C-119 aka Flying Boxcar

A bit of background on this aircraft.

The Flying Boxcar was a front line aircraft during the early 1950, and beyond. The rear section of the fuselage could be removed, leaving it wide open for serving the purpose at hand. A late friend had served as a C-119 crew chief helped deliver hay to starving livestock during the severe blizzards of 1951 – 1952.

During the early space shots a C-119 was used to snatch a parachuting reentry probe in mid-air.

This photo shows a C-119 preparing for restoration before being moved to a museum. bit of background on this aircraft.


In 1964 I was stationed at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. The US was fully engaged in the Cold War. SAC had settled down to a dull roar supporting Chrome Dome and maintaining training missions.

Our shop was located on the south side of the runway. On the opposite side of the runway were the hangars and the tower. The entryway faced west.

One evening a fellow airman burst through the shop door. “THERE’S A U-2 ON THE GROUND!” he shouted.

None of us had ever seen a U-2 in person, so to speak. So as a body of one we rushed the door. But our quest was fruitless. The aircraft ground-support team, in their efficiency, had already directed it into hangar 2 and all we saw was the doors closing on a darkened hangar. However, we knew sooner or later they would have to bring it out. We would be ready.

The following morning the doors opened and from the darkened interior came the aircraft and it took off directly into the sun. We saw nothing. Two more days this was repeated, and on the third evening it didn’t return.

Ramey was buzzing with rumors, which obviously generated an official announcement. The U-2 was here for air samples, it stated

Who would ever believe such a cock and bull story as that?

Years later I learned that missiles give forth an odor that can be detected and with the proper equipment and skill missiles can be identified without a visual image.

Weeks later the Dominican Republic Crisis evolved. It was a Communist attempt to create a second Cuban Missile Crisis. But this time the United States was ready.

Our first clue that something was afoot was when TAC, the Tactical Air command, arrived with 12 combat aircraft and a C-135 carrying supplies, equipment, and a crew of maintainers. They even brought their own shop and chow hall. All they needed from us was water and fuel. Two hours after their arrival two reconnaissance aircraft headed out to photograph the situation.

The following day other aircraft – additional combat aircraft and cargo aircraft arrived. They were parked on every square foot of concrete.

Cargo crews were instructed to log 60 airborne hours before time off. After a couple of days they began writing up phantom problems with the aircraft in order to earn a bit of downtime. I could hardly blame them, but that put our radio shop to the test.

We were well into the crisis when I picked up a work order stating that the HF radio was inoperative at the navigator’s position on a C-119

The entryway is at the rear of the fuselage and it was pretty well filled with a C-124 engine. Having not been aboard a C-119 for at least six years I lurked behind the engine a minute or two in order to familiarize myself.

The flight crew members were old, gray-headed men. The navigator, a major, was busy sorting through his maps, preparing for departure.

Since the navigator needs the use of both hands, he has a floor switch for keying the transmitter. To accommodate this switch there is a space large enough for the navigator’s shoe, but guarded to prevent accidental use. The navigator found this space a convenient place for his heavy map case. He was not aware that the weight had keyed the transmitter, which in turn activated a T/R switch that electrically removes the receiver so it isn’t damaged by the RF power.

“Are you the radio man?“ he asked, looking up from his maps as I set my tools on the floor.

“Yes I am, sir.”

“Good. The HF radio doesn’t work. We’re going to need it with 900 miles of water to cross.”

“Your map case has turned the receiver off, sir” I said pointing, but not touching stuff.


“It’s setting on the mic switch and it’s activated the T/R switch,sir.”

“So that’s were that foot switch is,” he muttered.

“Let me check it out, sir,” I said.

He got up front his chair, but he was right at my elbow. It was obvious he didn’t trust me, so I switched the audio from headset to speaker and turned the gain up so he could hear what I was hearing. And then I called McDill AFB in Florida, Charleston AFB in south Carolina, and the Andrews Airways in Washington, D.C. for radio ground checks. All three reported loud and clear.

I stood up and reached for the aircraft log to sign it off, but he was gun-shy of the radio and insisted I wait for him to check it out himself. So I waited and watched him return the map case to where I’d found it.

“it’s quit again,” he said

“I know, sir, you’ve sat your map case on the mic switch.”

He was staring at the map case when I signed the aircraft log with a brief note that the system was normal and started for the door. The crew chief, a regular air force Staff Sergeant followed me out the door.

“These guya are reservists, you know. I don’t know what the navigator did before being called back, but the aircraft commander was driving a train. He is making some major errors. They’re going to kill me.”

I felt his concern, but there was nothing I could do but monitor the report for aircraft ditched at sea. I never saw a thing.