Fairchild C-123 Provider

The Fairchild C-123 Provider is an American military transport aircraft designed by Chase Aircraft and then built by Fairchild Aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. In addition to its USAF service, which included later service with the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, it also went on to serve most notably with the U.S. Coast Guard and various air forces in Southeast Asia. During the War in Vietnam, the C-123 was used to deliver supplies, to evacuate the wounded, and also used to spray Agent Orange.

The C-123 Provider was designed originally as an assault glider aircraft for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Chase Aircraft as the XCG-20 (Chase designation MS-8 Avitruc)[2] Two powered variants of the XCG-20 were developed during the early 1950s, as the XC-123 and XC-123A. The only difference between the two was the type of engines used. The XC-123 used two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-23 air-cooled radial piston engines, while the XC-123A was fitted with four General Electric J47-GE-11 turbojets, in two pods.

The first recipients of C-123 aircraft were USAF transport units, soon followed by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) which used the aircraft for search and rescue (SAR) missions, and even the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Team, the "Thunderbirds," used C-123s for a time as a logistics support aircraft for transporting the team's ground crews and equipment. The type would also be widely exported under various U.S. military assistance programs, directly from USAF stocks. A C-123 was used to transport President John F. Kennedy's limousine during his November, 1963, Texas tour.

The C-123 was nearly ignored by the USAF for service in Vietnam, but a political rivalry with the U.S. Army and the Army's use of the CV-2 Caribou and later pre-production order for the de Havilland Canada C-8 Buffalo, led to a decision to deploy C-123s there. To compete with the well-performing CV-2, the USAF and Fairchild furthered development on the C-123 to allow it to do similar work on short runways. This additional development increased the utility of the aircraft and its variants to allow it to perform a number of unique tasks, including the HC-123B which operated with the USCG fitted with additional radar equipment for search and rescue missions through 1971, and the C-123J which was fitted with retractable skis for operations in Greenland and Alaska on compacted snow runways.

A Ranch Hand UC-123B over Vietnam in 1962.

A 19th ACS C-123K over the Mekong Delta, 1969.

By 1962, the C-123K variant aircraft was evaluated for operations in Southeast Asia and their stellar performance led the Air Force to upgrade 180 of the C-123B aircraft to the new C-123K standard, which featured auxiliary jet pods underneath the wings, and anti-skid brakes. In 1968, the aircraft helped resupply troops in Khe Sanh, Vietnam, during a three-month siege by North Vietnam.[2]

A number of C-123s were configured as VIP transports, including General William Westmoreland's White Whale. The C-123 also gained notoriety for its use in "Operation Ranch Hand" defoliation operations in Vietnam. Oddly enough, the USAF had officially chosen not to procure the VC-123C VIP transport, opting instead for the Convair VC-131D.