built by Fairchild Aircraft for the United States Air Force. In addition to its USAF service, which included later service with the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, it also went on to serve most notably with the United States Coast Guard and various air forces in South East Asia.
Design and development
The C-123 Provider was designed originally as an assault glider aircraft for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Chase Aircraft as the XCG-20 (Chase designation MS-8 Avitruc). Two powered variants of the XCG-20 were developed during the early 1950s, as the XC-123 and XC-123A. The only difference between the two was the engine. The XC-123 used two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB-15 air-cooled radial piston engines, while the XC-123A used two General Electric J47-GE-11 turbojets, the same as those on the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. It was initially well regarded for tactical troop transport for its ruggedness and reliability and ability to operate from short and unimproved airstrips, which meant the low slung turbojets, prone to ingesting foreign objects, were dropped in favor of the more conventional option. The XC-123A had its engines replaced with R-2800s and was redesignated YC-123D.
By 1953, Henry J. Kaiser purchased a majority share in Chase Aircraft, feeling that after having completed C-119s for Fairchild under contract, he could take control of the impending C-123 contract. Two airframes were completed at Kaiser's Willow Run factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, before personal politics led to Kaiser's being told that no further contracts would be honored with him. The C-123 contract was put up for bid, and the two completed airframes scrapped. The contract was finally awarded to Fairchild Engine and Airplane, who assumed production of the former Chase C-123B, a refined version of the XC-123.
The first recipients of C-123 aircraft would be USAF transport units, soon followed by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) who used the aircraft for search and rescue missions, and even the US Air Force Demonstration Team, the "Thunderbirds," would use C-123s for a time. The type would also be widely exported under various US military assistance programs, directly from USAF stocks.
The aircraft was nearly ignored by the USAF for service in Vietnam, but a political rivalry with the US Army and the Army's use of the CV-2 Caribou and later pre-production order for the C-8 Buffalo, led to a decision to deploy C-123s there. To compete with the well-performing CV-2, the USAF and Fairchild furthered development on the C-123 to allow it to do similar work on short runways. This additional development increased the utility of the aircraft and its variants to allow it to perform a number of unique tasks, including the HC-123B which operated with the USCG fitted with additional radar equipment for search and rescue missions through 1971, and the C-123J which were fitted with retractable skis for operations in Greenland and Alaska on compacted snow runways.
By 1962, the C-123K variant aircraft was evaluated for operations in Southeast Asia and their stellar performance led the Air Force to upgrade 180 of the C-123B aircraft to the new C-123K standard, which featured auxiliary jet pods underneath the wings, and anti-skid brakes. In 1968, the aircraft helped resupply troops in Khe Sanh, Vietnam during a three-month siege by North Vietnam.
A number of C-123s were configured as VIP transports, including General William Westmoreland's White Whale. The C-123 also gained notoriety for its use in "Operation Ranch Hand" defoliation operations in Vietnam. Oddly enough, the USAF had officially chosen not to procure the VC-123C VIP transport, opting instead for the Convair VC-131D.
The first C-123s to reach South Vietnam were part of the USAF's Special Aerial Spray Flight, as part of Operation Ranch Hand tasked with defoliating the jungle in order to deny rebels their traditional hiding places. These aircraft began their operations at the end of 1961. Aircraft fitted with spraying equipment were given the U prefix as a role modifier, with the most common types being the UC-123B and the UC-123K. Aircraft configured for this use were the last to see military service, in the control of outbreaks of insect-borne disease. The C-123 was also used as "jump aircraft" for U.S. Army Airborne students located at Lawson Army Airfield, Fort Benning, Georgia in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This aircraft was used in conjunction with the C-130 Hercules and C-141 Starlifter.
With the end of the Vietnam War, remaining C-123Ks and UC-123Ks were transferred to the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, with the last examples leaving service in the early 1980s. The 302nd Tactical Airlift Wing at Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio flew the last UC-123Ks Providers in operational service before converting to the C-130 Hercules. Known as the Special Spray Flight, these aircraft were used to control insect-borne diseases. Missions to Alaska, South America and Guam were among the humanitarian duties performed by this Air Force Reserve unit.
In 1954, the YC-123D, formerly the XC-123A prototype, flew in its modified state after being converted by Stroukoff Aircraft. While the most obvious change from the original XC-123A was the switch of engines, the YC-123D also had a Boundary layer control (BLC) system fitted. This system directs air from the engines at high speed over the top of the wing, making the wing act as if the aircraft is flying at a much higher airspeed. As a result, the YC-123D had a greatly reduced take-off and landing distance. Compared to the C-123B, the YC-123D could land in 755 feet instead of 1,200, and take-off with only 850 feet of runway instead of 1,950, with a 50,000 pound total weight.
In 1955 Stroukoff, under contract from the USAF, produced a single YC-123E, designed to be able to take off from any surface, and also equipped with BLC. The new aircraft also featured Stroukoff's Pantobase system, combining a ski system with a sealed fuselage and wing mounted floats, while retaining its normal landing gear. The skis worked both on snow and water, and the system effectively allowed the aircraft to land on water, land, snow or ice.
