RoCAF C-119 "Boxcars", serial tie ups

There is very little literature on the Fairchild C-119s and no reference books on the individual C-119 histories. Many histories of C-119s, which did service with the USAF in S.E.Asia and/or Air Forces in that region, are shrouded in mysteries of murky operations, incomplete documents or "fates unknown".
Here is one.

In July 2004 I received an email from Dave Morley, he wrote:
I parachuted out of a C-119, No 3173, in Taiwan, in Nov 1987.
I have just looked over the C-119 Census and 3173 was missing from the list of Taiwan's aircraft.
Can you tell me what happened to it?
Many thanks for your anticipated assistance.

The Census Dave refers to is at ' Census' of Paul Middleton.

It would seem like this C-119 (53-3173 c/n 11184) was transferred to S.Vietnam:
"53-3173 (c/n 11184) to South Vietnam"
Except... there is no date there and Dave's date Nov87 would indicate it moved back again ?

But is it correct to assume RoCAF 3173 is the same airframe as USAF 53-3173 ?
I received the following email:
There must some kind of misunderstanding here. If I understand the correspondance correctly, you see a 100% connection between the USAF serial 3173 and the serial 3173 used in Taiwan. As far as I know some C-119 has been so identified, but I have always been suspicious of their accuracy. There are far more airframes where there is NO co-relation between the USAF serial and the Taiwanese serialnumber. The USAF 3173 has never been reported as delivered to Taiwan and the Taiwanese 3173 is so far unknown!
I have a date stating the Taiwanese 3173 was wfu in February 1992.

More reactions followed:
I agree with Stig on this one. However, Taiwanese '3173' is included in my printout of the Oldprops Fairchild C119 Census dated 01/12/00. I doubt if it has been deleted since. No c/n is given and I don't have a c/n for this in my C-119 production list, published in AMCAR.
The ROCAF C-119s were allocated serial numbers in the range 3106 to 3220, possibly more. These are generally not related to any USAF s/n but '3171' is quoted as ex 53-3171 (c/n 11182), for example, in many sources. I am rather sceptical about such coincidences and suspect that somebody may have applied 2 + 2 = 5 logic!
I agree that 53-3173 c/n 11184 was transferred from USAF to VNAF but I have no fate for it thereafter. This does not necessarily exclude the possibility that it was later transferred to the ROCAF but I understand that the C-119s that were transferred in this way had much higher ROCAF serial numbers.
Martin S Best

This is the particular aircraft concerned:

Herewith the picture of the C-119, Number 3173, which I parachuted from in 1987 at Ping Tung, ROC.
I am the bloke in front of the doorway (rear rank, 3rd in from left).
Dave Morley.

Photo: Douglas Chien.

Chuck Lunsford (RIP), a dedicated enthusiast on the subject of C-119 Boxcars, wrote:
"All I have to go by is Joe Baugher's info. His listing says 53-3173 went to S. Vietnam. As you know, a large number of USAF aircraft were transferred or given to VNAF in March of 1973, along with the Stinger and Shadow gunships. What happened to them after the fall of S. Vietnam in 1975 is unknown.
As regards to the Taiwanese C-119s, it was their policy to retain the original tail number, so if there ever was a Taiwanese 3173, it was the same airframe.
One other possibility exists -- the 1000 hour inspections on the C-119s serving in Vietnam was all done in Taiwan's large C-119 maintenance facility. Possibly 3173 was sent there for that, and was never returned to VNAF. As you know, it is nearly impossible to learn anything about these aircraft from Taiwanese authorities. I tried to trace 53-3218, which was the only 12th Troop Carrier Sq. aircraft from that contract group. Joe Baugher also lists it as having gone to S. Vietnam, but that is all I know about it."

