The Travels of Nick and Larry — Chasing the Fairchild C-119

Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar 22104 of 436 Sqn approaches to land on Runway 33 at Downsview (Toronto) on a frigid February 6, 1960. Having joined the RCAF in 1952, by 1967 the C-119 had been replaced by a fleet of new C-130E Hercules. The C-119 always was a favourite for the few kids around Toronto chasing airplanes in the 1950s-60s. With its high wing, twin booms and massive R-3350s, it was an exciting sight. We were lucky to have 436 Sqn at nearby Downsview. It was close enough to hitchhike or cycle (about 15 miles, no sweat). There we photographed the Boxcars taxying by or landing. This series of historic Larry Milberry photos has been subtly sharpened up for presentation by astronomer Andrew Yee, whom many of you know from The Weather Channel.

Boxcar 22101looking pristine on the tarmac at Trenton on August 31, 1961. Nick and I hitchhiked to Trenton this day to photograph aircraft taking part in Toronto’s CNE airshow. There was no trouble getting home later in the day, as Nick used his magic to get us aboard Dakota 663 for a pleasant 42-minute flight back to Downsview. Struck off strength in 1967, 22101 was sold by Crown Assets Disposal Corp. to Hawkins and Power of Grey Bull, Wyoming. HP owned 21 ex-RCAF C-119s, which fought fires from California to Alaska into the 1980s. 22101 served the HP fleet as N15505. Some say that it later joined the Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but there is a great debate about this (see http://www.ruudleeuw.com/c119s-in-ky.htm).

Back in the 1960s Nick Wolochatiuk and I spent a lot of time driving around Canada and the US in Nick’s VW Bug. Those were our fanatical photography days, when we were shooting all things natural (wildflowers were a specialty), industrial and transportation (land, sea and air). Sometimes our route in the Bug was a complete circuit of the Great Lakes, which we could do in about two weeks. Nick drove, I supposedly navigated. In summer we’d have Nick’s canoe strapped to the roof, lest we come across a float base with interesting planes, or a harbour with ships to shoot.

Flying Boxcar 22131 of 436 Squadron performs at RCAF Station Trenton during the open house on Dominion Day (July 1) 1961. The RCAF had two frontline C-119 squadrons — 435 at Namao (Edmonton) and 436 at Downsview (Toronto). Both were famous for their intrepid work in the High Arctic and on UN duties overseas. Otherwise, the work-a-day stuff involved training with the Army on para duties, etc., and doing weekly domestic milkrun “skeds”. 22131 ended with Hawkins and Power as N5216R. Years later is was dormant at Battle Mountain, Nevada. Much debate continues as to which RCAF C-119s became which N-numbers carrying which tanker numbers, and which ones resided where by 2012. This is part of the fun of being an “aviation archaeologist”.

C-119G 51-8099 of the 403rd Troop Carrier Wing at home at Selfridge AFB, Michigan on May 21, 1966. About three years later this aircraft went to the Taiwanese air force, which operated C-119s into the mid-1980s. Nick and I had ended at Selfridge during a Great Lakes tour. It was a weekend and very quiet. Who knows why, but some decent USAF fellow decided to let us onto the base to photograph. The C-119 looked great. We also shot some F-106s.

Mostly, Nick and I were looking for anything with wings. One stop on a typical trip was the Airdale base at Sault Ste. Marie to shoot a beautiful Stinson Reliant and Norseman. From there we crossed into Michigan to visit the local SAC base to photograph B-52s, EB-57s and F-106s. (Fortunately, we never fell into the useless state of being airplane specialists. No one would ever hear us make such a pitiful claim as “I only shoot F-4s”, or, “I only shoot airliners”, etc. Nick saved me from that gloomy fate. We could talk enthusiastically one moment about the Joel D-9 Bébé, then next about the B-52.) We loved everything about our trips. Especially nifty to photograph were the big, ugly, rumbling transports. We shot KC-97s in Minneapolis, C-119s at Niagara Falls, Trenton and Downsview, C-123s at Malton and Stewart AFB, C-124s and C-133s at Charleston, R5Ds at Glenview and Andrews, R4Qs at Minneapolis, etc. To this day those old classics bring back special memories.

