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Developed as an efficient camera plane in 1927, the Fairchild FC-2 was the production version of Sherman Fairchild's first aircraft, the FC-1. It could cruise for long distances at high altitudes because it had an enclosed cabin to protect the crew and equipment. The basic design was so good that the aircraft's duties rapidly expanded to include airmail delivery, passenger flights, freight hauling, and bush flying.

The Fairchild FC-2 on display above was one of the first aircraft flown by Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) in South America. It made the first scheduled passenger flight in Peru, from Lima to Talara on September 13, 1928. It could carry five persons, including the pilot.

Long Description

The All-Purpose Monoplane’ of Sherman Mills Fairchild, despite its unassuming appearance, was designed for aerial photography. It was such a success that it was also used as a light transport in the Canadian bush country, in the jungles and mountains of South America, and on the Antarctic continent.

Sherman Fairchild was an important designer, builder, and user of aerial cameras in the early 1920s. None of the aircraft then available met the requirements of his work. His criteria for a usable airplane included a wide field of view for the pilot and photographer and stability for high-altitude camera work. The ability to operate out of small, rough fields and the space to accommodate the bulky contemporary cameras were also important.

Norm MacQueen was Fairchild’s engineer. Fred Weymouth, Professor Alexander Klemin, Fairchild chief pilot Dick Depew, and chief photographer F.P. Lott assisted in the design.

The resulting aircraft was the Fairchild FC-1, which first flew on June 14, 1926, for twenty-three minutes. It was powered by the then standard Curtiss OX-5 engine. The airplane had a closed, heated cabin, which was unusual for the time. The fuselage narrowed at the pilot’s window, and V-shaped struts supported a semicantilever wing. An unusual three-longeron structure gave rise to the "razor back" nickname; later models with a more conventional four-longeron structure were called "turtle back."

A unique feature of the Fairchild monoplane, however, was that the wings folded for easier storage and road mobility. The folding operation was simple—two men in two minutes could fold the 44-foot span into a 13-foot compact unit. Unfolding took about the same amount of time. A large Yale padlock hung down in clear view of the pilot to show that the wings were locked in place.

The criteria that produced a fine camera plane also produced an aircraft adaptable for a number of other purposes. The FC-1 flew in the Ford Casey Jones, veteran airman and proprietor 01 the Curtiss Flying Service, ordered several Fairchilds for his operation. His interest in the Fairchild was regarded as significant by aircraft buyers.

The first production model of the Fairchild was the FC-2. The Curtiss OX-5 was replaced by the more powerful Wright J-4 engine, which became a major factor in the success of the FC-2.

The first FC-2 off the production line was procured by the U.S. Department of Commerce and was used to accompany Lindbergh on his goodwill tour of the United States in the Spirit of St Louis.

Float-equipped FC-2s were used extensively in the demanding Canadian bush country. In the United States, Colonial Air Transport flew FC-2s.

A number of Fairchilds were used in significant and record-breaking flights. The Fairchild FC-2 La Nina, piloted by Cy CaIdwell, delivered Pan American’s first contract airmail by proxy. The City of New York, piloted by Charles Collyer and carrying J. H. Mears, made an around-the-world trip in 1928. The plane flew over the land areas, but was carried across the oceans by ship. Another FC-2 made the first New York-Miami nonstop flight in January 1928.

The most famous individual Fairchild, however, was the FC-2W Stars and Stripes, which was the first airplane to fly on the continent of Antarctica. It was left in the ice at the end of the first expedition, but was recovered, refurbished and flown four years later by the second expedition. Much of the aircraft was later used to supply parts for other FC2s, but portions of it are now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

The museum’s FC-2, NC6853, represents the first service airplane of Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) in 1929. Aircraft of this type, possibly the museum specimen, flew the first Peruvian Airway flight from Lima to Talara. Peru, on September 13, 1928. This same plane is also thought to have made the first international airmail and passenger flight between Lima and Guayaquil. Ecuador. It was sent to the National Air and Space Museum in 1949, from Lima, by Panagra.

Display Status

This object is on display in America by Air at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

America by Air
Object Details
Date 1928-1949 Country of Origin United States of America Type CRAFT-Aircraft Manufacturer Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation
Physical Description Air transport; single engine; hi-wing monoplane. Dimensions 3-D: 944.9 × 274.3cm, 1012kg, 13.411m (31 × 9 ft., 2231lb., 44 ft.)
Width represented reflects aircraft with wings folded.
Dimensions taken by Move Contractor on behalf of CSC at the time of deinstall. Record Updated 12/15/2020. See As-Built in Media section for additional information.
Materials Steel Tubing with Doped Cotton Covering.
Inventory Number A19490054000 Credit Line Gift of Pan American-Grace Airways, Inc. Data Source National Air and Space Museum Restrictions & Rights Usage conditions apply
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