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'Flying Boxcar' back home

Plane built in Hagerstown makes return landing

Plane built in Hagerstown makes return landing

October 16, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A plane that took to the skies just as World War II was ending received a hero's welcome Sunday, as officials paid tribute to Hagerstown's aviation history.

Two vintage aircraft escorted the last flight of a C-82 "Flying Boxcar," a huge tractor-trailer truck of an airplane designed to haul troops and equipment. The plane tilted its wings in a wave and scattered ball caps and visors from the heads of people gathered on the ground before landing at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

No ticker-tape parades greeted its return, but for about 200 other aviation enthusiasts and Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp. alumni, friends and family, the C-82's homecoming was a victory.

"For an airplane lover, it doesn't get any better than this," said Landis Whitsel of Quincy, Pa., an artist for the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, which bought the Hagerstown-built model at auction in August.

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A former paratrooper, Charles McCloud of Hagerstown said he jumped from C-82s during his time in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Now 78, McCloud expressed admiration for the C-82.

"I might even want to make a blast out of that. We call jumping making a blast. I might even want to make a blast because they (are) good airplanes," said McCloud, a Korean War veteran who claimed he jumped about 80 times from C-82-type planes.

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the 106 1/2-foot-wingspan C-82 Packet, nicknamed the "Flying Boxcar," could carry 41 paratroops or 34 stretchers and haul up to 54,000 pounds. Some of the 223 C-82 aircraft Fairchild made participated in the Berlin Airlift, a museum Web site states.

J. Allen Clopper, who worked in Fairchild's flight-test engineering department, said he witnessed the model's first flight and its last.

On Sept. 10, 1944, when the C-82 first took to the skies, Clopper was responsible for turning out a test-flight report.

"The C-82 that day accelerated down the runway and to everyone's surprise, was airborne about midway," Clopper said during remarks to the crowd. Contrary to military regulations, the aircraft had no parachutes aboard, he said.

Clopper said the test pilot's report addressed the mess-up.

"'The first taxi run developed into the first takeoff when the aircraft was found to be airborne in good condition,'" the report explained.

According to Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Hagerstown museum still is seeking money in its effort to find a home for the C-82, which he said is the last air-worthy plane of its type. The museum paid $140,000 for the plane in August, he said.

The C-82, which served as the model for the more powerful C-119, brought Hagerstown worldwide recognition, said Clopper, who retired from Fairchild in 1972. As he spoke during an interview, a C-130, which has been described as the workhorse of the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, thundered overhead.

"That's the airplane that put us out of the transport business," Clopper said of the mammoth plane.

As they left the airport, where the C-82 will be displayed, Joann Clark and Mary Clever shared their memories of working at Fairchild.

The Hagerstown sisters said at one time, seven siblings in their family worked for the company. Seeing the C-82 come back was "fabulous," said Clever, who worked in the small-parts department from 1941 to 1958.

Clark said she remembers watching Fairchild planes fly outside. She worked in the office, she said, and she is proud of the C-82.

"I'm sure it took troops overseas. I'm sure it took equipment overseas during the war. You can't help but feel a sense of pride," Clark said.

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