Fairchild C-119F "Boxcar" N3267U

Chuck Lunsford (R.I.P.) sent me these photos of C-119F N3267U, seen parked in Kenya, having reached (almost) the end of the road....
What made the photos esspecially interesting is the fact that this airframe may have been used in 2004, as a prop, in a movie. Unfortunately the photographer of these 3 photos is (as yet) unknown.

Chuck wrote: "These photos of 131700 show it as the movie company's agents found it sitting in the weeds in Nairobi with some sort of African mold growing on it. At that time, 20th Century Fox had not made the deal with Hawkins & Powers for the use of N15501, and they were seriously considering putting 131700 back in flying shape to use for flying shots. It isn't clear why the aircraft was abandoned by the owners in Nairobi, but the guy who checked it out for Fox said all it needed was a general overhaul, and the replacement of some stolen instruments, and clean all the moldy patches off of it."

Chuck continued: "My contact at Fox wouldn't say how much they paid for it, but I think they got it for a song because the Kenyans just wanted to be rid of it. Fox was going to buy three of the derelicts in the scrapyard in Tucson, AZ, but after the deal with H&P was made, Fox decided to use 131700 as a set-prop airplane, and ship it to the movie site in Namibia, and they bought and shipped only two of the Tucson airplanes. I know the set-prop airplanes were to be destroyed, or partially destroyed in making the movie, but I don't know the final fate of 131700. That's too bad, because it could have easily been returned to flying condition.

In Feb.2007 I got a message:
"I can confirm that this Fairchild C-119F was in fact used in the Motion Picture "Flight of The Phoenix". The reason I know this is that I know the people who owned the plane... They bought this plane in the hope to make some money out of it but never used and it accumulated such high parking fees that when the production company came to inquire they pretended not to own it, because the parking fees would have far outweighed the price they would have received by selling it...
They are not involved in aviation primarily, but had hoped to develop some business with the plane, but never got around to it and so I think they are now glad to be rid of it!"
Jason

"I have tried to contact the set director, so far without success, to find out which prop airplane was which in the movie, but I speculate that the one used for the main set-prop on the desert, and which parts of are used to make the "Phoenix," is 131700, because the other two from Tucson were in pretty bad condition, especially the cockpit windows, etc. "
Thanks Chuck !


Click on the image for a larger version:

N3267U with Comutair titles at Stansted on 11Jan88 (Photo: Ruud Leeuw collection, by Keith Gaskell)

 

Ray Rogers with C-119 N3267U
Ray Rogers wrote me in July 2011:
"I was very interested on the story of the Fairchild Boxcar/Packet N3267U (The flight of the Phoenix)!

I worked at Stansted Airport in the 1980s, up until a few months ago when redundancies loomed.
I remember that aircraft being at Stansted and me having my picture taken next to it, with my work mate. Not knowing that it was going to be famous many years later!
It's me on the right of the picture and my work mate on the left: Ray Smith.
I now have a claim to fame!"

 

Jon Peters wrote me in July 2009 with the following memories:
"I found your excellent website by chance when checking up on dear old N3267U.
I worked at Stansted Airport from 1987 - 1990 and had the privilege of working on this aircraft during my spare time. The pilot was an American gentleman by the name of 'Teddy' King from Anchorage, Alaska (or so he said). I spent as much time as possible helping him with basic maintenance jobs and was eventually rewarded by being permitted to fire up the engines; those four-bladed props made the weirdest sound and I will never forget the experience as long as I live!
Teddy invited me to take a test flight with him as he needed a 'co-pilot' for the ppwk and a colleague from Eastern Airlines that should have flown in had not yet arrived. Well, despite mould on the seat harness and my workmates saying that I was 'bloody crazy,' I said 'yes!!!' and waited for the day of the test flight.
Sadly, it was not to be. The 'Eastern' chap arrived and both of them took N3267U on a (very) short trip to North Weald airfield, where they promptly abandoned the plane and 'legged-it' with the money! (so I was told later).
Having recently seen the remake of 'Flight of the Phoenix' I decided to check the registration in the Internet on the off-chance of discovering what had become of the Old Lady. Imagine my surprise when your website informed me that the C-119 in the film was the very SAME plane that I had spent so much time working on all those years ago!"


