• The Story Of A Boxcar

    The Story Of A Boxcar

    By Michel Verheughe

    After the second world war, the need for a large cargo aircraft appeared. In Britain, the solution was the Bristol, with its opening fuselage nose. In France and in the USA, it was the twin boom solution and an opening from the tail. The USA produced the Fairchild C-82 and the French, the Nord Noratlas.

    Then, in 1949, Fairchild released the C-119, nicknamed the Flying Boxcar, because the cargo room was designed to hold a standard container. It was equipped with two Pratt & Whitney engines of 3,500 HP, which were probably the strongest piston engines ever produced at that time. To boost the take-off power, water was injected into the cylinders as an anti-detonant.

    In October 1952, my father was the first Belgian pilot to be certified on the first Belgian C-119, the CP3 with call sign OT-CAC. This is the aircraft I have reproduced in the flight simulator, X-Plane (C-119_BOXCAR.ZIP).

    The Story of a Boxcar

    The aircraft was mostly used for paratroops and for transport of various goods to the former Belgian Congo in Africa. At the time, navigation was a challenge. My father was often asked to fly at 120 knots when dropping parachutes because it was easier for the navigator to calculate the time needed for the drop over a military field.

    The Story of a Boxcar

    Flying to Africa meant installing frequency crystals in the RDF radio, one for the Marseille NDB and one for Kamina, the Belgian military base in the Congo. Between the south of France and the Congo, it was mostly done at night, using a bubble sextant (hung from the dome) and a three-stars sight, to find a position. The almanac tables gave the nearest position.

    The Story of a Boxcar

    The instrument was aimed at it and the star was identified as the one to measure with the sextant. Once positioned in the middle of the bubble indicating the horizon, the elevation was noted and that would mean, a LOP (Line of Position) on the chart. With two more such elevations, a triangle of position was found.

    The Story of a Boxcar

    Otherwise, it was by dead-reckoning navigation and the use of the drift-meter, to estimate the drift caused by the wind. The navigator would then ask the pilot to follow something more or less straight, such as a road or similar. Looking through the sight, he would then rotate it until objects appeared to move parallel to the lines of the dial. That was the angle of the relative wind.

    The Story of a Boxcar

    When the aircraft was crossing the equator, the tradition was to baptize those who were crossing it for the first time, just like seafarers do. One of the practical jokes played on first-time passengers was to invite them into the cockpit, and ask if they wanted to see a flock of elephants in the jungle through the drift-meter. Unknown to them, my father had smeared the eye-sight of the instrument with black shoe polish and when that person moved away from the instrument, he had ... a black eye!

    The Story of a Boxcar

    Tags: boxcar, c-119

    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      What a lovely personal account; many thanks for sharing with us Michel!
    1. Pegase67's Avatar
      Pegase67 -
      Thank you Michel for this story! A former member of the French X Planer gang.
    1. JEKuphal's Avatar
      JEKuphal -
      Just read this great story about the C-119 Flying Boxcar. I was 17 in 1963 when I entered the United States Marine Corps. While a reservist in the USMC, I flew as a crew chief trainee on the Marine (R4Q) version of the C-119 from 1968 to 1972. Our transport squadron (VMR234) flew out of our base in Minneapolis, MN (USA) to lots of interesting places. Try changing the 36 spark plugs on those great big radial engines! Thanks again for your story.
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