C-5 Galaxy

C-5 Galaxy

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is a heavy logistics military transport aircraft designed to provide world-wide massive strategic airlift. The CONUS based fleet can provide delivery of palletized, oversized and outsized cargo, as well as passengers or combat-ready troops, anywhere in the world on short notice. The aircraft can takeoff and land in relatively short distances and taxi on substandard surfaces during emergency operations. The C-5 also plays a limited role in the airdrop and special operations arenas.


In 1963, realizing that they needed a jet-powered replacement for the exhausted, turboprop-powered C-133 Cargomaster, the United States Air Force began to study very large logistic transports. After reviewing several airframe designs, they eventually choose one similar to that of the C-141A Starlifter featuring a high-set wing (swept 25 degrees), four underwing jet engines and a T-tail.

This enormous aircraft, first known as the CX-HLS (Cargo Experimental-Heavy Logistics System) transport, was required to carry a payload of 125,000 pounds (56,700kg) over a distance of 8,000 miles (12,875km), or twice that load over a shorter distance. It also had to be able to operate, at maximum weight capacity, from the same runway lengths and semi-prepared runways as the C-141A (8,000 feet (2,438m) takeoff / 4,000 feet (1,219m) landing). Another major requirement, and the most controversial, was the design-life factor for the wing; it must survive for 30,000 flying hours.

The design competition was between Boeing (which entered its initial designs for the Model 747, before it was incorporated as a commercial passenger carrier), Douglas and Lockheed-Georgia. Lockheed won the contract in October 1965 with a design that was an extension of the company’s Hercules/Starlifter series. With a gross weight of 764,500 pounds (346,771kg), Lockheed’s Model 500, later designated C-5A Galaxy, dwarfed not only other Air Force transports but also every other type of aircraft in existence.

Construction of the prototype began in August 1966. The first C-5A Galaxy (#66-8303) was “rolled out” on 2 March 1968 and prepared for initial flight trials at Lockheed’s Marietta plant, located adjacent to Dobbins AFB in Georgia. The maiden flight took place on 30 June 1968 and lasted 94 minutes; Lockheed pilots Leo J. Sullivan and Walter E. Hensleigh were at the controls. (Note: This aircraft was lost following a ground fire on 17 October 1970.)

The first phase of manufacturer’s flight trials proceeded without major problems (except for the loss of a main wheel during a routine landing; the media had a field day with this event). In July 1969, full-scale structural ground static tests resulted in a premature wing failure at 84 percent of the scheduled maximum design load. Nevertheless, while corrective measures were devised, flight tests proceeded in Georgia and California, where the 2nd C-5A had been delivered to Edwards AFB on 4 June 1969 to take part in the 6-month joint Air Force/contractor Category I testing.


Commonly described as, “The Box That The C-141 Came In,” the C-5A Galaxy was presented to the United States Air Force, for training purposes, in December 1969. The first operational aircraft were delivered to the 437th Military Airlift Wing (MAW), Charleston AFB, SC, in June 1970. In the mid-1970s, wing cracks were found throughout the fleet. Consequently, all C-5A aircraft were restricted to a maximum of 50,000 pounds (22,680kg) of cargo each. To increase their lifting capability and service life, 77 C-5As underwent a re-winging program from 1981 to 1987. (In the redesigned wing, a new aluminum alloy was used that didn’t exist ten years prior.) The final re-winged C-5A was delivered in July 1986.


In 1982, a new production version, the C-5B, was authorized in which all modifications and improvements evolved in the C-5A program were to be incorporated, including upgraded TF-39-GE-1C turbofan engines, extended-life wings, Bendix color weather radar, triple Delco inertial navigation systems (INS), an improved automated flight control system (AFCS) and a new, more advanced Malfunction Detection Analysis and Recording System (MADAR II). The C-5B dispensed with the C-5A’s complex crosswind landing gear system. The first flight of the C-5B (#83-1285) took place on 10 September 1985. Delivery of the 50 new aircraft commenced in January 1986 and ended in April 1989. All C-5Bs are scheduled to remain in the active duty force, shared by comparably sized Air Force Reserve associate units.


In the late-1980s, NASA had two C-5As (#68-0213 & #68-0216) modified to accommodate complete satellite and space station components. In each aircraft, the troop compartment, located in the aft upper deck, was removed and the aft cargo-door complex was modified to increase the dimensions of the cargo compartment’s aft loading area. Both aircraft are currently assigned to Travis AFB in Fairfield, California and have been redesignated as C-models. (Some unofficial sources claim this modification also enables the C-5C to be used for covert transportation of classified material between Lockheed’s Skunk Works in California and the test center at Groom Lake, Nevada, also known as Area 51.

Lockheed and the U.S. government will neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of this speculation.) Until the introduction of the Russian An-124 “Condor” (1982), the C-5A Galaxy was the largest and heaviest aircraft in the world. With its massive payload capacity, it has the capability to carry fully-equipped, combat-ready troops to any area of the world on short notice and provide the field support necessary to maintain a fighting force. Since 1970, it has opened unprecedented dimensions of strategic airlift in support of national defense and is invaluable to the Air Force mission and world-wide humanitarian relief efforts. Currently, there are six operational C-5 bases (all are located in the continental U.S.): Dover AFB, DE; Travis AFB, CA; Altus AFB, OK; Kelly AFB, TX; Westover ARB, MA; Stewart ANGB, NY.