C-119 3120 of the Republic of China Air Force; photo courtesy Benjamin Yu

Phil Hawks contributed the following on the Taiwanese serial system:

"Just been taking a look at your page on the RoCAF C-119s. Unfortunately I can't help out with the actual identity of 3173 (wish I could ....), but, for what it's worth, here's some more general info on these aircraft. I have a great interest in Taiwanese aviation (both civil and military), having lived there on and off for 8 years or so since 1990. Some general observations on the ROCAF serial system might be of interest.
Chuck Lunsford noted that it was Taiwanese policy to retain the original (USAF) tail number on the C-119s, so therefore 'if there ever was a Taiwanese 3173, it was the same airframe' (ie 53-3173). This is partly true, but unfortunately the extrapolated logic doesn't quite hold up. It is certainly true that Taiwanese aircraft (all, not just C-119s) retain their original 'tail number' (serial or cn), wherever they are obtained from, but this really only relates to the fact that it is painted on the airframe, in addition to the new Taiwanese serial. The exact reason for this is still unclear, but it probably relates to some form of procurement book-keeping (Taiwanese-built aircraft also have both an official military serial and, for want of a better word (I must try and find out what it's called in Chinese), a 'procurement number', which is similar in style to the USAF 'fiscal year' serials). However, the Taiwanese serial rarely (if ever) relates to the former 'tail number', so there's no way of being able to determine one from the other.

RoCAF C-119 3160, photo courtesy B.Yu

In terms of the C-119s, I would imagine that they were probably allocated Taiwanese serials in the order in which they were received from the US, which would obviously have borne no relationship to their original serials by this time. Having said that, however, it's interesting to note that many (although not all) of the C-119s with original serials in the 53-3xxx range *did* use their individual serials (beginning with 3xxx) as their Taiwanese serials, according to known tie-ups. Perhaps someone in Taiwan noticed this useful correlation at the time, and any that were delivered from this serial batch were allocated corresponding Taiwanese serials (and thus presumably becoming 'out-of-sequence' serials until later deliveries 'caught up'). This would mean that if 53-3173 was in fact delivered to Taiwan, there's a good chance that it did become 3173 in Taiwanese service. The question remains, however, as to whether it actually saw service in Taiwan.
As a matter of interest, the earliest C-119s in Taiwan were originally allocated serials in the 33xxx sequence (often painted on the aircraft as just the last 3, without the 33 'prefix'). Unfortunately I have no information on any US tie-ups with any of these early serials, nor what they later became when the numbering system changed. It's possible that the first '3' was simply dropped, and the remaining 4 digits formed the new Taiwanese serial, although even this doesn't seem to be possible in all cases ......
I hope this helps a little."
Thanks Phil !

"I am an aviation enthusiast in Taiwan. Too bad that I do not have the s/n of C-119 3173, but I believe it is not 53-3173. Following is my reason. When the first batch of 16 C-119s came to Taiwan, the last three digits of their USAF s/n in large font were kept in the nose, like 153 in the nose and 33153 in the fin.
Then around early 1960s or late 1950s, all RoCAF s/n became 4 digits, so instead of allocating a new series of numbers for the C-119, the RoCAF just used the last 4 digits of the US s/n for C-119's new RoCAF s/n.
All 53-31XX in the first batch applied this rule, but 53-3173 was simply not in the first batch. After more C-119s came to Taiwan, they were assigned to other un-allocated 31XX numbers, then 32XX ones.
Hope this help. Still, who can tell us the s/n of 3173?
Best regards,
Clarence "

Many thanks Clarence !

RoCAF C-119 3204, photo courtesy B.Yu

My links on the C-119:
Gateway to my C-119 pages
My C-119 photos at Greybull in 1994
Ralph Pettersen at Greybull in 2003
A C-119 mystery at Battle Mountain,NV
C-119s at Ft.Campbell,KY

External links:
12th T.C. Squadron A webpage with lots of information on the C-119
Last commercial C-119s, now in Alaska
C-119 Census at OldProps
C-119 information by David Steiner
Joe Baugher's USAF Serial Number Search Results: C-119
Joe Baugher's Navy & Serial Number Search Results: C-119

Chuck Lunsford wrote a book about his days as a radio operator onboard the C-119:
Click here "Departure Message"

He also wrote a novel, featuring the C-119 Flying Boxcar, called "Boxcar Down, the Albanian Incident" Click here

Both books can be bought through

Another writer, Larry E. Fletcher (ex USAF Captain), used his personal experience to write a novel about the C-119 Gunship in Vietnam: "Shadows of Saigon, Air Commandos in SE Asia".

To email me, click on the image and write the correct adress as given below
(replace -AT- by the @ symbol).

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Last updated 18.9.2006