Kaiser-Frazer C-119 Production Mystery

Chuck Lunsford brought a mystery to my attention:
The mystery of the last batch of aircraft built by Kaiser-Frazer at the old Ford Motor Company B-24 plant at Willow Run, near Detroit.....
"I believe it concerned 71 aircraft, ending with the serial number 51-8168. We had many of those aircraft in the 10th, 11th and 12th Troop Carrier Squadrons, delivered to the 60th Troop Carrier Wing at Rhine-Main Air Base in Germany, in the fall of 1955.
But.... When they were delivered to the 60th they were brand-new airplanes, with a total of about 150 hours on the airframes -- but now they had 1953 tail numbers, with the same last four numbers they had in 1951 !!
They also carried no ID for Kaiser-Frazer, anywhere on the aircraft. They said Fairchild....
My theory is this: They were counted twice ! The 1951 C-119FA Kaiser airplanes are the same as the 1953 C-119Gs ! The mystery is where were they from 1951 until they showed up in 1955? If you look at Joe Baugher's listings, he shows them both in 1951 (Kaiser-Frazer C-119F-KM Flying Boxcar, 51-8098/8168)and again in 1953 (Kaiser-Frazer C-119G Flying Boxcar, 53-8069/8156).
If you note his listing of the 51-8233/8273 contract, you will see they were built as -C models and carried the R-4360 engines. These aircraft were sent to the 12th Squadron at Rhine-Main in 1952; they were converted in the field to -F models and were called "CF" models. They were built AFTER the 51-8198/8168 from Kaiser -- You still with me?? OK -- now guess which airplanes replaced those -CF models -- in 1955. That's right: they were replaced with the 53-8098/8168 Kaisers which I flew from '56 to '59 at Dreux.
Here's what I think happened. Kaiser-Frazer was going bankrupt at the time, so Fairchild (or the government or somebody ??) repossessed the airplanes, and held them until all the legal wrangling was finished. After that, they were modified to -G models, given new 1953 numbers, and put out into the field.
Concluding: because of the two different year designations, they got counted twice. That would account for some sources listing 1184 C-119s built, and other sources saying it was 1051 (or thereabouts).
I have not been able to find any records on this -- when Fairchild and Hiller merged, I guess somebody tossed all the Fairchild records in the trash can. Nobody I can find knows, including Richard Miller who worked for Fairchild for 30 years. He was not around when the C-119s were built.
It would be nice to find further proof or confirmation."

A nice line-up at the Kaiser-Frazer factory.
Photo via Jack Mueller, Kaiser-Frazer Library Archive.

The following C-119s were procured using USAF funding (Official USAF Sources):
Contract AC 124 (28 May 45)
C-119A (1) 45-57769
Contract AC 19200 (4 Mar 48)
C-119B (2) 48-0319 to 0320
C-119B (1) 48-0321 (static test airframe)
C-119B (8) 48-0322 to 0329
XC-120 (1) 48-0330
C-119B (25) 48-0331 to 0355
Contract AC 19200 (7 Oct 48)
C-119B (99) 49-0101 to 0199
Contract AC 19200 (22 Nov 49)
C-119C (53) 50-0119 to 0171
Contract AC 19200 (23 Dec 50)
C-119C (53) 51-2532 to 2584
YC-119H (1) 51-2585
C-119F (1) 51-2586
C-119C (75) 51-2587 to 2661
C-119F (25) 51-2662 to 2686
C-119F (28) 51-2690 to 2717 (for Belgium)
Contract AF 18499 (2 Oct 51)
C-119F (85) 51-7968 to 8052
C-119G (45) 51-8053 to 8097
Contract AF 18481 (16 May 52, built by Willys)
C-119F (71) 51-8098 to 8168 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Contract AF 18499 (13 Oct 52)
C-119C (41) 51-8233 to 8273
C-119G (3) 51-17365 to 17367 (for Italy)
C-119G (115) 52-5840 to 5954
C-119G (59) 52-6000 to 6058 (for Italy/Belgium)
Contract AF 18499 (29 Dec 52)
C-119G (2) 52-9981 to 9982
Contract AF 22285 (10 Aug 53)
C-119G (87) 53-3136 to 3222
C-119G (59) 53-7826 to 7884
Contract AF 23919 (10 Aug 53)
C-119G (26) 53-4637 to 4662 (for India)
Contract AF 26021 (23 Aug 54, built by Kaiser)
C-119G (88) 53-8069 to 8156 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
35 Canadian C-119Fs were built by Fairchild, totalling 1089 Boxcars built. Only two of the above batches were subcontracted out, both of them to Willys (who were taken over by Kaiser in 1953) at Willow Run.
I have Dave Wilton to thank for providing me with this list and he added: "There's no doubt that all of these aircraft were built. It is pure co-incidence that some of the squadrons in Europe re-equipped from FY51 to FY53 aircraft which happened to have a similar range of serial numbers."

