The first real tactical airlifter

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

Early in World War II, it was clear that the United States Army Air Force needed a really efficient tactical airlift aircraft – the C-47 and others, while effective, were basically civilian airliners and were not optimized for carrying military cargo.

In 1942, the Army Air Force asked the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation to design an airplane specifically for military troop and cargo use and the result, the C-82 Packet, marked a new era of dedicated military transports.

Fairchild’s design studies showed the best, most efficient design would be a high-wing, twin-boom aircraft with a large capacity nacelle suspended under the wing between the booms for the crew, passengers and cargo. This was a design the Germans had also adopted with their Gotha Go242 glider and Go 244 transport. Development time for the C-82 was only 21 months, and the first prototype flew in September 1944.

The Packet had two 2,100 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines in the booms and a wingspan of 106 feet. It was large – 54,000 pounds loaded – with a  maximum speed of 280 mph, service ceiling of 21,000 feet and a range of more than 3,000 miles.

The C-82’s cargo nacelle was designed to accommodate the 96-inch standard equipment of the Army and was close to the ground to allow easy loading and unloading of large items such as field guns, light tanks and vehicles through large clamshell cargo doors in the rear. These clamshell doors had standard doors embedded so two rows of paratroopers could jump at the same time, meaning faster, safer parachute drops for 42 equipped paratroopers. The clamshell doors could also be removed and airdrops made from the back ramp.

But delivery of the C-82 did not begin until September 1945. After the war was over, and once in the field, the unique design began to show problems almost immediately.

The location of the cockpit in the middle of the cargo nacelle limited the vertical height of the load and provided insufficient visibility over the drop zones. While the fuselage had been designed to accommodate the 96-inch standard equipment of the Army, the 96-inch standard had become obsolete and more room was needed within the fuselage for maneuvering equipment.

Worse, the C-82 was underpowered and the airframe, especially the booms, was weak. The result was a disconcerting problem with an engine breaking off in flight or, more catastrophically, having the entire boom fail. The result was that only 223 C-82As were built, a small number for a production cargo aircraft.

Despite its shortcomings, the C-82 did perform useful service.

Five C-82s were assigned to the Berlin Airlift, though the airlift organizers only planned to use them for a short time as a stopgap measure to move vehicles out of Berlin. But once on the line, though the Packet’s load carrying capacity was relatively unimpressive, its wide fuselage made it excellent for hauling vehicles and carrying heavy and bulky cargo, and its clamshell rear loading doors were ideal for such loads.

The C-82’s mission was reversed, and they were used to bring in bulk items and heavy construction equipment like bulldozers, asphalt machines and graders.

Their unique capabilities allowed the C-82s to remain a part of the airlift for several months. Between Sept. 14 and Nov. 30, 1948, five Packets made 252 flights, delivering 1,054 tons of cargo – more than four tons per trip.

In late 1948 and early 1949, C-82s participated in a mission authorized by President Truman called Operation Hayride, airdropping tons of hay to stranded livestock when unusually harsh winter blizzards kept ranchers from reaching their herd’s overland in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada and Utah. In the end, as many as 80 percent of the livestock in these states was saved. Fairchild, meanwhile, was

undeterred by the shortcomings of the C-82 and believed the basic design was sound. The company redesigned the airframe with more powerful engines, increased cargo and weight capacity, and a relocated flight deck.

The resigned aircraft began as the XC-82B but went into production as the C-119 Flying Boxcar (or Dollar-Nineteen), and did yeoman service for years in a variety of roles.

Of note to those of us at Ramstein, it served in both the 435th Air Transport Wing and with the 37th Airlift Squadron.

For questions or comments,

contact Dr. Michel at