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The XC-120 Packplane: One of the USAF’s Best Failed Ideas

Written by on Friday, June 8th, 2012

There have been some odd hybrid aircraft throughout military history. The XF-85 Goblin was part plane, part cargo. The Sea Dart was as much a boat as it was a plane. The USS Macon was both a surveillance blimp capable of spying past enemy lines, as well as an aircraft carrier that unloaded half a dozen fighter aircraft in times of danger.

How about this one: what would it look like if you combined a tractor trailer with an aircraft? The result would be the XC-120 Packplane, one of the strangest aircraft in aviation history. The idea behind this aircraft was to combine the maneuverability and speed of a aircraft with the modular cargo capabilities of a tractor trailer. The XC-120 featured a standardized cargo pod that could quickly be detached and reattached.

On paper this seems like an ingenious idea. Air bases could load up the cargo pods with anything they like, keep them in storage, and then just drive them out to the tarmac whenever a XC-120 was slated for take-off. Instead of taking the time to load all of the cargo individually, they would simply need to line the pod up with the XC-120, hook everything up, and the plane would be good to go. Less time dealing with crates means that the plane can spend more time in the air, saving time, money, and possibly lives.

The plane’s buy cialis edrugstore manufacturer, Fairchild, converted a C-119 Flying Boxcar cargo aircraft into the tractor-trailer-like XC-120 (an appropriate choice, no?). Basically, they just cut a C-119 in half horizontally from the nose of the plane all the way to the back and turned each half into its own self-contained unit. Voila: the world’s first XC-120.

You’d think that this idea would have caught on like a wildfire, but the aircraft never made it out of the test phase. That wasn’t any fault of the aircraft or its engineers; the aircraft performed perfectly and met all expectations. Then what was the problem?

It’s hard to say, for sure. Little information exists about the military’s decision to scrap the project. Of all the failed military aircraft that never made it past the first prototype, the XC-120 truly held some promise. Even modern cargo aircraft could benefit from a detachable modular transport system. Perhaps the prospect of converting the cargo fleet into a standardized XC-120 pod system promised to be too much of a budget hurdle. Perhaps the Department of Defense decided against purchasing so many pods, which would take up space when they weren’t being used. Either way, the XC-120 was a brilliant idea that was on the cusp of revolutionizing aerial transportation; unfortunately, the idea just never really took off. You think it was just lacking a good marketing slogan?


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