Franz A. Vajda contributed the following information:
"I have only the production for FY1953: Fairchild built 41 C-models, 120 F-models and 11 G-models
Kaiser produced 55 F-models.
Until the 30June1952 Fairchild produced 262 aircraft were accepted, C-models, only 1 F-model in this batch. And 4 Kaiser-built C-119s.
The program at this date produced following totals: 303 C-models, 121 F-models, 308 G-models and 71 Kaiser F-model airplanes.
Thus from 1st July 1953 only G-models types were built."
Source- United States Statistical Digests FY1953 / Air Force Almanach / Mitchell: Fairchild Aircraft 1926-1987 (a.o.).


Kaiser-Frazer aircraft

Ford built the huge Willow Run bomber factory in 1940 for over 100 million dollars. Kaiser rent it on 1. Nov. 1945 for only $ 350.000 a year. But Kaiser-Frazer arrived too late in the car business. The firm was never prosperous. For this reason in Dec 1950 Kaiser concluded an agreement with Fairchild to build the C-119F in Willow Run.
In the FY1951 Kaiser-Frazer received contracts for 200 C-119Fs. The first 4 aircraft was finished in May- June 1952 (c/ns 101 to 104). The production was very irregular; 3 planes both July and Aug; Sept, Oct nothing, Nov 4, Dec. 1. For this reason Fairchild sent parts for assembling 41 C subtypes. These were finished in Dec 52 to Febr 53. The planes have, of course, Fairchild constructor numbers.
From Jan 1953 the monthly production reached to 7 or 8 planes. The total number of C-119Fs built in the FY1953 was only 55; less than the half of Fairchild production. On the other hand the price of the Kaiser built plane was four times more expenseive than a Fairchild aircraft. The USAF was of course unhappy with Kaiser-Frazer, and on the 24 June 1953 cancelled the contract. Kaiser-Frazer built only 71 F subty- pes, the contract of the 88 remained planes (Kaiser cns 172 to 259) was transfered to Fairchild, who finished these as C-119G cargos. Fairchild converted the 71 Kaiser built F subtypes also to C-119J. The C subtypes from Kaiser were also convered as G. Als these changes seems to be very mysterious....
Source: United States Air Force Statistical Digests FY51 to 53.

Chuck thought it would be too much of a coincidence.... for a number of reasons
First, the '51 "F' models were never put into service -- in any case I can find nothing to indicate any Air Force unit in either the USAF or anywhere else in the world, were ever equipped with 1951 "F" model C-119s with 81xx tail numbers. Almost all of the 1953 "G" models with the '81xx' numbers were attached to the 60th Troop Carrier Wing -- no other unit had any aircraft with a matching, or similar number. I cannot find a single instance where there was a duplication of numbers.
Take the example of 53-8156, the highest number we had in the 60th, and which was attached to the 12th Troop Carrier Sq. (We thought at the time it was the last C-119 ever built, as it had the highest number -- but 53-7884 turned out to be the last.) 8156 was sold to the Italians in 1962 (thereabout), and was fitted with a beaver tail to make it a "J" model. The Italians only had one 8156, but Joe Baugher lists both 51-8156 and 53-8156 as being converted to a J and going to the Italians -- if Wilton is correct, then the Italians should have two 8156 "J" models. Same thing with 53-8151 which is preserved in Brussels. It lists twice. Once as an F model, and once as a G model.
Further, if the '51 F models had been put into service, they would have been converted in the field to G models, but would have retained the 1951 tail numbers. There is no record of any 1951 F models going to AMARC or any other distribution, nor is there a single one of them preserved anywhere. In that regard, they also disappear from the face of the earth.
Then there are the AC-119 G-K conversions. Those aircraft, taken out of storage at Davis-Monthan in 1967-68 and flown to Fairchild-Hiller in St. Augustine, were taken from the '51,'52 and '53 C-119 tail numbers, but while there is an even representation from all the others, not a single 51-81xx number was in that 52 airplane group. There were three with 1953-81xx numbers. Only a coincidence? I have to doubt it. I believe Contract AF 26021 was to modify the 1951 "F" models to "G" specs. and finally put them into service in 1955. That they only had a few hours on the airframe would seem to indicate they had been idle for a long period of time.