Some Features

  • Exterior Setup: Four turbofan jet engines, high-set wing (swept 25 degrees), T-tail, forward and rear cargo loading assemblies, and a visor-type upward-hinged nose.
  • Upper-Deck Accommodations: The forward upper deck (flight deck) seats a cockpit crew of six, a relief crew of seven, and eight dignitaries or couriers; it also has two bunk rooms with three beds in each. The rear upper deck (troop compartment) seats 73 passengers and two loadmasters. Both upper deck compartments are fully pressurized, air-conditioned and incorporate galleys for food preparation and lavatories.
  • Cargo Compartment: Capacity: 36 fully-loaded 463L-type cargo pallets (88″ x 108″ @ 10,000 pound (4,536kg) capacity); 270 passengers in the air-bus configuration*; six transcontinental buses; two M1-A1 Abrams main battle tanks; seven UH-1 Huey helicopters; one U.S. Army 74-ton mobile scissors bridge. (A combination of pallets and wheeled vehicles can be carried together when required.)
  • Landing Gear: The enormous C-5 Galaxy has a very unique landing gear system consisting of a single nose strut, four main bogeys and a total of 28 wheels. The complex system offers “high flotation” capability for unpaved surfaces, freewheel castoring to facilitate ground maneuvering, and an offset swiveling capability (20 degrees left or right) for crosswind landings**. The landing gear system also has the capability of raising each set of wheels individually for simplified tire changes or brake maintenance. Size aside, the aircraft can takeoff or land just about anywhere in the world.

The Galaxy’s massive cargo compartment, with its upward-hinged visor in the nose and outward-opening “clamshell” doors in the rear, accommodates drive-through loading/unloading of wheeled or tracked vehicles using full-width ramps at each end. To accommodate faster, easier loading of outsized or unpowered equipment, each ramp contains an internally-housed winch. For rapid handling of palletized equipment, the forward and rear ramp assemblies can be repositioned to truckbed height, approximately 10 feet (3.0m) above the ground, and the entire cargo floor converted into a rollerized conveyor system.

Thirty-six standard 463L cargo pallets can be loaded aboard in about 90 minutes. When palletized cargo is not being carried, the roller conveyors can be turned over to leave a smooth, flat surface to accommodate wheeled or tracked vehicles. The C-5 Galaxy has a 121 foot long cargo floor (one foot longer than the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina) and nearly 35,000 cubic feet of available cargo space ? five times greater than that of the C-141A Starlifter! The entire cargo compartment is pressurized and air-conditioned.

The C-5 Galaxy is specifically designed to transport all types of military fighting equipment and associated personnel. The entire spectrum of military inventory, anything and everything that the Army ever intended to be airlifted – rolling and tracked armored equipment (including main battle tanks), bridge launchers, helicopters, bulk cargo, troops, etc. – can be transported swiftly and efficiently aboard the C-5. inflight refueling capability gives the aircraft nearly unlimited range and increases its flexibility for troop and cargo delivery.

In the airdrop arena, the C-5 Galaxy is capable of delivering up to 60,000 pounds (27,216kg) of equipment per drop. Standard airdrop operations include the following types of hardware: Hummers, Bradleys, tanks, road graters and Howitzers. The C-5’s aerial-delivery system is compatible with airdrop platforms of 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28 and 32 feet in length. Most personnel drops consist of 73 combat-ready troops.

In 1984, a re-winged C-5A flew at a then world record gross weight of 920,836 pounds (417,684kg) after being air refueled. Less than five years later, a C-5B set a new airdrop record of 190,493 (86,406kg) pounds. The drop, consisting of four 42,000 pound (19,051kg) Sheridan tanks and 73 combat-ready troops, occurred over Fort Bragg, North Carolina on 7 June 1989. The C-5 Galaxy also holds the “unofficial” world record for the heaviest drop over a single zone … two 60,000 pound (27,216kg) platforms.

The most dramatic display of the Galaxy’s capability and value was during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Galaxies comprised only 12 percent of the combined airlift fleet, yet they carried 44 percent of all airlift cargo and flew 23 percent of all strategic airlift missions. Ninety percent of Air Force C-5s were used in Desert Shield/Storm, the rest were flying high-priority missions elsewhere around the world.

Overall, the strategic airlift to the Persian Gulf was the largest since World War II. By the cease-fire, Air Force airlifters had moved 482,000 passengers and 513,000 tons of cargo. Viewed in ton miles, the airlift of Operation Desert Shield/Storm was equivalent to repeating the Berlin Airlift, a 56-week operation, every six weeks.

Since 1968, six C-5s have crashed, the worst occurred during Operation Babylift on 4 April 1975 near Saigon, South Vietnam. A C-5A (No. 68-0218) carrying 328 people (including 17 crew members), crashed immediately after takeoff from Saigon-Tan Son Nhut Airport.

The most recent crash was on April 3rd 2006 at Dover AFB in Delaware, 17 people were on board and all survived the crash.