted
wing, level, end-loading, truck-bed height fuselage deck has since set the standard in most subsequent
heavy freight aircraft, namely the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifter, C-5 Galaxy, Boeing C-17
Globemaster III, not to mention the British Bristol Type 170 Freighter, Armstrong-Whitworth AW.650
Argosy and the lesser known French Nord N2500 NorAtlas.
Two examples demonstrating the awkward nature of side-loading cargo aircraft
which was time consuming and posed some risk for aircraft damage.
|Fairchild and the Development of the XC-82|
Sherman M. Fairchild
|Sherman M. Fairchild (April 7, 1896 – March 28, 1971), was an innovative
owned and patented several inventions, chief among them an aerial camera and its associated
shutter mechanism. Upon this technology he founded the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corp. in
1920 to manufacture and sell his cameras, the company later became Fairchild Camera &
Instrument. Sherman then began renting airplanes and pilots to demonstrate his cameras,
this venture became Fairchild Aerial Surveys in 1921. After seeing the results extreme
conditions of high-altitude flying took on the crews doing his aerial photography work,
Sherman searched for an aircraft with an enclosed, heated cabin. When he learned no such
aircraft existed, Sherman formed the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Corp. in 1925 to build
an aircraft suited to aerial photography – the Fairchild FC-1. Facilities were soon built at
Farmingdale, Long Island, New York State and Fairchild became a major manufacturer
in the aviation business.
Fairchild’s association with Hagerstown, Maryland began with a small aviation company
formed in that town in 1925 as the Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Co. In 1929 Fairchild purchased
a controlling interest in this company and began building new manufacturing facilities at
Hagerstown Airfield. Then, the ravages of the Great Depression of late 1929 decimated the
Fairchild Empire with Sherman losing control of many of his companies to a financial
conglomerate known as AVCO (Aviation Corp.). Luckily, Sherman still had a major stake
in Kreider-Reisner at Hagerstown to which he consolidated his aircraft business there to form
the Fairchild Aircraft Co., in 1931. The Fairchild Hagerstown plant began clawing it’s way
back with new and innovative designs both in military and civil applications including the
Fairchild Model 22 (1931), Model 24 (1932), Model 95 (1934 – USAAC XC-31), Model 91
Jungle Clipper (1935), Model 45 (1935) and Model 46 (1937). By 1939, it was known as the
Fairchild Aircraft Division, a subsidiary of the parent Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp.,
headquarted in New York. Another subsidiary was the Ranger Engineering Division of
Farmingdale, New York specialising in building Ranger piston engines.
With the outbreak of World War II, the Fairchild plant, supported by a healthy workforce
from nearby Hagerstown, was well established in producing aircraft for the war effort. Their
main product being the famous Fairchild PT-19 (Model 62), a single-engined primary trainer
which was first flown in military guise in 1940. 6747 were built by Fairchild (including
licensed manufacturers like Aeronca), up to 1944 with a further 1883 built overseas in
Canada and Brazil. A lesser known Fairchild product during this period was the AT-21
Gunner (Model 77) of 1942.
So when a USAAF requirement from General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was issued in 1941
for a dedicated cargo aircraft, Fairchild’s vice-president Richard S. Boutelle responded with
a submission by their chief designer Armand J. Thieboldt. He made sketches of what would
become the Fairchild Model 78 in November, 1941. It was to be of all-wood construction, to
preserve precious metals for proven designs already in production. A mock-up was completed
by the Spring of 1942 and Army representatives were favourably impressed with the design
presented to them. Then, as the tides of war changed in late 1942, the Army Air Force issued
a new requirement that it be built of all metal construction.
Armand Thieboldt's original drawing for the Fairchild cargo design.
Photo: Fairchild official.
| On August 6, 1942 Fairchild received Contract AC-30435 to build one static
test airframe and
two flyable prototypes designated as the XC-82. The aircraft’s design along with engineering
drawings was then finalised, tooling and assembly jigs were built and construction on a
prototype was begun. Power would be provided by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double
Wasp, 18-cylinder radial engines rated at 2,100hp each.
Competing for the same contract was the Budd RB-1 Conestoga , Curtiss-Wright YC-76
Caravan and Waco YC-62. Of these only 17 of the stainless steel Conestoga were built, all
later going to a civil operator. 25 wooden C-76 Caravans were built, all deemed obsolete after
a very short service life. The Waco XC-62 was cancelled before a prototype had even
At 6:18pm, Sunday, September 10, 1944 the first Fairchild XC-82 (s/n: 43-13202), took to
the air at Hagerstown Airfield with pilots Dick Hensen (Fairchild’s chief test pilot), Benjamin
Howard and flight engineer Dan Weller. 6000 Fairchild employees turned out at for the
event which has since become a red letter date in the history of the Fairchild company. The
flight lasted 18 minutes, the crew returning with encouraging results. Further flight tests were
so positive that the Army issued Fairchild Contract AC-124 on September 28, 1944 for 100
production C-82A aircraft, cancelling at the same time the requirement for the second XC-82
prototype (c/n: 10002).
Classic shot of the the prototype XC-82, note the more rounded nose section.
Photo: Fairchild official.
XC-82 maiden flight at Hagerstown on September 10, 1944 with
Fairchild factory employees lined up to witness the event.
Photo: Fairchild official.
| The Fairchild C-82 was on track and in production, the largest aircraft
yet built by the plant at
Hagerstown, Maryland. The formal name of Packet was assigned to the C-82 by the USAAF
on November 10, 1944 but the nickname Flying Boxcar soon became the norm, it was even
painted on the prototype during demonstration tours.
XC-82 prototype displaying the Flying Boxcar nose-art.
Photo: Fairchild official.
See under Military History Overview in the side menu for further developments.
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