A look at the assembly line in the Kaiser-Frazer factory.
Photo via Jack Mueller, Kaiser-Frazer Library Archive.

The book Fairchild Aircraft 1926-87 does not quite agree with the listing presented by Dave above. For instance the XC-119A prototype was a former production C-82A with c/n 10319 and is listed under C-82 production. The book states a total of 1185 C-119/R4Q were built.
I believe the anomaly is due to the fact that some sources ALSO count those delivered under US Naval contracts (for the Marines) with R4Q designation.
Stig Jarlevik
Yes, I forgot all about the Navy machines...
124324 to 124331 (8) R4Q-1
126574 to 126582 (9) R4Q-1
128723 to 128744 (22) R4Q-1
131662 to 131719 (58) R4Q-2 (= C-119F)
The R4Q-1s didn't survive long enough to be subject to the mass redesignation that took place in 1962 but if they had they would have become C-119Cs as that was the equivalent Air Force model.
By my calculations that takes the total up to 1186, including the prototype (45-57769). I know that this particular aircraft's serial falls in the middle of a batch of Packets but it was removed from the production line before completion as a C-82A and made its first flight as the one and only C-119A.
Dave Walton
The authority on the history of Fairchild Aircraft is AAHS-member Kent A Mitchell. You will find full details of C-119 production in his book "Fairchild Aircraft 1926-1987" (page 151). This gives the total number of C-119s built as 1185 (with a detailed breakdown). Of these, 1114 were built by Fairchild and 71 by Kaiser-Frazer.
Martin S Best
Can't help on the mystery but I can give a few sightings:
53-8119, 8147 and 8152, all at Burtonwood between 4/56 and 10/56. By the way, 53-8071 was in the National yard at Davis-Monthan in 2001.
John Andrade gives different cns for the two batches of aircraft, 101-171 for the 1951 batch and 172-259 for 1953.
(Tony Doyle).
(As indicated in the first table with serials, above - Webmaster)
For info, C-119 53-8147 visited Baldonnel (now Casement) airfield, Dublin in spring 1960 with advance ground equipment for the 322nd Air Div's C-130A's which followed. These were tasked on UN duty in transporting Irish troops and equipment to the Congo. The Packet wore red fins and arrived from Everaux.
Paul Howard
To proof Chuck's theory wrong would need photoproof of a 1951 "F" model C-119, with a 51-81xx tail number. Anyone !??!

Paratroopers stand proud with their C-119.
Photo via Jack Mueller, Kaiser-Frazer Library Archive.

Chuck continued his quest, found an interesting website (link below) and wrote me reproducing the correspondence-
As a follow-up please note the emails below from Jack Mueller, of the Kaiser Library, which might help to explain where the Kaiser-Frazer C-119s were from 1951 until 1955 when they showed up in the 60th Troop Carrier Wing. He does not confirm the tail numbers, but a little dead reckoning would would make the tail numbers completed by Kaiser before the demise, as 51-8098 thru 51-8168 -- which would include all the Kaisers we had in the 60th Troop Carrier Wing. They were built by Kaiser-Frazer as -C models, and the modifications to -F and then -G were done by Fairchild under a new 1953 Air Force contract. That took until 1955, and that's why we in the 60th TCW got them with 1953 tail numbers as brand-new airplanes. There is no doubt in my mind that this group, and roughly 20 other Kaisers (including the prototype C-123), which were unfinished at the time Kaiser lost the contract, were counted twice in the total number of C-119s built.

