The C-5 Galaxy is the largest cargo plane in America’s military arsenal. The C-5A had a capacity to carry 265,000 pounds of cargo or 345 combat troops. It could carry two M60A1 main battle tanks, or one M48A3 Patton tank and 16 ¾ ton trucks.[i] The C-5M Super Galaxy has a cargo capacity of 281,001 pounds (127,460 Kg). It has a range up to 7,000 nautical miles (8,055 statute miles, 13,000 kilometers) depending on cargo.[ii]
[i] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman © 1977.
[ii] Air Force Fact Sheet, https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104492/c-5m-super-galaxy/, last accessed 3/11/20.
Development began in 1965. The requirement was for a transport that can carry all the components of a U.S. Army division. Lockheed won the C-5A contract. The estimated costs per aircraft was $28.33 million. In 1968 Air Force Deputy for Management Systems, Ernest A. Fitzgerald, testified to the Proxmire Committee the cost of each aircraft would be $44.17 million. Senator William Proxmire tried to block the Air Force from purchasing 23 more than the 54 additionally purchased. His motion was defeated 64-23. The Galaxy’s first flight was June 30, 1968.[i] The Air Force purchased 81 C-5As at a unit cost of $55 million.[ii] The C-5A had problems with wing cracks.[iii]
The first loss of a C-5A was from a ground fire on May 25, 1970. The aircraft, 67-0172, was written off.[iv] Lockheed-Georgia delivered the first operational C-5A to the Air Force in June 1970.[v] That Galaxy lost a wheel on landing. Another ground fire on a C-5A (66-8303), on October 17, killed a ground engineer.[vi]
On February 1, 1971 Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, facing bankruptcy, agreed to take a $200-millon loss on the C-5A project.[vii]
On October 24, 1974 a C-5A carried a Minuteman I missile over the Pacific Ocean. The C-5A crew opened Galaxy’s rear cargo doors. The missile slid out the rear and a parachute on the missile deployed. Then the missile rocketed into the air. This test was to see if intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) could be launched from a plane in flight.[viii] The concept didn’t go beyond the development stage.
[i] Popular Mechanics, Why the C-5 Galaxy Is Such a Badass Plane, by Kyle Mizokani, July 18, 2018, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a22130434/c5-badass-plane/, last accessed 3/14/20.
[ii] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman © 1977.
[iii] Military.com, C-5 Galaxy, https://www.military.com/equipment/c-5-galaxy, last accessed 3/12/20.
[iv] Planelogger.com, Registration Details for 67-0172 (United States Air Force) C-5 Galaxy-A, https://www.planelogger.com/Aircraft/Registration/67-0172/756606, last accessed 3/14/20.
[v] Air Force Fact Sheet, https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104492/c-5m-super-galaxy/, last accessed 3/11/20.
[vi] Aviation-Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19701017-0, last accessed 3/14/20.
[vii] The New York Times, Lockheed Accepts a Loss Of $200-Million on C-5A, by Neil Sheehan, https://www.nytimes.com/1971/02/02/archives/lockheed-accepts-a-loss-of-200million-on-c5a-lockheed-accepts-a.html, last accessed 3/14/20.
[viii] Popular Mechanics, Why the C-5 Galaxy Is Such a Badass Plane, by Kyle Mizokani, July 18, 2018, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a22130434/c5-badass-plane/, last accessed 3/14/20.