See Also YC-134
In 1956 the USAF awarded a contract to Fairchild to design an improved version of the C-123 under the designation C-136, but the contract was cancelled before the aircraft was built.
At much the same time the YC-123H was under development, the product of a Fairchild modification program started in 1956 and completed in 1957. A "Jet Augmentation Program" for existing C-123Bs had been initiated in 1955 at the behest of the USAF, and in the YC-123H contract the USAF expanded it to allow the mounting of two pod-mounted General Electric CJ-610 (later developed as the military J85) turbojets. Perhaps more impressive was the new wide-track main landing gear, noticeable since the larger gear and tires required the removal of the landing gear doors. The new gear reduced the aircraft's turning radius and improved the Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW) of the aircraft, along with being rugged enough to stand up to unimproved runways, all important factors for the C-123's mission profile. Testing both in the United States and in South Vietnam continued until the YC-123H crashed in an accident in 1963. However, many of the design improvements were carried over to the C-123K.
In 1979, the Royal Thai government, seeking to extend the life of their C-123 fleet, placed a contract with the Mancro Aircraft Company, supported by the USAF, to convert a single C-123B to turboprop powerplants. Allison T56-A-7 turboprops were used and by the time the aircraft, dubbed C-123T, was complete it had new "wet" wings, an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to assist with power movement of the control surfaces, and a heating system for the cargo compartments that also fed a new deicing system. Budgetary restrictions forced the Thai government to abandon the program in 1981, and with a lack of interested parties development of the C-123T stopped. However, it concluded the life of the C-123 by making it the only aircraft (at least this is claimed) to operate under jet, internal combustion and turboprop engine power, and as a glider, during its history.
Black Spot and other special military C-123s
During the conflict in Vietnam, a number of C-123s were modified for specialized roles. Most of these modifications were on a one- or two-aircraft level. Only the usage of C-123s as "flare ships" to illuminate targets for fixed wing gunships such as the AC-47 and AC-119G were more numerous. These aircraft, operating under the call-sign Candle were flown by the USAF's 14th Special Operations Wing.
A single C-123B was tested as a possible replacement for the Candle aircraft, with its rear loading ramp removed and replaced with a large box with 28 large lights. The airplane could continuously light a 2 mile circle from an altitude of 12,000 feet. This aircraft, under the provisional designation NC-123B was dropped because the lights, fixed to the aircraft, made it far easier for enemy gunners to track compared to the earlier flare ships.
The "Candle" aircraft had an extended life when several UC-123K's were transferred to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. During that period, it was used as a flare ship as well as a forward air control (FAC) aircraft. The flare duties were generally used for troops in contact (TIC) while the FAC mission directed air strikes in Laos over the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Another NC-123B was used as a radio relay aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh trail, with equipment to read the signals from various sensors on the ground designed to pick up enemy truck activity.
Two C-123K aircraft modified in September 1965 under Project Black Spot. The Black Spot aircraft were to fit under the "self-contained night attack capability" that was Operation Shed Light's primary focus and E-Systems of Greenville, Texas was contracted to complete the modifications. These aircraft featured a variety of new sensors including Low Light Level TV (LLLTV), Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), and a laser rangefinder. The aircraft looked radically different visibly from its transport brethren, as the new equipment required lengthening the nose by over 50 inches. The aircraft also featured an armament system designed to carry BLU-3/B (using the ADU-253/B adapter) or BLU-26/B (using the ADU-272/B adapter) bomblets, or CBU-68/Bs cluster bombs.
The two aircraft, AF Serial Numbers 54-691 and 54-698, were first designated NC-123K in 1968 and then redesignated AC-123K in 1969. These NC/AC-123Ks were first deployed operationally at Osan AB, South Korea between August and October 1968, and flying in support of operations against North Korean infiltrators approaching by boat. The operations in Korea met with a certain level of success and as a result the NC/AC-123Ks were transferred to South Vietnam in November 1968. The aircraft operated there until January 1969, when they were redeployed to Ubon RTAB, Thailand. The two aircraft were then returned to the United States to Hurlburt Field, Florida in May 1969, where a second round of training occurred. Four crews attended a ground school in Greenville, Texas and returned to Hurlburt where they flew the aircraft for the first time.
The fate of the aircraft is still unclear. Sources have missions terminating in early July, 1970 and the aircraft flying to the "Bone Yard" at Davis-Monthan AFB where they were returned to C-123K standard, then returned to South Vietnam still wearing their camouflage and black undersides for transport duty. However, the official history states that combat operations ceased 11 May 1969, with no mention of the second deployment. While the second deployment is mentioned in associated documentation, the only dates are of the arrival in Thailand and there is no information as to when they departed or where their destination was.
- Main article: Operation Shed Light
- Two prototype all-metal troop transport gliders built by Chase Aircraft, later designated the XG-20, one became the XC-123, the other the XC-123B.