From: Jack Mueller
Sent: Saturday, July 03, 2004 2:14 PM
Subject: Re: Kaiser Frazer C-119 Aircraft
Note: Illustrations used are presented for historical purposes only, courtesy Kaiser-Frazer Library

While Kaiser-Frazer got the contract for 200 C-119's at the end of 1950, delays in getting information from Fairchild (including the series update information) put production behind schedule. The first completed C-119 delivered to the Air Force for acceptance tests did not roll out until March of 1952. Production lines rolled erratically as again, Fairchild was less than forthcoming on technical information that Kaiser-Frazer needed so that both versions of the C-119 would be identical down to the last detail. As of June 24, 1953, K-F had completed 88 of the aircraft (see more below in a follow up), with at least 20 additional incomplete planes at various stages of completion. This is the time frame when the Air Force abruptly canceled the Kaiser-Frazer contract for all military goods going to that branch of the service. During the remainder of 1953 and into 1954 the termination contract was under negotiation; the 1953 Kaiser Motors Annual Report indicated that as of March 1, 1954 the final details had not been agreed to.

Because Kaiser-Frazer's company records on defense work were destroyed by American Motors in the early 1970's, there is no good source that I know of which accounts for the disposition on those 20 work-in-process planes. Likewise, there is no record from the factory as to where the completed aircraft went. You probably tried this already, but are there any records at Fairchild or a successor company as to wether or not incomplete planes were sent to Hagerstown MD for completion?

Those company executives still alive who were involved in the aircraft production operations (there are at least 2 still alive in California, including Steve Girard who headed up the Willow Run plane project for some time) are reluctant to talk about the subject. It was a black eye for Henry Kaiser, as deliveries were behind schedule and costs were over originally quoted figures, due in part to Kaiser-Frazer's repeated "reinventing of the wheel" when it came to revisions because Fairchild would not share information. The only thing good about it, in the minds of some other former auto employees was that the work kept the plant going as car sales slumped.

Military security requirements did not allow K-F to publically indicate which revision level of the C-119 so the materials I have at present (press releases and information put out in company newspapers to employees and car dealers) are not much help as to what type was on the line when.

Kaiser-Frazer got into the C-119 and other Korean War military work for two reasons. First, the 1949 recapitalization loan from the old Recovery Finance Corporation (the old RFC of the New Deal era..it was one of the last, if not the last loan made through this government agency) contained a clause requiring K-F to actively solicit government work if a national emergency was declared and the Korean War was, for industrial purposes considered a national emergency. Second, the company was losing ground fast against increasing competition from the Big 3 in the new car marketplace. The defense work-with guaranteed profit-was hoped to keep the company going until it could stabilize the car situation. At its peak for military production, over 65% of the company's production floor space was used for the military jobs, which also included Wright R-1300 engines for helicopters and Naval training planes, sub-assemblies for the P2V and B52-A, land mine casings and the "tinkertoy" electronic guidance project. It was at the point where some stockholders actively questioned why Kaiser-Frazer was in the car business at all!

Fairchild not only got back the C-119 business, but also the C-123. K-F got into this during 1951 by obtaining a large minority stake in Chase Aircraft Corporation. The plan was to roll the C-123 into Willow Run as the C-119 work was phased out; the first pilot build at Willow Run was about 2/3 done at the time the military canceled K-F's contracts. Besides getting the C-123 (at least one of which was built with a large ski-type undercarriage for take-off and landings on water!) Fairchild also had Michael Stroukoff, the engineer who led the move from glider (c.1944) to powered craft (there was even a jet version under development during the K-F period). Stroukoff was pushed out of an active role with the C-123 by the Kaiser people and from what I understand, never forgave them for it.
(For more on this see further below)

Jack Mueller in a follow up:
I started digging more into the files regarding the C-119 work and came up with some interesting information.

