Construction of the first C-119 aircraft to be built in 20 years is nearing completion here. The plane is an AC-119 “Stinger”, the gunship version of a once docile, now vanishing species of cargo carrying aircraft. It is scheduled to make its maiden flight soon from a small airstrip on the base’s golf driving range. Actually, the new Stinger is a remote-controlled scale model. It has been under construction since August by Capt. John F. Hupe, a navigator assigned to the 18th Special Operations Squadron.
To plan the model, Captain Hupe used a yard stick and a camera taking more than 30 detailed photographs and measurements of an actual Stinger gunship. Shots were taken from every angle, including three views of the reciprocating engines, four shots of the guns, and a close-up of the wheel-well interior. Armed with his photographs and specifications, the captain drafted plans for a 20-to-1 scale model with a 72-inch wing-span. Construction started with the fuselage, and then moved to the wing center section and booms. The spars and firewalls were carved out of birch plywood while balsa sheets were used for the outer skin. Held together with nylon bolts, the plane’s body may be disassembled into small sections for transport.
The only tools Captain Hupe had were carving knives, sandpaper, an electric drill and a soldering iron. Members of the base sheet metal section and machine shop did the welding and fashioning of the landing gear on their own time.
The plane will be powered by two Ehya .45 engines at .8 horsepower each with no help coming from two dummy jet pods. Flight control is centered in a 4-channel radio transmitter with two joysticks. One stick controls the nose wheel, rudder and throttles, while the other controls the elevator and ailerons. The ten-pound model will carry 20 ounces of nitromethane fuel for an endurance of 20 minutes.
On July 18, 1972 at Nakhon Phanom (NKP), Thailand, a hand-built, six foot wingspan AC-119K Stinger model was flown. The owner, Capt John Hupe (Navigator), built it from scratch using tech data for all the details. It was ready to fly 2 weeks before the end of his tour. A gathering of 60, or so, fellow crewmembers were on hand to watch the maiden flight. It flew, an engine failed, it rolled over and crashed, and became a forgotten story for 39 years.
Then, something happened! Someone found a phone number for John Hupe and a phone call was made. The result of that call is now an effort to fly it, again. After making contact with John Hupe by phone during the 2011 reunion, newsletter editor Bill Petrie published a story about that phone call in the Winter 2011/2012 edition of our newsletter. The final paragraph Bill wrote read, “And now you know the rest of the story!
But do we? Will the AC-119K “Stinger” fly again?” Bill had written that because John Hupe had said he had no plans to repair the aircraft, nor to fly it. With Bill posing that question, it gave me the idea to see if John would change his mind. I had learned from John that he had doubts about his Radio Controlled (RC) model-flying abilities. I felt that if that is the only reason, perhaps he might change his mind if a more qualified person could be found. But where will I find one within the association? The association won’t be meeting again until the 2012 reunion in September.
Then I remembered a local friend, Ray Lischka, who once was a radio-controlled modeler. I called Ray to see how he felt a fellow modeler would react at the proposal of rebuilding John’s Stinger and then flying it for him. His immediate thought was that most RC hobbyists would be all for it. Then he wanted to know where it is and how much damage. So I told him it was in Kansas and that it might be best that I check with an RC modeler club near John Hupe. After talking with Ray, I gave it more thought. Since John lives in a relatively small town in Kansas, and John had plans to attend the reunion in September, maybe John would be receptive to shipping it to Fort Walton Beach (FWB) if I found someone there who would be willing to tackle the project. That way it could be ready to fly before the reunion.
A search for “RC Modellers in FWB” on the internet revealed the e-mail address of the Eglin Aero Modellers Club president, Rob Campbell. I e-mailed Rob asking him for the phone number of anyone he knew who might be interested in taking on the project. He answered with his own phone number. I called him and he was ecstatic about the project and said he would get the approval to do it, themselves, at his upcoming club meeting. Rob went on to tell me that they would only charge for the necessary parts-nothing for the labor and they would get their best “Ace” to fly it. “Hot Damn!”, I thought. If this doesn’t change John’s mind about rebuilding and flying it again, nothing will. Armed with the aforementioned plan, I called John. I could almost hear the bells and whistles going off in his mind. He said he wanted to give me a go, but would have to wait until his family was told of the plan and agreed to let it find a new home in a suitable museum.
John contacted all of his heirs and approved the plan. Rather than endanger his Stinger to damage through shipping (keep in mind it is quite large), he elected to deliver it himself. On 14 July, 2012, just 4 days prior to the 40th anniversary of the maiden flight, John drove to FWB (an 1100 mile trip) and delivered it to Rob Campbell. Rob expects to have the Stinger repaired by mid-August. In the meantime, he is making contact with various media to cover the project through the repair and the various flights that will follow.
AC-119K Model Takes to the Skies!
Eglin Aero Modellers club, building and flying remote-control model aircraft for 40 years. “It’s not even my airplane and I’m really shaking. We just want this to work so badly.”
The airplane is a radio-controlled model of an AC-119K Stinger gunship. It belongs to 69-year-old John Hupe of Wamego, Kan., who designed and built it from scratch in 1972, while he was flying the real thing out of Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand as part of the 18th Special Operations Squadron. Hupe spent a year building his model airplane, flew it once, and crashed it. “One engine quit and it fell into a mud hole,” he recalls all these years later. “Honestly, though, it didn’t bother me a bit. I was done with my year in Vietnam, and I was going home. I was smiling all the way.” Hupe’s model came home to Kansas too, and there it sat, boxed up. It became part of the lore of the AC-119 Association, whose members started having annual reunions a dozen years ago.
Then, an idea was floated: How about this time, we get the thing fixed, and fly it at the 2012 reunion, to be held Sept. 26-30 in Fort Walton Beach? Hupe himself was thrilled at the thought. “I’ve had it at my house 40 years,” he points out. “It has a 6-foot wing span. I was debating what to do with it, donate it to someone? Put it in a museum? I have three sons but they don’t have room in their homes for something that size.” So in July, Hupe carted his prized possession to Fort Walton Beach – a 1,100-mile-drive from Kansas – and handed it off to the Eglin Aero Modellers Club, whose members had agreed to restore the airplane and make it fly again. Last weekend, Hupe was in town again, to see them make good on their pledge.
And it wasn’t just any flight. Back in its heyday, the AC-119 flew over the Ho Chi Minh Trail “to try and stop the movement of ammunition, troops, guns and everything else the NVA was moving from North Vietnam to South Vietnam,” explains reunion attendee James Dunn, a 75-year-old retired Lt Col from Michigan. So the model airplane’s demonstration flight would be a simulation over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, circa 1972. There was a mission checklist (in large print), a target vehicle and even special effects (a bit of fireworks to look like gunfire from the aircraft).
It went off without a hitch. “It was very much a success,” reports Hupe, who was even able to be at his plane’s controls for a short while. “I can’t tell you how good I felt, how moved I really was, to see it up and flying.” Afterward, members of the AC-119 Association formally presented Hupe’s model airplane to their modern-day counterparts at the 18th Flight Test Squadron at Hurlburt Field, who will put it on permanent display. “It seems to me to be the best spot in the world for it,” Hupe says. “They know the history of it. It pretty well made my day, doing that. It’s such a fitting place for the model to go.”