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Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar

Satellite Catcher

This C-119J Flying Boxcar made the world’s first mid-air recovery of an object returning from space. In August 1960, it caught the Discoverer XIV satellite using recovery gear lowered from the open rear door. This mechanism snagged the satellite’s parachute, and a winch slowly reeled the film capsule into the aircraft. “Satellite catching” became an important and regular U.S. Air Force operation to recover secret reconnaissance satellite film.

The C-119 Flying Boxcar was developed shortly after World War II to carry heavy loads of cargo, paratroopers or medical patients. Its wide rear doors and a fuselage parallel to the ground made it easy to load and unload. It first flew in 1947.

While the J model was specially developed to catch satellite film recovery vehicles, Flying Boxcars also played an important role in the Korean War carrying troops and supplies. The most important airlift mission in Korea came in the bitter winter of 1950 when USAF C-119Bs air-dropped bridge sections to U.S. troops trapped by communist forces at the Chosin Reservoir. The sections replaced a destroyed bridge across a deep chasm, allowing thousands of Soldiers and Marines to escape. Flying Boxcars also served in the Southeast Asia War as gunships supporting ground forces.


Maximum speed: 290 mph
Range: About 1,827 miles
Payload: 62 fully equipped troops or 30,000 lbs. of cargo
Ceiling: 29,670 feet
Engines: Two Wright R3350-89s of 3,500 hp each

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Chosin Reservoir