The figure of 88 aircraft comes from the 1975 book LAST ONSLAUGHT ON DETROIT, the first (and so far only) book on Kaiser-Frazer history. From what I can determine the number comes from Mr. Ralph Isbrandt, who was placed in charge of K-F's aircraft engineering operations at Willow Run (Mr. Langworth, writer of the book, interviewed Isbrandt and other former K-F executives before their deaths). However, further research comes up with the following:

1. Among the materials prepared by Kaiser Motors for use in testimony of Edgar and Henry Kaiser before the O'Konski Congressional Committee Hearings in June 1953 are two charts. The first compares capacity with contract (500 planes per month max, currently tooled for 93 per month, max. contract schedule 28 per month, actual contract schedule 12 per month) and the second compares Fairchild activities with Kaiser (built 55 planes of the 159 plane contract-this is significant, more on this shortly)

2. According to the materials supplied by the factory to the Congressional committee, all planes built at Willow Run were C-119F's.

3. Fairchild-supplied parts and sub-assemblies supplied for K-F use on the C-119 job were C-series items; K-F had to modify as required to bring items affected to -F status.

4. According to HENRY J. KAISER by Mark Foster (Mr. Kaiser's biography), in December 1950, the Air Force gave Kaiser-Frazer a contract for 176 C-119 planes at $467,000 each. This book also notes that only 44 planes were finished by April of 1953.

As I noted in item #1, the numbers do not square. I am guessing that the discrepancy reflects not a second contract, but a revised contract. Further, from what you have indicated in your emails I have to wonder if any C-119C series planes delivered off the first contract were revised as -F series and in effect, re-delivered. Could this could account for your duplicate numbers? There is further support for the refit idea in this from the statement made under oath by Henry J. Kaiser to the Congressional Committee on June 23, 1953:
This situation was further complicated by the change from the C-119C to the C-119F. We had to proceed with C-119C tooling, incomplete as it was, and rely on making the "F" changes as soon as the information was received from Fairchild. Otherwise, the program would have been further delayed.

(note: above quoted paragraph and information in items 1, 2, & 3 is from Kaiser testimony published in the July 1953 issue-volume 8 number 13-of KM NEWS, the employee newspaper for Kaiser Motors employees at the Willow Run, Michigan plant)
Jack Mueller

Chuck: " I don't know if I told you, but I was able to acquire about 20 issues of Fairchild's monthly company magazine, call "Pegasus". Today I read the issue for October 1955, which deals with the production and roll-out of the last C-119 built, 53-7884. In that article, the author says it was the 1,112th C-119 built. If the figure everybody else uses is 1,184, that's a difference of 72 -- very close to the number of 71 supposedly built by Kaiser. Hmmmmm! I think the correct number is 1,112 total -- those Kaisers are included in that number !!!"

Michael Stroukoff Jr. wrote me in Sept. 2006
"It may interest you to know that a similar situation as reported by Clete Roberts in the mid-1960ís (the termination and destruction of the Northrop B-35 and B-49 flying wings) almost happened to my dad, Michael Stroukoff.
In 1951 my dad was "induced" to let K-F buy 49% of his privately-owned Chase Aircraft Company. The USAF then immediately (in 4 days) awarded a contract for 398 C-123Bís to be built at the K-F facility in Willow Run, MI while the original Chase design, engineering, testing and manufacturing facility was reduced to engineering only.
Eight complete C-123B airframes were shipped by groundtransport to K-F for assembly at the same facility that the Fairchild C-119ís were being built. In fact, along side them.
I donít know if any K-F C-123ís actually flew.
My Dad and no other Stroukoff EVER worked for or with Fairchild. Period.
After the Congressional investigation in 1953 into why Fairchild at Hagerstown,MD, was able to build the same C-119ís as K-F for only $380,000 versus the $1,300,000 costed by K-F, the USAF cancelled BOTH the Fairchild and the Chase contracts at K-F.
The Chase facility, which was still producing C-123ís and newer A/C designs was not permitted by the USAF to build the C-123 and a contract for 250 C-123Bís was awarded to Fairchild. Go figure.
K-F "bought" my father out and kept Chase as a tax advantage when it picked up Wyllis Jeep.
Thus was born Stroukoff Aircraft at West Trenton, NJ. Again, my father tried to develop more aircraft with boundary layer control for very short take-off/landing cargo A/C, Pantobase gear to permit the same STOL capabilities from snow, ice, water, desert, swamp Ė literally any place that had little obstruction and a short 500-1000 foot clear space.
Nobody was "encouraged" to show any interest or to buy his designs here or abroad. Again, go figure.
I hope this clears up some of the mystery or maybe adds more spice to the one already being discussed."

