C-5 Galaxy Large Transport Aircraft

One of Jane's Fighting Nodes!

This is the biggest beast in the U.S. Air Force's bag of tricks. Built by Lockheed-Georgia, the first operational C-5 was delivered to the Air Force in 1970. All C-5's now in service are operated by the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, and are used to transport U.S. forces and equipment worldwide. Although the C-5 had severe teething troubles when it was first introduced (akin to the B-1B Lancer), it is now a relatively reliable airplane.

The good stuff: It's huge. Really big. Really, really, big. It may at one time have been the world's largest flying airplane (that title now belongs to the Russian Antonov An-225 Mriya transporter). In any case, it has several notable good bits about it.

  • Twin access. Both ends of the aircraft open to allow access to the massive cargo deck. The nose of the aircraft hinges upward just beneath the high cockpit; the rear has a ramp that lowers. This allows loading and unloading of the airplane to occur simultaneously, a time-saver which allows higher operational tempo.
  • Relatively short runway use. Relatively is the key word. With a full load, the C-5 can operate from runways 8,500 feet in length or less; a size typically available at any commercial widebody airport.
  • Large landing gear. 28 wheels share and distribute the weight of the airplane.
  • Kneeling suspension. The entire plane can be lowered hydraulically on its landing gear in order to facilitate loading. Loading ramps at both ends are of a width to allow drive-on/drive-off in either direction.

The heaviest item the C-5 is regularly tasked to carry is the U.S. Army Mobile Scissors Bridge. Weighing in at 74 tons, this is an extensible vehicle bridge that is built onto a tracked vehicles chassis. For comparison, the M1-A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank weighs under 70 tons.

The current revision of the C-5 is the C-5B, which incorporates many improvements into the original design. The last C-5B was delivered in March of 1989. Current upgrades now underway plan to keep the C-5A and C-5B aircraft (originally a total of 126 aircraft) operating for at least the next two decades. Current aircraft are powered by four T39 turbofans, rated at over 42,000 lbs. of thrust each.

Finally, some stats!

  • Primary Function: Outsize cargo transport
  • Prime Contractor: Lockheed-Georgia Co.
  • Power Plant: Four General Electric TF-39 engines
  • Thrust: 43,000 pounds, each engine, x 4
  • Wingspan: 222.9 feet (67.89 meters)
  • Length: 247.1 feet (75.3 meters)
  • Height: 65.1 feet (19.84 meters)
  • Cargo Compartment: height , 13.5 feet (4.11 meters); width, 19 feet (5.79 meters); length, 143 feet, 9 in (43.8 meters)
  • Pallet Positions: 36
  • Maximum Cargo: 270,000 pounds (122,472 kilograms)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: C-5B 769,000 pounds (348,818 kilograms) (peacetime), 840,000 pounds (381,024 kilograms) (wartime)
  • Speed: 518 mph (.77 Mach)
  • Range: 6,320 nautical miles (empty)
  • Crew: 7 (pilot, co-pilot, two flight engineers and three loadmasters)
  • Unit Cost:C-5A - $152.8 million (FY98 constant dollars) C-5B - $179 million (FY98 constant dollars)
  • Deployed:C-5A - 1969, C-5B - 1980

Info courtesy of Lockheed Martin Corporation and the U.S. Air Force fact sheet library

The C-5 is one of the 'coolest' planes in the USAF, just because of its capacity and the awe factor (if you're in the US haven't yet, go to one of the open house type things your local AFB has usually once a year. I don't know how 9-11 will affect this, though). All of the things in The Custodian's writeup being true, the C-5 fleet has one very big disadvantage:

It breaks down more often than a Chevy.

Let me give you some background info on how I know this.

The USAF has a thing called 'space-available travel,' in which active duty personnel and their dependants (like me) can effectively hitch a ride to wherever the transport is going, if there is space available on the plane. Normally there are a few seats lining the sides of an airplane next to the cargo, and if you don't mind all the noise and playing the odds of whether or not the plane actually goes, it's a nice free trip about the country and the world.

The C-5 can carry roughly 80 people onto a trip, making it rather popular on this sort of outing. By comparison, the average medical flight will have 5 to 20 seats available, as will most any other plane you can space-a with.

The reason I know this is because I've flown on a half-dozen space-a flights and I have never seen a C-5 actually make its takeoff time. In fact, I've only heard of one or two taking off at all! An aircraft engine mechanic friend I know in the Air Force, stationed in Okinawa, took a guess for me that at any one time about half to three quarters of the C-5's in the USAF run well enough to take off and land anywhere nearby.

This relates, of course, to why the AF wanted to get some C-17 Globemaster III's into the fleet, though the writeup on that explains why I'm not so sure about them, either.

So that's the bad news. Thing is, even if only half the C-5's are running ... they could still take the home of you and most of your friends from one end of the Earth to the other :)

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