What does Chippewa Township have that no one else in the world has? It happens to be a 68-year-old airworthy airplane affectionately known as Thunder Pig. The airplane is owned and operated, and proudly housed in the hangar at Air Heritage Aviation Museum at the Beaver County Airport. The Thunder Pig is the only Vietnam Era Fairchild C-123K Provider, left flying in the world. The C-123 was designed by Chase Aircraft Company. When Chase could not produce the number of airplanes needed by the United States Air Force, Fairchild Aircraft took over the contract to manufacture approximately three hundred C-123s for the military. Out of those three hundred airplanes, only one still feels the breeze under her wings and she is right here in your own backyard. 

Rarely does a day go by when a Vietnam Veteran does not share a story or memory about their wartime flight on a C-123 during their time in Southeast Asia on Air Heritage Aviation Museum’s Facebook page or at the museum. Images posted of the C-123 evoke many good, bad, funny, and touching comments from veterans. The C-123s were used to deliver supplies, to evacuate the wounded, for flying airlift, airdrop missions, night flair dropping missions, and infamously used for the Ranch Hand defoliant program or the spraying of the herbicide Agent Orange over the dense jungle in South Vietnam. In addition to the dangerous exposure of herbicides, C-123 crews endured being the most shot-at USAF aircraft in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Even with the C-123’s sordid herbicide history during the war, it is still the history of the veterans who fought valiantly and who deserve to have their history preserved and their stories told for generations to come and come they do to the museum and to airshows to see the Thunder Pig! Fortunately, Air Heritage Aviation Museum’s C-123 remained state side during the Vietnam War and it was used strictly for training, therefore, the Thunder Pig was not exposed to herbicides or enemy fire.

Aviation enthusiasts come from near and far to travel to the one-of-a-kind museum and aircraft restoration facility in Chippewa Township, especially to behold the Thunder Pig. Recently, Air Heritage Aviation Museum President Tom Gargaro welcomed Thomas Hofman who is one of our international members during his visit to the museum. Thomas flew to Pittsburgh from his home in Kloten, Switzerland for a single reason; he wanted to see our Fairchild C-123 Provider “Thunder Pig” in person. Thomas works for Swiss International Airlines as a Flight Attendant and Cabin Chief and plans on a return trip someday to hopefully fly on the Thunder Pig. In addition to Thomas, who joined Air Heritage Aviation Museum last year, three of his aviation enthusiast friends from Switzerland and Germany also joined. They are planning on visiting the museum this summer as a group. 

Air Heritage Aviation President Tom Gargaro explains why it is important to preserve the Thunder Pig, “It is important to preserve the aircraft so that we can remember and respect those who participated in the Vietnam War. It is our way to honor the men and women who served our country when called upon. It is a connection to the past and a reminder to the younger generation and future generations of what those brave soldiers did in the name of freedom. Our goal is to keep our C-123 in top condition and airworthy so that the grandchildren of the grandchildren of a Vietnam Veteran will see the Thunder Pig fly someday. We make a gallant effort to find pilots, A&P (airframe and powerplant) mechanics, replacement parts, and most importantly, the funds to keep the Thunder Pig preserved and airworthy. We are looking for anyone who can fly, work on, or help fund our effort. We were lucky enough to find new member Ethan Popour who is an A&P mechanic. His grandfather was a Vietnam Veteran who was a C-123 mechanic during the war. Ethan wants to follow in his footsteps and honor him by training with our C-123 to keep the Thunder Pig mechanically sound. In addition, to flying and maintaining the Thunder Pig, we are looking for new members to help finance our mission. Donations at the museum are welcome, but our lifeblood is our membership. Please consider joining by applying at the hangar or by finding our membership application on our website or Facebook page. We have a bi-monthly membership meeting that all members are invited to join via ZOOM or in person. We also opened our hangar for aviation related parties and events, and it is available to reserve. A birthday party was recently hosted for a retired Air Force Veteran with the magnificent Douglas C-47 “Luck of the Irish” as the hangar centerpiece. The partygoers were wowed by the venue to say the least. If you are interested in reserving a date, please contact the museum (724) 843-2820. Air Heritage Aviation Museum is a non-profit educational institution. All volunteers are unpaid and 100% of all our donations and fundraising efforts go to maintaining the museum and our historical aircraft. We are dedicated and proud of being an integral part of the Chippewa Township community. We hope that you are proud of us too!” ν

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