"To clarify Clete Roberts: he was a West Coast TV reporter, who filmed and aired a TV documentary about the deathbed comments of Jack Northrop, regarding the termination of the B-35 (reciprocating engine propeller-driven) and B-49 (all jet engine) flying wing contracts and their destruction.
The story was that a US senator, while he was a Secretary of Air Force and acting as a "broker", strongly 'suggested' to Jack Northrop that he would allow the merger of Northrop Aircraft with Chance-Vought.
Mr. Northruo respectfully declined. An Air Force team descended upon the Northrop facility where the B-35 and B-49 were being built. All airframes in their jigs and fixtures were destroyed as were their plans and drawings...
My father did not want that to happen to him."

Victor James wrote me:
I was stationed at Sewart AFB, TN in 1953. We received 16 new C-119G from Willow Run. My aircraft was 53-83081 and was at Sewart AFB in Smyrna,TN until 1956. From there it went to Alaska. I lost track until I later found it to be stored in Arizona.
Thanks "Kentucky Birdman"!
(Assume 53-83081 is meant to be 53-8081 ?)

In Sep.2006 I received the following email from Chuck Lunsford, who in turn had received it from Alwyn T Lloyd (Senior Service Engineer with the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group and author of (e.g.) a 192-page book on the Fairchild C-82 Packet and C-119 Flying Boxcar, published by Ian Allen Publications, England in 2005):
"from a Time Magazine Article, Monday, Jul. 6, 1953
"Armed with stacks of statistics, Henry Kaiser and son Edgar appeared before a Senate subcommittee last week to defend their performance in making airplanes at Willow Run. But in the midst of the defense, an aide passed them a note containing some startling news: Air Force Secretary Harold Talbott had just canceled Kaiser's orders for C-119 Flying Boxcars, along with USD225 million in orders for 244 assault transports from Chase Aircraft, 49 percent Kaiser owned.
On that note, the hearing abruptly ended.
Next day, the Kaisers laid off 9,000 of their 12,200 workers at Willow Run, where the C-119 Boxcars were made on license from Fairchild Engine & Aircraft, their original designer. Auto production (250 cars a day) had already been halted in the plant a few days earlier, when a strike at Borg-Warner shut off K-F's supply of automatic transmissions and forced a layoff of 2,200 men. At week's end, there were only 1,000 K-F workers left, finishing up the last Boxcars and making auto parts for other manufacturers.
The aircraft cancellations came after Senator Styles Bridges' hearings had brought out that K-F needed $1.3 million to build a Boxcar that Fairchild itself is building for only $260,000 each (TIME, June 15).
The Air Force denied that this caused the cancellation, but nobody believed it. The Air Force, fighting to restore some of the cuts in its 1954 budget, obviously wanted to drop an operation criticized as wasteful.
Henry Kaiser and Edgar had done their best, before the hearings broke up. to acquit K-F of this charge. In a 22-page prepared statement, and an 88-page memorandum passed out to the press, they detailed Kaiser-Frazer's tribulations.
Kaiser Motors, said Henry, had started from scratch on the C-119's, had to learn all about the new job and write off its enormous tooling costs against only 159 planes. The cost of producing the first C-119's was high, as is usual in mass production, but with production increasing, mistakes corrected and short cuts discovered, the cost curve would fall rapidly.
Fairchild, on the other hand, had the advantage of a Government-furnished plant, said Kaiser, with a large part of its tooling costs written off against a great many more planes, specifically 200 C-82's (forerunners of the C-119's) and some 400 Boxcars. It was also unfair to compare costs between the two planemakers. said Kaiser, because the C-119 made by Fairchild is not as difficult to build as the modified C-119 being made at Willow Run.
Kaiser Motors, which has already been paid $150 million for the 55 Boxcars it has delivered, will be permitted to finish eleven more C-119's with parts ready for assembly. On top of what it had paid for the planes, the Air Force had poured $30 million into tooling up for C-123's at Willow Run and committed $40 million more to Chase Aircraft for design and engineering (Kaiser still has subcontracts for plane parts). Whether Kaiser could keep Willow Run going was anybody's guess.
There was talk that the plant might start producing parts for Willys Motors (which Kaiser bought for $62 million two months ago). But that prospect was small consolation. In the first half of this year. Kaiser made $2,507,000 working on C-119's and C-123's. But he dropped $8,540,000 making autos." (Published by permission Messrs. Lloyd and Lunsford.

