Strange Aircraft: Fairchild XC-120 Pack Plane

Flying machines don’t come much odder than this. The Fairchild XC-120 Pack Plane was a clever idea for a military transport aircraft which was developed in the 1950s. The aircraft was designed as a potential successor to the company’s C-119 Flying Boxcar, and in fact the XC-120 Pack Plane prototype made use of many of the components and much of the super-structure of the C-119.

The idea behind the Fairchild XC-120 Pack Plane was relatively straight forward. Instead of carrying its cargo internally within the fuselage, it would carry it in a removable container carried underneath the fuselage. This meant the load could be dropped off at its destination and left inside the container while the aircraft returned to its base to pick up more cargo already preloaded into other containers. The designers also envisaged different pod designs for different uses. Some examples of the different configurations included containers equipped for carrying paratroops, cargo, mobile buildings or well-equipped field hospitals etc.

The addition of the removable cargo pods meant the Fairchild XC-120 Pack Plane had some unusual features. The wings, for example, where angled upward inboard of the engines to raise the fuselage by several feet. The landing gear was also rather odd, having a pair of retractable wheels under each engine housing. The front set of wheels on either side acted as the steering wheels for directional control on the ground. The landing gear could also be raised and lowered by several feet while the aircraft was on the ground to facilitate loading.

Fairchild XC-120 Pack Plane

The Fairchild XC-120 was flown by a crew of five; a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and two loadmasters. An extendable ladder in the center of the fuselage just below and aft of the cockpit provided access for the crew. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt and Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial engines, each producing 3,250 horsepower.

Due to the high center of gravity, it was reported that the XC-120 was somewhat unstable in flight when flying without a cargo container attached. However it wasn’t a serious issue that couldn’t have been resolved by further development of the aircraft. In the end however the US Military chose not to buy into the XC-120, and instead opted for more traditional aircraft. In the end, the one and only XC-120 Packplane was scrapped.

However the idea of the removable-pod cargo aircraft lived on in the likes of the production Sikorsky Skycrane and the prototype Boeing Vertol XCH-62.


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