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C-123 Provider

 

Role

Military transport aircraft

Manufacturer

Chase Aircraft
Fairchild Aircraft

First flight

14 October 1949

Primary users

United States Air Force
United States Coast Guard

Variants

Stroukoff YC-134

The C-123 Provider was an American military transport aircraft designed by Chase Aircraft and subsequently 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 with him would be honored. 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.

Operational history

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 Air Force Reserve (AFRES) and the Air National Guard (ANG) that were operationally-gained by Tactical Air Command (TAC) prior to 1975 and Military Airlift Command (MAC) after 1975.

The 302nd Tactical Airlift Wing at Rickenbacker AFB (later Rickenbacker ANGB), 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, with missions to Alaska, South America and Guam being among the humanitarian duties performed by this Air Force Reserve unit.

The final examples of the C-123 in active US military service were retired from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard in the early 1980s. Some airframes were transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for test and evaluation programs while others were transferred to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for miscelleaneous programs. These aircraft were also retired by the end of the 1990s.

Experimental projects

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 54-0691 and 54-0698, 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 MASDC Yard "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ 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 on 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.

Variants

XCG-20
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.
XC-123
Former XG-20 fitted with two 2200hp R-2800-23 engines.
XC-123A
Former XG-20 fited with four J47-GE-11 turbojets in pairs under wing.
C-123B
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.
UC-123B
C-123Bs modified for defoliation and crop destruction duties.
VC-123C
Executive transport version of the jet-powered XC-123A, not built.
YC-123D
One aircraft built by Stroukoff with boundary layer control system for improved VTOL performance.
YC-123E
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.
YC-123H
Prototype with wide track undercarriage and two underwing J85 booster engines.
C-123J
C-132B with two underwing Fairchild J44-R-3 booster engines, ten converted.
C-123K
C-123Bs with two underwing J85 booster engines and larger wheels, 183 converted.
AC-123K/NC-123K
Two C-132Bs converted for armed night-time surveillance with special sensors.
HC-123B
USCG search and rescue variant
UC-123K
C-123Ks converted for Ranch Hand defoliation missions, 34 converted.
VC-123K
One C-123K converted as personal transport for General Westmoreland's use in Vietnam.
YC-134
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.

Operators

 Brazil
  • Brazilian Air Force - 2 resold to VARIG
 Cambodia
  • Royal Cambodian Air Force
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
  • Republic of China Air Force
 El Salvador
  • Air Force of El Salvador
 Laos
  • Lao People's Liberation Army Air Force
 Philippines
  • Philippine Air Force
 Saudi Arabia
  • Royal Saudi Air Force
 South Korea
  • Republic of Korea Air Force
 South Vietnam
  • South Vietnamese Air Force
 Thailand
  • Royal Thai Air Force
 United States
  • US Air Force
  • US Coast Guard
 Venezuela
  • Venezuelan Air Force

Specifications (C-123K Provider)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Capacity: 62 passengers
  • Length: 76.25 ft (23.92 m)
  • Wingspan: 110 ft (33.53 m)
  • Height: 34 ft (10.36 m)
  • Wing area: 1,223 ft (113.6 m)
  • Empty weight: 35,366 lb (16,042 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 60,000 lb (27,000 kg)
  • Powerplant:
    • 2 General Electric J85-GE-17 turbojets, 2,850 lbf (13 kN) each
    • 2 Pratt & Whitney R-2800-99W "Double Wasp" 18-cylinder radial engines, 2,300 hp (1,715 kW) each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 228 mph (198 knots, 367 km/h) with jets
  • Range: 1,035 mi (899 nm, 1,666 km) combat
  • Service ceiling: 29,000 ft (8,800 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,150 ft/min (5.8 m/s) without jets
  • Wing loading: 49 lb/ft (240 kg/m)
  • Power/mass (prop): 0.077 hp/lb (130 W/kg)
  • Thrust/weight (jet): 0.10




























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