Performance of Packet Planes
By Richard S. Boutelle
President of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation
The Quartermaster Review, September-October 1950
The old adage “the bigger they are the harder they fall” is taking a kicking around in the air-delivery business. It has been our business for the last eight years to help the Airborne divisions change things around, until we’re almost as proud of the things dropped from our airplanes as we are of the airplanes themselves.
Plenty has been happening. From the sturdy Douglas C-47 workhorse of World War II, adapted from a civilian transport still doing veteran service as the DC-3, to the latest in the Fairchild Packet family, lies eight years of development more rapid and far-reaching than the sixty-year development of the freight train and the twenty-year development of highway truck-trailer combinations. These last, at least, knew where they were going-railbeds and highways took care of that. In the military cargo plane field, neither the Army, the Air Force, nor the manufacturer knew which way the development would go, any more than a pilot today knows what his course and destination might be tomorrow; his course is unfettered by fixed ground channels such as railroad or paved road.
Eight years ago, and even two years ago, it was enough to drop men and the equipment they could carry, onto the ground, ready for combat. Today. jeeps, trucks, and 90-mm., 105-mm., and even 155-mm. artillery, together with supplies and smaller equipment, can he delivered to the ground safely and ready to fight within minutes. And the heavier equipment lands even more gently than a paratrooper-the bigger they arc the easier they fall.
This eight-year period of development of airplanes designed and built specifically for the delivery of fighting men and equipment not only has changed the character of Airborne operations today but has many implications for the future. Airborne operations are still in their formative period; regular equipment and standard-package supplies are used to a great extent. But to get the best results with the greatest speed and the most efficiency is going to call for extensive re-design of equipment and packaging as the degree of Airborne activity increases. And it is going to mean that more and more troops and their supporting units are going to have to know more about Airborne operations, such as combat-loading of airplanes, air-type packaging, and air logistics.
We have learned with the Army and the Air Force in this process that it isn’t only in Airborne operations that the value of air transportation to the military services is concentrated. Eventually, we feel sure, all military units will be trained in air transportability. Events will dictate this. But until that day comes, there will be many factors that will change logistic practices, particularly in fighting battles far from our own country. For the airplane is like any other military vehicle in some respects. It is a tool, to be used to best advantage.
Take the problem of equipment and supplies subject to rapid deterioration under some climatic conditions. Some of this takes expensive and heavy packaging, or costly special alloys. With long supply lines and slow surface transportation such packaging or modified construction is necessary. But suppose the supplies or the equipment can be lightened and made air-transportable. Then large overseas stocks aren’t necessary, and the drain of stock maintenance in the field under adverse conditions is not so great. Then there are some materials which can be economically air -transported (with due allowance for the fact that war economy is quite different from peacetime economy) to reduce the size of overseas depots, lessen depot manpower requirements that must be supported in their turn by overseas shipments, and lighten the pipeline load ,all the way back to the factory.
The proportion of service troops to combat troops is high under the present organization of the Army–properly so according to our concepts of military operations. But this proportion cannot be maintained when the nation is confronted by masses of troops with a capacity for living off the country. Our manpower is not limitless. Air transport offers a means of reducing this proportion and, at the same time, increasing efficiency through the cutting down of overseas depots, replacement centers, and maintenance shops.
None of these things can be done overnight. But the more those responsible for final delivery of supplies and equipment to the combat soldier concern themselves with thinking in terms of air-transportability, the faster it can be accomplished.
To do it, you have to start at the beginning.
We are pretty proud of our Packet family of airplanes. We had to start at the beginning, back in 1942, when the Army Air Corps asked us to design an airplane specifically for military troop and cargo use. In a sense we threw away all old concepts of transport-aircraft design. There was good reason for this, since virtually every transport ever built had been designed with the civilian passenger in mind. And there was good reason for coming to Fairchild for this cargo airplane, since the Fairchild YC-24, built in 1932, had been the first cargo type large aircraft built for the military services. It had many of the innovations later incorporated in the C-47 and other military cargo planes current in 1942, such as flat loading-floor and truck-width hatches. It wasn’t easy to toss out established ideas and start anew to work out what we thought would be the ideal type plane for paratroop and heavy cargo work. It isn’t human nature to work that way. But it was done, the resulting airplane being the C-82 Packet. Design studies showed the advantages and disadvantages of certain configurations, with the best compromise (and every airplane design must, to some extent, be a compromise) found to be the now-familiar twin-boom, high-wing pattern with a box-car-like fuselage to permit easy loading and unloading as well as clear jump areas for dropping of paratroopers and air-dropped equipment.
This early Packet first flew in 1945, and soon the products of small postwar production orders were going to operational units. They proved out the general configuration, but some of the shortcomings of that particular design began to show up as field tests were conducted. The fuselage had been designed to accommodate the 96-inch standard equipment of the Army. Later developments made this 96-inch standard obsolete, while use by troops demonstrated to Army and Air Force personnel. and to our own people, that more leeway was necessary within the fuselage for maneuvering equipment. It was found that visibility over drop zones was not sufficient for the greatest efficiency and accuracy. It was shown that more power was desirable, and this soon became available in the new Pratt & Whitney 4360 engine.
All of these changes were incorporated in the C-119 Packet, which in the past half-year, has been setting new standards of air-transportability in operational service with the 314th Troop Carrier Wing. It has piled up an outstanding record in the short time it has been in service, especially during Exercise SWARMER, where much of the success of the maneuver was directly traceable to the performance of this one aircraft.