At Altus AFB corrosion and fatigue caused an engine pylon to tear loose as a Galaxy was preparing for takeoff in September 1971.[i] On September 27, 1974 a fuselage fire caused a C-5A, 68-0227, to make an emergency landing. The 5 crew members survived but the Galaxy was damaged beyond repair.[ii]
The Yom Kippur War began on October 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Part of the U.S. response was Operation Nickle Grass. This was an airlift operation, involving C-5A Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter aircraft. The airlift was from October 14 – November 14. In that time the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Military Airlift Command (MAC) delivered 22,325 tons of supplies, which included tanks and artillery. Within 9 hours of President Richard M. Nixon’s order, C-5As and C-141s were flying to Israel. Portugal was the only European country that assisted the effort. The transports had to fly from Lajes Air Base in the Azores to Israel nonstop.[iii] They also had to avoid the air space of all countries from the Azores to Israel. A C-5A made the first delivery with 186,200 pounds (84,640 kilos) of cargo. A second C-5A was to land at Lod, Israel with material handling equipment. This C-5A had mechanical problems and had to return to Lajes. Israeli civilians and the first C-5A crew had to manually unload the cargo. C-5As flew 145 missions and carried over 10,000 tons of supplies. The C-5As carried outsized cargo, which included 155mm howitzers, 175mm cannons, M-60 and M-48 tanks, CH-53D helicopters, and A-4 Skyhawk fuselages.[iv]
In the spring of 1975, with the fall of South Vietnam imminent, President Gerald R. Ford ordered OPERATION BABYLIFT. The operation was to get South Vietnamese orphans out of Vietnam. On April 4, 1975, a C-5A, 68-0218, took off from Ton Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam with a crew of 29 and 285 passengers, including 240 children over 100 of them infants. At 23,000 feet (7,000 meters) a rear door lock failed. This caused a rear door to blow off the aircraft. The pilot attempted an emergency landing and crashed in a rice paddy two miles short of Ton Son Nhut. Eleven crew members and 127 passengers died in the crash. Almost all the fatalities were in the cargo compartment. Only 6 of the 140 passengers in the cargo compartment survived.[v] After this crash the Air Force stopped transporting passengers in the C-5’s cargo compartment.
When Lockheed completed the Have Blue stealth demonstration plane a C-5A flew the aircraft from the Burbank facility to the flight test site in the Nevada desert. C-5s also transported F-117A Nighthawks from California to Groom Lake, Nevada. C-5’s cargo bay was large enough to carry these aircraft without any disassembly.[vi]
In the 1983 Grenada operation, 1983, C-5As of the 436th and 512th Military Airlift Wings provided airlift support for operation URGENT FURY. They were mostly used to transport U.S. Army helicopters from Pope AFB, North Carolina to Barbados.[vii]
On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded and took over Kuwait. The United States responded with Operation DESERT SHIELD. On August 29 a C-5A (68-0228) supporting Desert Shield crashed after taking off from Ramstein AB, Germany. The crash killed 13 of the 17 people on board.[viii] Staff Sergeant Lorenzo Galvan Jr. was the only crewmember to survive the crash. He was awarded the Airman’s Medal for risking his life evacuating passengers. [ix] C-5s flew 3,980 missions in Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Some 94% of the C-5 fleet flew Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM missions.[x] DESERT STORM missions involved 75% of the C-5 fleet. [xi]
C-5s flew missions in support of most U.S. military operations, including the 1994 operation in Haiti. In 2003 A C-5A transported 3 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and personnel from the 56th Rescue Squadron and the 786th Security Squadron as part of U.S. operations in Liberia.
In the first 5 months of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM C-5s flew 950 missions, ferried 46,000 tons of cargo, and 18,000 passengers. C-5s flew almost 25% of the Southwest Asia airlift. A Galaxy transported an SH-60B of HSL-43 from NAS North Island, San Diego. The equipment C-5s transported included a U.S. Navy Small Water Area Twin Hull Boat and a CH-47. A Galaxy flew soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment from the U.S. to Germany. C-5s of the 86th Contingency Response Group supported the humanitarian part of ENDURING FREEDOM. C-5s also were among the aircraft used for the solemn task of flying the remains of fallen service members. This includes the remains of six U.S. Marines killed in a KC-130 crash to Dover AFB, DE and seven soldiers killed in OPERATION ANACONDA.
C-5s flew operations in supporting operations in Iraq. On November 12, 2003 the first Galaxy arrived at Balad Southeastern Airfield, Iraq. It brought 21 truckloads of war materials. On January 8, 2004 enemy fire struck a C-5’s number 4 engine. Captains Steve Radtke (pilot) and Zach Zeiner (co-pilot) safely made an emergency landing. The rest of the crew were Technical Sergeants Eric Trouss (flight engineer), Marcue Rettig (flight engineer), and Reginald Bazemore (loadmaster). The next day Major Mark Shaw piloted the damaged Galaxy out of Iraq. Master Sergeant Dexter Joseph was a flight engineer on that mission. On July 15, 2004 A Galaxy flew Corporal Wassef Ali Hassef from Ramstein AB, Germany to Dover AFB, Delaware. Human error caused C-5 to crash on April 3, 2006 at Dover, DE. All 17 on board survived.[xii] In January 2010 the first C-5M flew into Iraq. This Super Galaxy delivered 85,000 pounds of equipment on short notice and arrived back at Dover AFB ahead of schedule.