The C-119 served in many guises over the decades. Its most exotic role was as the C-119 “Shadow” and “Stinger” gunships during the war in Southeast Asia. This Shadow (52-5898, one of 26 AC-119Gs) was at Lockbourne AFB near Columbus, Ohio, on May 18, 1969. Nick and I visited Lockbourne on a quiet Sunday morning. Amazingly, the main gate was unmanned, so we tested the waters and drove on through. We were on the watch as we photographed, but in half an hour encountered no one. We considered ourselves lucky getting away so easily, when we could have been hauled in and raked over the coals.

52-5898 is in the markings of the 18th Special Operations Squadron/4413th Combat Crew Training Squadron. Two years later it was transferred to the South Vietnam Air Force. This close-up view shows two 7.62 miniguns mounted on the port side (4 such weapons could be mounted). The rear dome housed the tracking radar.

C-119G 22120 of the Central Experimental and Proving Establishment at Uplands (Ottawa) on April 5, 1961. On this trip I hitchhiked solo from Toronto. It was a chilly weekend, but paid off when I was allowed onto the RCAF base to photograph not just CEPE’s C-119, but the Canadair C-5, a Comet, a USAF VC-54, two Argus, CF-100s, T-33s and lots of other great stuff.

C-119G 51-8096 of the 328th Air Transport Squadron runs up at Niagara Falls, NY during the base open house on May 21, 1960. This was an infamous “Nick and Larry” episode (there were many) where Nick was detained by the MPs. They interrogated him for two hours, very curious as to why he had been filling his stenopad with tail numbers. Nick overheard the MPs wondering if maybe the Commies had kids assigned to every base across country, since this was national Armed Forces Day. If so, they could get a decent inventory of the entire USAF! Smooth-talking Nick eventually wiggled his way out of this jam, so we made it home in one piece. In 1968 this Boxcar went for storage to the desert boneyard near Tucson.

On March 17, 1970 C-119G 52-5931 made a surprise visit to Toronto International Airport. It made 3 or 4 practice approaches before flying off towards home — Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, NY. At this time 52-5931 was with the 328th Airlift Squadron/914th Airlift Wing. In December 1970 the wing converted to the C-130. The 914th is still at Niagara Falls with C-130s.

This eye-catching US Marine Corps R4Q Flying Boxcar of VMR-234 MCAS El Toro was at Minneapolis on August 20, 1963 during our Great Lakes circumnavigation of August 5-25. “R4Q” was the US Navy/USMC designation for the C-119. There were 97 R4Qs, the first one accepted in 1950, the last gone into desert storage in 1975. “7E/131717” also served with VMR-216 at NAS Whidbey Island, from where it flew to the boneyard in Tucson in July 1972.

When at Jomo Kenyata International Airport, Nairobi on March 18, 1993, I was delighted to come across this superannuated R4Q, ex-USCG 131700, sunning itself in the Back 40. Under the Comutair banner, in 1988 N3267U had bounced its way across the pond from the US, one fuel stop being at Iqaluit on Baffin Island. Eventually the old crate worked its way down to Kenya. Note the UN flag, since Comutair (ostensibly) was there to do humanitarian work (i.e. to make a bundle of quick cash for the investors for the least possible overhead). Someone told me that N3267U had made some relief flights, then was abandonned at JKIA. Later it was acquired by the Hollywood film makers doing the remake of “Flight of the Phoenix”. As far as can be determined, the plane was shipped somehow to Namibia, where the movie was being shot. The old Boxcar was used as a prop and its remains likely are still sitting down there in the sand dunes. For all the incredible-but-true details check in at ruudleeuw.com/c119-n3267u.htm.

