Developed by Fairchild, the C-82 was intended as a heavy-lift cargo aircraft to succeed prewar civilian designs like the Curtiss C-46 Commando and Douglas C-47 Dakota using non-critical materials in its construction, primarily plywood and steel, so as not to compete with the production of combat aircraft. However, by early 1943 changes in specifications resulted in plans for an all-metal aircraft. The aircraft was designed for a number of roles, including cargo carrier, troop transport, parachute drop, medical evacuation, and glider towing. It featured a rear-loading ramp with wide doors and an empennage set 14 feet (4.3 m) off the ground that permitted trucks and trailers to back up to the doors without obstruction. The single prototype first flew on 10 September 1944. The aircraft were built at the Fairchild factory in Hagerstown, Maryland, with deliveries beginning in 1945 and ending in September 1948.
Problems surfaced almost immediately, as the aircraft was found to be underpowered and its airframe inadequate for the heavy lifting it was intended to perform. As a result, the Air Force turned to Fairchild for a solution to the C-82's shortcomings. A redesign was quickly performed under the designation XC-82B, which would overcome all of the C-82A's initial problems.
Fairchild C-82 Packet dropping paratroops in training exercise
Three C-82s and various troops and cargo in 1948
Fairchild C-82 Packet
First flown in 1944, the first delivery was not until June 1945 and only a few entered service before the end of the war. In the end, only 223 C-82As would be built, a small number for a wartime production cargo aircraft. Most were used for cargo and troop transport, although a few were used for paratroop operations or towing military gliders. A redesign of the XC-82B would result in the production of the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar.
In 1946, the United States Postal Service explored the concept of flying post offices using highly modified C-82s, which would operate similarly to those on trains where mail would be sorted by clerks and put in bags and then transferred to trucks on landing.
In 1948, a C-82 was fitted with track-gear landing gear, similar to the tracks on a crawler tractor, that allowed landings on unpaved, primitive runways.
During the Berlin Blockade, five C-82 aircraft carried large disassembled earthmoving equipment into the city to enable the construction of Berlin Tegel Airport in the fall of 1948.
Though relatively unsuccessful, the C-82A is best considered as an early development stage of the much more successful C-119B Flying Boxcar. The C-82A saw limited production before being replaced by the Flying Boxcar.
The C-82 was retired from the United States Air Force inventory in 1954.
Civil airline operations
After the C-82A became surplus to United States Air Force requirements, small numbers were sold to civilian operators in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and the United States and these were utilized for many years as rugged freight aircraft, capable of carrying bulky items of cargo. The last example was retired in the late 1980s.
Airframe weight reduction program to increase cargo weights and increased power from Pratt & Whitney R-2800CB-16 engines. Application applied to at least three Jet-Packet 1600s or 3400s, including the TWA C-82A Ontos.
Steward-Davis Skytruck I
1964, C-82A aircraft with 60,000 lb (27,000 kg) takeoff weight, improved performance and a hot-air de-icing system, one converted. The Skytruck brand-name was allegedly the inspiration for Elleston Trevor's Skytruck in the 1964 novel, The Flight of the Phoenix.
1965 A C-82A redesign with the fuselage floor separating from the aircraft from nose to tail for large cargoes and the installation of an internal hoist. Only one aircraft was converted.
Brazilian Air Force -- the Primeiro Grupo de Transporte de Tropa (1st Troop Transport Group) operated C-82s of 1956-1969
The C-82 is perhaps best known for its role in the 1964 novel, The Flight of the Phoenix, and Robert Aldrich's original 1965 film version. Based on the novel by Elleston Trevor, the story features a C-82A Packet operated by the fictional Arabco Oil Company. It crashes in the Libyan desert, and is rebuilt by the passengers and crew, using one tail boom, and is then flown to safety. Such an aircraft was made for the movie and certified airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration. Paul Mantz, possibly the greatest Hollywood stunt pilot in history with 25,000 flight hours, was killed with the cameras rolling when he bounced the skids of the craft down too hard in a touch-and-go, buckling and breaking the fuselage behind the wing, sending the craft nose-down hard into the desert, tumbling it completely over at 90 mph. Mantz was killed instantly.
Minor league baseball namesake
In 1953, the local minor league baseball team in Hagerstown, Maryland, was the Hagerstown Braves, so called because they were a minor league affiliate of the major league Milwaukee Braves. The Hagerstown team switched affiliation to the Washington Senators for the 1954 season. Instead of using the major league nickname, they chose the name Hagerstown Packets in tribute to the C-82. The Hagerstown Packets played in the Piedmont League during the 1954 and 1955 seasons.