[i] Global Security.org, C-5 Losses, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/c-5-loss.htm, last accessed 3/14/20.
[ii] Aviation-Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19740927-0, last accessed 3/14/20.
[iii] Jewish Virtual Library, Yom Kippur War: Operation Nickel Grass, https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6, last accessed, 3/14/20.
[iv] AMC Museum.org, Operation Nickle Grass, https://amcmuseum.org/history/operation-nickel-grass/, last accessed 3/14/20.
[v] Global Security.org, C-5 Losses, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/c-5-loss.htm, last accessed 3/14/20.
[vi] Popular Mechanics, Why the C-5 Galaxy Is Such a Badass Plane, by Kyle Mizokani, July 18, 2018, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a22130434/c5-badass-plane/, last accessed 3/14/20.
[vii] Air War Grenada by Stephen Harding © 1984.
[viii] Aviation-Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19900829-0, last accessed 3/14/20.
[ix] Airpower in the Gulf, by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association, P.147.
Recommended for You
[x] Airpower in the Gulf, by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association, P.30.
[xi] Airpower in the Gulf, by James P. Coyne, © 1992 Air Force Association, P.132.
[xii] On board were: On-board were: Capt. Brian Lafreda, 326th AS, Lt. Col. Robert Moorman, 326th AS, Lt. Col. Harlan Nelson, 326th AS, Master Sgt. Timothy Feiring, 709th AS, Master Sgt. Michael Benford, 709th AS, Tech. Sgt. Vincent Dvorak, 709th AS, Master Sgt. Brenda Kremer, 709th AS, Chief Master Sgt. David Burke, 326th AS, Chief Master Sgt. George Mosley, 709th AS, Tech. Sgt. Henry Fortney, 326th AS, Senior Airman Scott Schaffner, 89th AS, stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, Tammy Lucas, Lockheed Martin employee, Staff Sgt. David Abrams, 436th AMXS, Senior Airman Nicholas Vather, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Paul Kath, Hannelore Kath, Retired Tech. Sgt. Raul Salamanca.
51,250 pounds per engine
281,001 pounds (127,460 Kilograms)
Max Takeoff Weight
840,000 pounds (381,024 kilograms)
518 mph (829 km/hr)
5,524 statute miles (4,800 nautical miles) w/120,000 lbs. of cargo
Unrefueled Range Empty
7,000 nautical miles
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 28, 2020:
Yes, do that.
Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 28, 2020:
Wrll hes sn 82 yrs young plane enthusiast that wants to reach me to fly...lol ill keep you posted on that though;)
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 28, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you both enjoyed it.
Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 28, 2020:
Fascinating read Robert... My roomate is a retired aircraft mechanic and pilot...we both enjoyed!!!
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 24, 2020:
You are right about that. There is an old saying in the military; "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics." Thank you for reading and commenting.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 24, 2020:
This is a real workhorse. Often the fighter planes get the limelight and it is forgotten how vital a role cargo planes play in overall operations.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 22, 2020:
Yes, there are a lot of cute phrases used by the military.
FlourishAnyway from USA on March 22, 2020:
I get they're like the FedEx of the military.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 21, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting.
MG SIngh - Yes, the C-5M is the latest version. They plan to have them in service until 2040.
FourishAnyway - The bulk of materials, heavy and otherwise gets overseas by ship. However, if something absolutely has to be there overnight it has to go by air.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 21, 2020:
This is a wonderful article on the largest transport plane used by the USA force. The plane is getting a little dated but now it is being upgraded and I am told it is going to be in use till 2040.
FlourishAnyway from USA on March 21, 2020:
How tragic that so many children perished in that crash. It's appalling that a door could come loose and all those lives could be lost. I've never considered how all those tanks and helicopters get overseas to warzones. I guess I always assumed it was via ship. This is well researched as always.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 19, 2020:
Yes, the Operation Baby Lift crash was especially. So many young children dying. It seemed indicative of the Vietnam debacle. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 19, 2020:
Those crashes where so many did id heartbreaking. I know helicopters can be dangerous but you hate to hear of people dying. This is a very good article, Robert.