- Former XG-20 fitted with two 2200hp R-2800-23 engines.
- Former XG-20 fited with four J47-GE-11 turbojets in pairs under wing.
- Production model based on the XC-123 with two 2300hp R-2800-99W engines with accommodation for 61 troops or fifty stretchers, five built by Chase and 302 build by Fairchild Aircraft.
- C-123Bs modified for defoliation and crop destruction duties.
- Executive transport version of the jet-powered XC-123A, not built.
- One aircraft built by Stroukoff with boundary layer control system for improved VTOL performance.
- One aircraft built by Stroukoff with modified fin and rudder, modified fuselage bottom (called Pantobase) and pontoon floats to allow operation from water, sand, snow or ice.
- Prototype with wide track undercarriage and two underwing J85 booster engines.
- C-132B with two underwing J44-R-3 booster engines, ten converted.
- C-123Bs with two underwing J85 booster engines and larger wheels, 183 converted.
- Two C-132Bs converted for armed night-time surveillance with special sensors.
- USCG search and rescue variant
- C-123Ks converted for Ranch Hand defoliation missions, 34 converted.
- One C-123K converted as personal transport for General Westmoreland's use in Vietnam.
- One aircraft built by Stroukoff, as C-123B but fitted with boundary layer control system, tailplane endplates, redesigned landing gear with tandem mainwheels. Later designated YC-134A when fitted with Pantobase landing gear.
- Brazilian Air Force - 2 resold to VARIG
- Royal Cambodian Air Force
- Template:ROC (Taiwan)
- Republic of China Air Force
- Lao People's Liberation Army Air Force
- Philippine Air Force
- Royal Saudi Air Force
- Republic of Korea Air Force
- South Vietnamese Air Force
- Royal Thai Air Force
- US Air Force
- US Coast Guard
- US Marshal's Service (Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System)
- Venezuelan Air Force
Specifications (C-123K Provider)
The Fairchild C-123 Provider is a twin-engined military transport aircraft produced by the US American manufacturer Fairchild Aircraft, developed by Chase Aircraft.
Propulsion 2 Radial Engines Engine Model Pratt & Whitney R-2800-99W Double Wasp Engine Power (each) 1715 kW 2300 hp
Speed 367 km/h 198 kts
Service Ceiling 8.839 m 29.000 ft Range 2.367 km 1.278 NM 1.471 mi.
Empty Weight 13.562 kg 30.000 lbs max. Takeoff Weight 27.216 kg 60.000 lbs
Wing Span 33,53 m 110,0 ft Wing Area 113,6 m² 1223 ft² Length 23,09 m 75,8 ft Height 10,39 m 34,1 ft
C-123s are sometimes used in movies where scenes call for large cargo aircraft, e.g. Air America and xXx. A C-123 was the main setting for the action film Con Air, as well as Operation Dumbo Drop, and was featured in a 2007 television commercial for Ford pick-up trucks which supposedly showed their braking power. The Provider even had a small scene in Tomorrow Never Dies, as James Bond prepares to jump into the South China Sea.
- Stroukoff YC-134
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Alenia G.222
- List of military aircraft of the United States
- List of military transport aircraft
- Gunston 1980, p. 170.
- Gunston 1977, p. 164.
- Gunston 1980, p. 171.
- "Missing" USAF designations retrieved 2007-11-15.
- The versatile DC-3/C-47 family has operated as a glider and under turboprop power, but not under jet power.
- Smith, undated. p. VI
- Smith, undated. p. 6
- Davis, 1982. p. 50
- Smith, undated. p. 7, 32
- Parsch, Andreas. Designation-Systems.net. 31 August 2007. AAU/AAK to AVU/AVK - Equipment Listing. Access Date: 17 September 2007
- From Individual Aircraft Records Cards Set, provided as part of information received 24 May 2007 pursuant to Freedom of Information Act request 49112, from the Air Force Historical Research Agency, United States Air Force, Maxwell AFB, AL
- Davis, 1982. p. 50
- Smith, undated. p. VI
- Boerschig Jr, Black Spot Special Activities Report, 1969. pg. 5
- Andrade, John. U.S.Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909. Midland Counties Publications, 1979, ISBN 0 904597 22 9
- Boerschig Jr, Charles A. Black Spot Special Activities Report. Ubon, Thailand: Black Spot Task Force, 1969.
- Davis, Larry. Gunships: A Pictorial History of Spooky. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1982.
- Green, William and Pollinger, Gerald. The Aircraft of the World. London: Macdonald, 1955.
- Gunston, Bill. The Encyclopedia of the World Air Power. New York: Crescent Books, 1980. ISBN 0-517-53754-0.
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Modern Military Aircraft. London: Salamander Books, 1977. ISBN 0-86101-010-8.
- Smith, C.M. History of the Black Spot Task Force, 29 July 1968 – 11 May 1969. Black Spot Task Force, undated.
- Joe M. Jackson's mission in C-123 that earned him a Medal of Honor
- Page detailing the world's only C-123T "Turbo Provider" conversion
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