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C-123 Thunder Pig Returning to Oshkosh
April 27, 2017 - There are many aircraft that would emerge famous from the war in Vietnam. Aircraft like the F-4 Phantom and UH-1 Huey are icons of the conflict. Another aircraft, an unsung hero of the war in Southeast Asia, was the Fairchild C-123 Provider. Today, not many C-123s remain and most of them are on static display in museums. But a museum just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Air Heritage Museum, works tirelessly to ensure that at least one stays flying. Their C-123, affectionately known as Thunder Pig is a flying memorial to the men and women who gave all in Vietnam.
The Provider was originally designed as a glider by the Chase Company. Through a change in hands of the contracts of the Chase Company, Fairchild was selected to develop the Chase design into the C-123 Provider. The aircraft did not deploy at first, but the U.S. Army was using the Caribou on short and rough runways with great success and the U.S. Air Force decided that they too needed an aircraft in theater with the same capabilities. The C-123 was initially powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines and later models were upgraded with supplemental jet engines, culminating in the K-model that carried two J-85s in pods under the wings. These aircraft would serve many roles under the flags of many countries. While their main mission would be airlift, they would also serve as VIP transports, and even night surveillance aircraft on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The aircraft would also take part in Operation Ranch Hand, which was a mission to defoliate the jungle in order to expose enemy troops. The CIA’s covert airline, Air America, also used the Provider extensively.
Thunder Pig served in numerous units in the United States through its military career and found itself in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. There, warbird collector David Tallichet purchased the aircraft along with a fleet of others. Eventually the group from Air Heritage was approached about the aircraft and asked if they would like it for their museum. The museum dispatched several expeditions to explore any issues with the airplane and research how to repair it to flying condition. When the door was first opened it was discovered to be a home for a coyote who was none too pleased to have visitors. Through hard work and dedication, along with support from the home base in Beaver Falls, the team repaired the aircraft in to a state that it could be ferried back to Pennsylvania. Pilot Bob Huddock flew the aircraft back along with several crew members including a former C-123 crew chief named Virgil Wyke. With the C-123 safely back in Pennsylvania, restoration work continued, and the airplane is now the sole known flying example of this proud warbird you see today. The aircraft can be seen at air shows across the country and even in a few movies. This summer the C-123 Thunder Pig will be a proud addition to the warbird lineup here in Oshkosh.
This airplane has another EAA connection as well. Our own museum program representative Chris Henry, EAA Lifetime 41434, had the privilege of working on Thunder Pig as a teenager.
“I was part of the crew who restored this airplane,” he said. “Through this restoration I worked closely with mentors who would help guide my aviation career. I am very thankful that they were the teachers they were, or I might not be doing what I get to do today. The crew of the C-123 Thunder Pig truly carry forward The Spirit of Aviation.”