The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is a large military transport aircraft originally designed and built by Lockheed, and now maintained and upgraded by its successor, Lockheed Martin. It provides the United States Air Force (USAF) with a heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability, one that can carry outsize and oversize loads, including all air-certifiable cargo. The Galaxy has many similarities to its smaller Lockheed C-141 Starlifter predecessor, and the later Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. The C-5 is among the largest military aircraft in the world.
“In short, the C-5 can carry the most cargo the furthest. Its max weight is 840,000 pounds. It can carry the most cargo of any US airlifter. Last fall, as part of a retrograde operation to bring cargo and equipment out of Afghanistan, each C-5 was setting record payloads, with the heaviest being 280,880 pounds. Overall 25.5 million pounds of cargo and 447 passengers were moved on 152 missions.
One C-5 mission can take the place of up to five C-17 missions, depending on what the cargo is. It can carry 100,000 pounds of cargo 5,000 miles without refueling, for example, from Dover to Turkey, or from Germany to Alaska. It has twice the pallet positions of the C-17, 36 to 18, and supposedly due to the gear configuration and weight distribution, has a lighter footprint at above the max weight compared to a C-17. The C-5 typically cruises at .77 Mach, the C-17 at .74 and with the C-5M’s new engines it’s quieter.
The C-5 is a large high-wing cargo aircraft with a distinctive high T-tail fin (vertical) stabilizer, and with four TF39 turbofan engines mounted on pylons beneath wings that are swept 25 degrees. Similar in layout to its smaller predecessor, the C-141 Starlifter, the C-5 has 12 internal wing tanks and is equipped for aerial refueling. Above the plane-length cargo deck, it provides an upper deck for flight operations and for seating 75 passengers including the embarked loadmaster crew, all who face to the rear of the aircraft during flight. Full-open(able) bay doors at both nose and tail enable “drive-through” loading and unloading of cargo.
The C-5 can carry outsize cargo from pallets to vehicles that would not fit in any other jet. In addition to cargo, we can always carry passengers in the troop compartment above the cargo compartment in airline-like seats. This makes it easier to carry equipment and their operators. For example, we bring home Marine helicopters with the maintenance crew. It can carry two M1 Abrams main battle tanks if required, or six Apaches.
The “C” models are modified for space lift support and carry satellites; a loadmaster has proudly shown me pictures of the loading and moving of a section of the James Webb space telescope in a specialized huge climate controlled box.
To facilitate loading, the C-5 can kneel. This is where all the wheel bogies are on hydraulic lifts and it can kneel the nose down, tail down, or evenly so that the belly is only inches from the ground. Kneeling makes the loading of aircraft and vehicles a lot easier than a C-17 and provides drive in and off capability without the needing to back out.
The C-5 is also a massive demonstration of the coordination required to do any mission. There will be multiple pilots, engineers, loadmasters and crew chiefs on every mission. The pilots primarily maneuver the airplane. The engineers are key, they know the ins and outs of every system on the plane and how to make it work best. They control the fuel balancing, the pressurization, cooling and the expansive high pressure hydraulic systems. They also calculate the takeoff and landing data for the pilots. They are super smart and I could not do their job.
The loadmasters are masters of their craft, knowing how to build a load onto a jet in the most efficient and safe manner, along with complexities like if there are multiple destinations for the cargo and how to arrange it so that it can be unloaded efficiently. They regularly have to use trigonometry to create nests of chains to distribute the weight of strange shaped or super heavy cargo so that it won’t move in any axis in flight.
They figure out how the airplane needs to be configured to load and unload best, does it just need to stay as is, or level kneel so that the bottom of the jet is only inches from the ground, or forward kneel to create a smoother ramp surface to unload rolling stock.
The crew chiefs are flying representatives of our ground maintenance and the airplanes are their babies. They know how to fix any of our problems and how to interface with the local maintenance to get the jet fixed and back on the road in a timely manner.
Along with all the aircrew, the C-5 relies on all the various types of ground crews, from the airmen that empty the latrines to the ones that refill the liquid oxygen and nitrogen systems and who replace our tires, to the ones in base ops that file flight plans and provide weather and knowledge about the locations we’ll be going. It’s a complex undertaking to get a C-5 mission on the road and it takes the teamwork of many personnel in order to ensure that the mission occurs successfully. Overall, our support is awesome.”