The evolution of a military cargo airplane does not seem dramatic to the usual aviation enthusiast. We’ll concede that a jet fighter or bomber is much more colorful and eye-catching. So is a conventional, streamlined, passenger transport. But our ugly goshugs are growing into things of beauty in the eyes of people who have get things from here to there efficiently, quickly and in good order. They are dramatic in their own way because they change our concepts of cargo, from the types hauled to the methods of packaging and preparing for shipment. They can change the methods of transportation for whole ranges of military equipment and, with their longer range counter parts change many standard military practices.
One possible change is the function of supply. We are not attempting to talk as experts in Quartermaster functions. We know little about them. But we do see the operation of some of these activities when they reach our planes.
Take the matter of packaging. Experience in rail and ocean shipping has dictated certain standard forms of, packaging to withstand possible rough handling of surface transportation. This means a weighty, bulky package.. It seldom means much in loss of efficiency in these means of transportation.
Yet in an airplane, in which aeronautical engineers sweat tears to save a pound of weight, every unnecessary pound of packaging weight is expensive and inefficient. Every unnecessary inch of space used, under certain circumstances, will cut into the load that can be transported. When coupled with the fact that air shipment ordinarily is not subject to the rigors of rail, road, or sea shipment, there is ample justification for a restudy of shipping requirements. In civilian practice it has been found that packaging in many cases can be entirely eliminated for air shipment. This may not be possible with all military equipment.
Just as we had to go back to the beginning with our airplanes, so will all of the various military services find it advantageous to re-examine their transportation practices and equipment-from the ground up, so to speak.
With every added pound of military cargo vitally important to a mission’s success, it is wasted effort when packaging for shipping adds unnecessary pounds to be transported. The same thing is true for equipment that must be carried in quantities sufficient to make worthwhile the redesign of parts to make them lighter. We realize that this process will of necessity be evolutionary. But, at the same time, the Korean situation has only too graphically shown the vital importance of rapid movement of troops and equipment. Tomorrow, ten days to transfer a division of troops and their equipment from this country to its destination may he too long a time. It is true that entire divisions and some of their equipment can be moved half way around the world today. But the two Airborne divisions are the only divisional units trained for air-transportability, and it was shown after the surrender of Japan that it takes seven days to brief a ground regiment, without air-transportability training, for movement by air. So, the rapidity of movement by air has to be supplemented by rapidity of movement into airplanes in proper condition for flight.
Another factor that has been brought home to us forcefully is that loading airplanes with clothing. with flour, or with coal is considerably different from combat-loading. The parallel with combat-loading of ships is apt, although there are some differences, dictated by the differing capacities of the two means of transport.
Even the highly trained and efficient personnel of the Military Air Transport Service found themselves having to make rapid adjustments when confronted with this combat-loading problem in Exercise SWARMER. The requirements of the parachuted and air-landed troops threw their prepared schedules out of whack. Their training in making rapid adjustments to meet situations of this type stood them in excellent stead, and supplies were delivered in sufficient quantities to meet requirements But less well equipped personnel could well have wrecked the entire operation through lack of air transport know-how, and we can do no less than point out that the current MATS establishment is very, very small compared with the total requirement for airlift personnel in an emergency; it is hardly more than a nucleus.
In gaining experience with the C-82 and C-119 Packets, it became obvious that detachable pod aircraft would have radical implications in the field of military logistics, with subsequent civilian applications similar to those of the truck-trailer combinations of the highways. This led to our experimental XC-120 Packplane, now under flight test. We hope to use this aircraft to work out the details and final configuration of the ultimate production article.
We feel that the detachable-fuselage transport airplane can provide answers to many of today’s most pressing logistical problems. Most of the military planners involved in transport work agree with us, and already thinking on the eventual use of such an airplane is far in advance of the specific plane’s present configuration or performance.
The primary military advantage of the detachable fuselage cargo plane lies in the extreme versatility achieved through this basic airplane design. For instance, the military transport as it exists in operational use today-in the C-119, the C-124, the C-97-is completely equipped to carry out every mission required of it. Consequently, when used as a standard cargo carrier, it must carry, as dead weight, hundreds of pounds of equipment which are needed when the same plane is to be used as a paratroop plane.
By designing different types of interchangeable fuselages for different missions this waste is limited, and every pound carried contributes directly to the success of the mission at hand.
We feel that three types of carrying compartments should be designed for the one basic airplane:
1. A fuselage to be used in carrying paratroops and their supplies.
2. A fuselage to be used primarily as a cargo carrier, leaving out such specialized paratroop equipment as monorails, parapacks, and drop doors. This would give completely unobstructed cargo space, with additional payload capabilities resulting from the elimination of unnecessary paratroop equipment. It would also permit the installation of other specialized equipment to make the ”pod” an integral machine-shop, radar station, hospital, or similar built-in permanent unit.
3. An open rack arrangement, to he attached to the carrier portion of the plane at points similar to those where the “pods” are attached. This rack would be much lighter in weight than an entire fuselage, and thus would permit the carrying of bulky, heavy items too large to go into the present fuselage. Capable of being dropped by parachute, the rack makes it possible to transport by air an almost unlimited range of items.
These are merely examples of the thinking and planning now going on both in our own engineering department and in those of the various military agencies which will eventually use the plane. We firmly believe that the detachable-fuselage cargo plane is the next forward step in the development of cargo airplanes.