|A United States Coast Guard HC-123B Provider from CGAS Miami.|
|Role||Military transport aircraft|
|First flight||14 October 1949|
|Primary users||United States Air Force
United States Coast Guard
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Museum examples include those located at:
National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover AFB, DE
Air Heritage Museum in Beaver Falls, PA. C-123K "ThunderPig"is operational and available for air shows
Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, UT
Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park, Hurlburt Field, FL
Castle Air Museum, Castle Airport (formerly Castle AFB), CA
March Field Air Museum, March ARB (formerly March AFB), CA
Lackland AFB, TX
Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, GA
Little Rock Air Force Base, Jacksonville, AR
Travis Air Museum, Travis AFB, CA
Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, Space Coast Regional Airport, Titusville, FL
Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ
Muan International Airport, South Korea
ROCAF Museum, Kangshan AFB, ROC
Benito Ebuen AFB, Mactan Island, Philippines, PAF
Museo de la aviacion, Ilopango Airport, Ilopango, El Salvador, FAS
82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum Fort Bragg , N.C ( Tail # WE609 )
Several examples remain in an active flying status, operated by private owners in the United States or by various air forces worldwide.