The remake of the movie Last Flight of the Phoenix (starring Dennis Quaid, below) required several C-119 airframes; the "Packet" in the publicity shot could be N3267U (former 131700):
Chuck: "In comparing the two photos on your page of the Kenya airplane, and the one laying on the desert for the movie -- take a look at the dent in the end of the wing -- has to be the same airplane ! I can't enlarge the publicity picture with enough resolution to read the N- number on the boom, but it's certainly in the same place as the Kenya airplane in the picture in Nairobi. I'll bet that's 131700 there on the sand with Dennis Quaid walking away from it. If I could see the other rudder and stabilizer, I could confirm it. As it was an F model, sold to civil registry, 131700 did not have the rotating beacon light on the top of the left vertical stabilizer. I'll bet the one on the sand doesn't either ! "
Have a look at Simon Beck's website for details on the planes used in the 1965 Jimmie Stewart movie and the 2005 remake.


131700 was one of a batch of 58 Fairchild R4Q-2 Packets (c/n 10829/10856 and 10875/10904), redesignated C-119F in 1962.
'700' is seen here at Naval Air Station Glenview, IL at some unknown date. It was decommissioned and stored at Davis-Monthan's MASDC as 4C0029.
This C-119F was entered into the civil register as N3267U for Comutair, Gering, NE. It was reported stored at Nairobi, Kenya in 1996. That was the end of its flying career, because by end-2003 it was dismantled and trucked to Namibia for use in the movie "The Last Flight of the Phoenix".

 

C-119 at Nairobi on Google earth

Schelte Heerema wrote me in Feb.2008, stating he thought N3267U may still be at Nairobi based on what he saw on Google Earth (E 36,55',9.66" S 1,19',20.46").
He also wrote about the time he flew on this Flying Boxcar:
"In 1989 I was in Kenya for UNICEF and stayed there for 8 months, mainly at Lokichoggio. With a mate of mine we flew in a Cessna 406 on behalf of Operation Lifeline Sudan.
And this C-119 N3267U was used there too, at some point. The Horsey brothers (white Kenians who had a business in roadtransport) thought to see an opportunity in the Relief business; they chartered this Boxcar and carried mais for the WFP (World Food Program).
The C-119 was originally based in Lodwar and this friend of mine and me joined a flight one day; we carried 9 tons of mais which was dropped over the target.

Why this C-119 ended up at Jomo Kenyatta is a fantastic tale!
Except for a compass there were no navigational instruments on board. This was no problem as the territory this aircraft flew in was familiar to the crew. But one day they had to fly to a village they had never been to and cloud cover was expected over the destination.
Also, when fully loaded you had to fly on a sufficient altitude, which would mean that with the cloud cover navigation by landmarks would be impossible...
So a Twin-Otter was arranged in Loki, equipped with Omega navigation system and it would fly as pathfinder. The C-119 would return on its own.
The flight went well and after the drop the aircraft set a course for homebase.
That was when things started to go wrong!
The cloudcover had extended over the return route and when remaining fuel indicated they had only left for some 10 minutes, without having been able to locate Lokichoggio, the crew started to worry. They reported to their operations their predicament but suddenly saw a hole in the cloudcover!
And they went for it, only to find the landscape to be mountainous... Fortunately they immediately spotted a landingsstrip and landed the N3267U there.
They found they had landed in Uganda! On a military strip!
By the military they were considered to be invaders from Sudan and even were fired upon when they landed.
They were arrested and brought to Kampala; after 2 weeks they were released but on the condition they would take the Boxcar with them.
The crew set a straight course to Jomo Kenyatta, parked the aircraft and the captain took the first plane back to the US...
He was a Vietnam-vet and never really took to Africa.
The WFP subsequently ended the contract.

When I left the country a few months later, I saw the aircraft at Nairobi IAP and I think Google Earth shows it to be still present there. But mayby those images on G.E. are old and outdated and the C-119 really was used for the movie."

