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Fairchild Aircraft Corporation: An Extraordinary Company

By Alan Smith

Fairchild C-123 Provider (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)In 1924, a man named Sherman Fairchild decided he wanted to build airplanes. The powered airplane had been introduced by the Wright brothers just 21 years before, aviation had been through the first world war, and a different kind of aircraft design competition had occurred in the demanding field of aerial combat. Racing in time trials had begun in France in 1909, and closed-course air racing had begun in the United States in 1922.

Fairchild decided that he could contribute with aircraft for use by the general public. He was right. One of his first was the Fairchild FC-1, the first private aircraft with a fully enclosed cockpit and a hydraulic landing gear.

During the 1920s Fairchild also set up business in Canada with Fairchild Aircraft Ltd, and supplied several FC (Fairchild cabin) aircraft that contributed to the development of northern Canada and even ventured into Alaska. Most of these were seaplanes that replaced a problematical Curtiss seaplane that developed leaky floats in freezing weather.

Beyond just designing and building airplanes the new private aviation interests might want, Fairchild thought about what the airplane could be used for in a still growing nation. He came up with the idea of using aircraft for aerial photography. The weight of the cameras of those days was great, and the airplane needed to fly steadily and sometimes at high altitudes. In 1930, the U.S government hired Fairchild’s FC-2 to photograph the nation’s land to track soil erosion and its effect.

C-119 Flying Boxcar (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Forces)Through the years both the company’s diversity, combined with its impact on the aviation industry became almost incredible. During World War II Fairchild built cargo carriers like the C-82 Packet, a twin-boomed, twin-engine freighter. During the war, Fairchild also supplied the Air Force with the PT-19 and PT-23 as low-wing trainers along with the F-24 four-seater.

After the war, Fairchild began a relationship with Boeing that extended into the 1980s, building fuselages and wing panels for B-52 bombers, and later wing and tail surfaces for the 747 and 757. They also built tail surfaces for the F-4 Phantom. More diversity included acquiring the rights to the light, twin-engine, high-wing transport Fokker Friendship and building it here as the Fairchild F-27. Stepping back a few years, the company acquired Republic Aviation in 1965 and produced the A-10 The beginning of the FC-71 Seaplane (Photo courtesy of the Western Canada Air Museum)Thunderbolt, a twin-jet military aircraft nicknamed the “Warthog.”

Finally Sherman Fairchild’s life came to an end, and in 1971 the company’s name was changed to Fairchild Industries.

An attempt was made to provide the USAF with a new jet trainer designated the T-34 but, because of performance problems, it was not accepted. Then in 1984, aircraft production at Hagerstown, Md. finally ceased. The company continued as a subcontractor and management got interested in the German Dornier Company and their small jet transport. In 1996, Fairchild acquired the assets of Dorrnier and became Fairchild Dornier. In 1999, the German insurance company Allianz acquired Fairchild along with an American investment advisory firm for $1.2 billion. But the company would not be gone from home for long. In 2003 the Fairchild assets were acquired by M7 Aerospace and the company was reestablished in San Antonio, Texas.

It’s obvious that Sherman Fairchild not only had talent in early aircraft design but a creative business mind, The result was not only new and inventive aircraft, but workable business coalitions. We can only be happy that he was among us for nearly 40 years. 




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Reader Comments (1)

Really great information.

January 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Edward Reif

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