Retrospective: Automobiles and aeroplanes: Kaiser    By: Farah AlKhalisi (14Dec06)

Henry John Kaiser made his name and his fortune in ship-building and civil engineering. His first venture into the skies was a 1942 partnership with businessman, movie mogul and aviator Howard Hughes. The Hughes-Kaiser Corporation obtained an $18 million government grant to build flying boats, and Hughes got a team of engineers to draw up the largest flying boat ever seen, an eight-engined, 3,000bhp monster, the HK-1. But the government would not allow the use of steel - needed for the war effort - so the craft was built out of laminated wood. This was said to make it lighter and stronger than aluminium, and it also led to the craft's nickname of Spruce Goose. Kaiser and Hughes - a volatile personality - failed to agree on certain crucial elements of the Goose's construction and design, however; Kaiser sensibly pulled out mid-1944 when the HK-1 was no nearer to taking flight, leaving Hughes to pursue the ill-fated project, now relabelled H4, alone. Hughes was investigated by the US Senate for misappropriation of government funds, poured millions more dollars into the project and the Spruce Goose flew just once, a brief elevation off the water in 1947.

After World War II, Kaiser tried his hand at car-building, too, teaming up with the president of the defunct Graham-Paige company, Joseph Frazer, to make cars under both the Kaiser and Frazer brand names. The range grew to comprise the no-frills Henry J, the fibreglass-bodied Darrin sports car and the downright bizarre Dragon saloon, but Kaiser-Frazer couldn't make these cars cheap enough to sufficiently undercut the prices of the Big Three, and only around 150,000 were built in 1945-55.

Kaiser's choice of production base was canny, however: he had purchased Ford's Willow Run aircraft factory (see above) and all its facilities, and in the mid-'50s (having purchased Willys-Overland, makers of the General Purpose GP truck, aka the Jeep, as well as the Aero, Ace and Lark cars), he shifted his car factories to Argentina and pitched for a plane-building contract from the US airforce. In 1951, Willow Run started to build the C-119 troop and cargo carrier, a development of the North American Aviation C82 Packet known as the Flying Boxcar.

But it was an awkward arrangement: most C-119 production was carried out by Fairchild, and conspiracy theories abound as to why so few planes were made by Kaiser-Frazer and at such high cost to the US government; some insiders claimed that Fairchild had been slow to supply some of the parts and reluctant to share technical information, others that Kaiser-Frazer had to do too many modifications to accommodate the Wright engines it was using instead of the Pratt & Whitney units fitted by Fairchild. Either way, there was an enquiry by Congress, and Kaiser lost the contract to make the C-123 - to Fairchild. Estimates vary from 55 to 88 as to how many C-119s Kaiser-Frazer actually built; some Korean War veterans who flew the planes say that a number of unfinished Kaiser-Frazer planes were repossessed, stored for years and then redesignated as Fairchilds. Many C-119s served again in Vietnam, and were used by the USAF well into the 1970s, though many ended up with the Vietnamese and Taiwanese airforces.

Meanwhile Kaiser's Argentinian car factory, subsidised by the local government, turned out cars including the Manhattan and Carabela, the latter the first fully Argentinian-built mass-production car, as well as the Estancia, a version of the Willys station wagon, jeeps and pick-ups. The last Kaiser-badged car was the Bergantin, before the company turned entirely to building Renaults under licence in Argentina and Brazil. The remaining Kaiser-Jeep assets were bought by American Motors in 1970, and the Argentinian/Brazilian operations were eventually fully bought out by Renault in 1975.

Another link which offers further reading on this matter:
From Time-Life magazine: Bogged-Down Boxcars (article dated 15Jun1953)

Jack Mueller, Kaiser-Frazer Library Archive; photos presented for historical purposes only.


Back to C-119 Background Information or
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Chuck Lunsford (RIP) 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 Amazon.com

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".

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Last updated 15.9.2006