C-119 at NBO on Google Earth

 

Chuck Lunsford (R.I.P.) wrote (while I awaited some eyewitness reports) on this theory of N3267U still parked at NBO:

"I don't think there is any question N3267U was bought by Fox and used in the movie. The only thing I'm not completely sure of is whether it's the one in the picture with Dennis Quaid. Probably is, because that airframe is pretty much intact--windows, the control surfaces, etc. The two derelicts they got in the scrap yard in Tucson were in pretty bad shape with windows broken out, fabric on the control surfaces gone, engine cowlings and props missing, and one of them no longer had the ventral fin on one of the booms, and one of them had the clamshell doors missing."

"There is another thing to consider. The extended negotiations for the flying airplane--with Hawkins & Powers N15501 and for one of the two Alaska airplanes-- delayed the shooting schedule in Namibia. They were starting to run out of summer in the southern hemisphere! It was much faster and easier to ship N3267U from Kenya and they could begin shooting sooner while the two from Tucson were enroute by water.
For a short time, they considered renting that big Russian cargo transport to fly the dismantled Tucson airplanes from the USA to Kenya for $800,000 USD.
There was also a delay in getting permission from the U.S. State Department to ship them out of the country. Although derelict in a junk yard, they were still American Military aircraft.
So, the Kenya airplane saved them some expensive shooting time."

Andrew 'Andy' Martin wrote in Feb.2008:
"The C-119 was NOT in the location shown on Google Earth (and as indicated by the recently uploaded photos on Ruud's site) when I spent several days there in late 2006. I was round that side of the airport quite a bit and it was not there, nor did I see it elsewhere on the field. It had either been moved (in October 2006) and has since been put back, or those photos are not recent and it isn't there anymore.."

Stephen Ngingo checked and returned with following report (22.Feb.2008):
"The information I have collected, although a bit sketchy, is that the aircraft was disposed off (sold, cut into pieces and transported) in either Aug 2002 or 2003, to a South African company. Hence the aircraft is not in NBO since then."

 

Schelte Heerema sent some photos, taken at Lodwar, to illustrate his report; he also wrote:
"You can see the colourscheme matches with the yellow and black cheatline; but I cannot account for the nose being white while the nose is black on your photos...
You can also see the blue United Nations sticker."

"The brown barrels contained Avgas. It involved a lot of work to empty those 200-liter barrels into the Boxcar!
In the background you can see the storage shed with the mais; the sacks were emptied by half and wrapped in a 2nd sack to prevent the sacks from breaking on impact, when dropped from the C-119."

C-119 at Lodwar

C-119 and supplies

"You can see an antenna wire streched from the cockpit to the righthand tailsection. That was for the HF set.
Note the open sliding cockpit window; if I am not mistaken that was open during the flight too."

Is this N3267U ?

"The take off was a nervous affair...
We taxied all the way down to the gate, passed the end of the paved runway!
The manifold pressure was raised to 59 inches and I noticed the blue flickering lights were on for the water-methanol injection.
I think the village behind us took a terrible beating!
Half way down the runway the captain pulled the Boxcar airborne, to raise the undercarriage. We did not have sufficient speed to climb and we barely made it over the trees...
The crew would lower the manifold pressure immediately for fear of permanent damage to the engines; an engine failure at that altitude would have been fatal. I am sure the aircraft was overloaded due to commercial pressure to carry as much as possible.
On the return trip to Lodwar we flew at an altitude of 50 feet. It was a beautiful sight to see giraffes and antelopes make a run for it when we zoomed past.
The day after we had that ride, one of the engines began to run rough; but the aircraft was already at 6.000 ft and the crew dropped the cargo in the middle of nowhere to remain airborne. The other engine was good enough to bring them home, where they had face the disgruntled owners about the lost cargo who obviously did not realize it was the only way to save the aircraft from crashing!.
After that, the aircraft was out of commission for a while."

Small world, to the above Bo Wiberg replied:
"The C-119 from Lodwar in Kenya was something of a joke..!
We used to call the captain 'No Problem' because that was his favourite expression. Real nice guy, by the way, but when he didnít have dysenteria or malaria, he got lost (see Uganda incident) and there was his arrest in Kampala.
Also, donít forget the little mishap he had in Lodwar, where the batteries exploded when they overcharged them with the ground APU!
The whole business idea of the Horsey brothers was shot dead from the beginning."