There are two magnificent books that beautifully cover the C-119 and its predecessor, the C-82. These have all the detailed gen that you’ll never find on the internet — that Siren who seduces the feeble minded. Try to get your hands on copies (out of print, so not available from CANAV). You’ll have to scour the used book websites (abebooks.com, etc.). However, such famous CANAV titles  as Sixty Years, Canada’s Air Force at War and Peace (Vol.3) and Air Transport in Canada are loaded with great RCAF C-119 history. These are available from CANAV, presently at good discounts, so check out the booklist. Air Transport in Canada alone will blow you away — two grand volumes, 1030 pages, something like 4000 photos. Normally $155 it’s on special only at CANAV for $95++. Click here to order online!

Order now from CANAV Books!

12 responses to “The Travels of Nick and Larry — Chasing the Fairchild C-119

  1. Pingback: Japanese Aviation Art | Airplane Prints

  2. Nick Wolochatiuk

    Larry, Mon. Feb. 20, 2012
    WOW! Thanks for a delightful trip down aviation’s Memory Lane. Yes, those werethe days when there was a divesity of things to shoot. Quite often, the gates were open, welcoming us aviation enthusiasts. However, we sometimes had to find ingenous ways of circumventing security. No harm was intended and thanks to guys like us a lot of aviation history was recorded and shared.
    Unfortunately, there were no digital cameras and 18-250 mm lenses available to us. However, the high quality of the shots we obtained were a result of perseverence, audacity and passion.

    Nick Wolochatiuk
    nuthill@glen-net.ca or (613) 347-3160

  3. Great story and superb pictures. This let me remember that Belgian Air Force also operated C-119s, but I was too young at that time to take pictures. However, I remember a formation flight above Koksijde, where our family was on vacation. Thanks Larry.

    • Good to hear, Pierre. For some reason we really loved to photograph the “Dollar Nineteen” and wherever we went we usually saw one. My old buddies, now all dead, had no complaints about flying the C-119 anywhere in the world. Bill Meaden even took one away out to Ascension Island.

  4. August 1970. I was seven accompanying my father back to Vancouver from Montreal via an Air Canada milk run. At a stop in Saskatoon, we disembarked the DC-9 and with some time to kill,took a walk around the airfield where we came upon a field full ( 20 +) of ex -RCAF Flying Boxcars.They all seemed to be in good shape ( at least to a seven year old’s discerning eye ). I imagine a lot of these comprise what went on to become the remaining flyable examples of the type.

    • For sure, Tobin. The C-119s were all gone when I visited Saskatoon in 1974. Instead, the tarmac was full of Daks, Expeditors, T-birds, Trackers and one Yukon.

      Thanks to H-P, many of those C-119s are still around, even if in bogus markings.

      Let me know how your box of new books goes!

      Cheers … Larry

    • Yes, Tobin, most went to the US, mainly to Hawkins & Power, where they were converted for fire bombing. The odd one has survived in a US museum.

      All the best over Christmas and New Year 2013 … Larry

  5. Memory Lane Trip. Wow 22131 July 1st 1961 flypast at Trenton.Checked my log book I was the flt eng on that flight.We did the flypast then set up for a monarail drop over the runway something went wrong we dropped the containers across the highway and a trailer court.No damage done.

  6. Does anyone have info or photos or newspaper clippings from when the Niagara Falls Air Reserve C130 “crash” landed on a private aero club’
    s runway. Didn’t actually crash, and flew out the next day if I remember my Dad’s telling of the incident. Would appreciate any help. My Dad was Major John Strohmeier, Navigator on that C130. Jim Strohmeier, USAF 1983-1998

    • hi jim,,my name is smsgt wm McDOUGALL,,iwas a flt engineer at niagara,,i flew with your dad many times,,i was the flt eng on 53-8140 when it caught fire in texas,crashing on the kings ranch 22june 1962,,all 4 of us bailed out,,,wmladylake@centurylink.net

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