"At that time I was working for IRC I Kapoeta as logistician. My wife Catherine was also working there, for the feeding centre. One may remember one of us or our dog Café...
Later on I worked for GED, for a short period, and then for WFP in Bor (where I was responsible for the WFP team). I also worked for ASF France in Angola for a while, where I mainly was their contact between them and ECHO; we operated a Twin-Otter and a Caravan. And I have also worked with other 'bush pilots' in Mozambique and Angola. I was the (Microlight) pilot for a French film team in South Africa and Botswana for a film called Okavango.
I am no longer in Africa.
Nowadays Cat and I live on a sailing boat in France. Cat is working as a replacement doctor in various towns on the Mediterranean coast and I am doing my best to write books. A nice life!"


Paul Weston has an interesting tale to tell on this C-119 N3267U!
C-119 N3267U
Pilot and the UN Coördinator / Lodwar, Kenya

"Here's a photo from Lodwar, Kenya. This C-119 N3267U was ferried to Lodwar from Greybull,WY in the late '80s/early 90s.
We were flying a United Nations contract, involving food-drop missions into Sudan.

After some scary flights, the hot African climate and field length required the normal Alaskan 20,000lb payload be reduced to 18,000lbs or less. ("pitch up, gear up..!") The bags of maze (observed in the background) were secured on five to seven pallets in the cargo bay and rolled out the 'paratainer' door, one at a time. 
Obviously, this would require a minimum 5 to 7 passes over the drop zone, below 1000 feet. Often a drop pass would have to be aborted due to hungry people storming the drop zone! 
Spending so much time in a predictable low orbit is not the most fun in a war zone...  However, the heart-felt satisfaction of supplying food to starving people, and the seemingly plethoric observation of wild animals on the long, empty, low-level return flights to Lodwar, remains with me (not to mention the inherent involvement in flying a C-119 and the necessary teamwork requirement of Loadmaster / Deployment Crew (8) & Flight Crew (2) all being on the same page).

We accomplished the tasks. Thanks to the teamwork of all involved.
This Boxcar not only contributed significantly to the well being of starving individuals on the ground, she performed within a standard deviation of pilot expectations in hot weather and the occupants remain to tell the story.
Perhaps I should mention that all aircraft fuel was hand-pumped from 55gal barrels!
There was at least one engine failure and numerous bullet holes..."

More C-119s, and Alaska Flying, portrayed by Paul Weston from his flying career HERE..

 

About the one 'that didn't make it'...
Graham Robson sent me these images and explained:
"Thought you might like these, as part of your string on N3276U. These shots are of the C-119 that didn't make it to Namibia, but was ready to go.
131706 had been a resident of South Western Alloys since at least 1982, when I first visited Tucson and there it remained, until the movie project emerged, when it moved across to DMI. This is where these pics were taken, the first in April 2004, at which time Don Howell of DMI did say the aircraft fuselage was originally meant to go to Africa but the movie producers then said they didn't need this one...
By April 2006, when I took the other pictures, it is interesting to see that the nose numbers had been over-painted. The fuselage pod was still there in April of 2007, when I last visited."
(More photos by Graham Robson, many of which air-to-air, can be seen HERE... )

C-119 131706

C-119 131706

C-119 131706

Graham Robson also sent this image:
"Another picture that might be of interest, showing how good the C-119 was when she left Tucson...
This shows 131700/N3267U in the DMI yard in October 1982, at the end of a major restoration and almost ready for flight.
At the time there were another 8 C-119s in the yard, of which two were fuselage pod or sectioned airframe, as well as 6 x KC-97Ls, 2 x C-54s and 9 x C-117s ..... ah happy days !

 

My links on the C-119:
Gateway to my C-119 pages
Background info on the C-119
My C-119 photos at Greybull in 1994
Ralph Pettersen at Greybull in 2003
A C-119 mystery at Battle Mountain,NV
C-119s at Ft.Campbell,KY
RoCAF C-119 3173 in Taiwan, another mystery

External links:
12th T.C. Squadron A webpage with lots of information on the C-119
Last commercial C-119s, now in Alaska
C-119 information by David Steiner
Joe Baugher's USAF Serial Number Search Results: C-119
Joe Baugher's Navy & Serial Number Search Results: C-119

Chuck Lunsford 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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