Everything You Need To Know About The C-5 Galaxy

Real History |

Lockheed Martin

The C-5 Galaxy is the Air Force's largest and only strategic airlifter. It can carry more cargo, basically twice as much as any other airlifter, farther differences than every competitor. The Galaxy holds six mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPS, or up to five helicopters. It was originally built by Lockheed, but is now maintained and upgraded by its successor, Lockheed Martin. The Galaxy has many similarities to its smaller Lockheed C-141 Starlifter predecessor, and the later Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. This article will tell you everything you need to know about this amazing aircraft.

AF Operational Test & Evaluation Center

Its development was complicated, including significant cost overruns, and Lockheed suffered a lot of financial difficulties. We'll cover all the important details of how the C-5 Galaxy came to be, as well as some of the struggles it faced along the way. Shortly after entering service, cracks in the wings of many aircraft were discovered and the C-5 fleet was restricted in capability until corrective work was completed. Stick around to end of the article to learn about some of the Galaxy's most notable accidents...


Lockheed Martin

C-5 modernization provides greatly improved reliability, efficiency, maintainability and availability, while ensuring this critical national strategic airlift resource continues serving the warfighter well into the 21st century. Since its inception, the C-5 has been a critical instrument of national policy. From the defense of Israel in the Yom Kippur war, to the air bridge supporting coalition forces in Desert Storm, the C-5 delivers unmatched capability to carry enormous loads over global distances. The C-5 modernization approach is proven.

In three flights operating out of Dover AFB, Delaware, a joint U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin crew set 43 world aviation records, demonstrating the C-5M’s ability to redefine global airlift. In deployed airlift operations, the C-5M is demonstrating a new era of highly capable, reliable and affordable airlift. With departure reliability rates greater than 90 percent and payload increases of 20 percent over legacy C-5s, the Super Galaxy is delivering more to the warfighter on every mission. With a substantial improvement in unrefueled range, the C-5M is overflying traditional en-route fuel stops, enabling a reduction in fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent.


U.S. Air Force

A joint active duty US Air Force/Air Force Reserve Command crew, flying a C-5M Super Galaxy, set forty-five new world aeronautical records on a single flight from Travis AFB, California, on April 3, 2015. Once certified, the new records will give the C-5M a total of eighty seven world records, which breaks the mark of eighty four records set by Air Force crews flying a B-1B Lancer bomber in the early 1980s.

The records included altitude in horizontal flight, altitude with payload, time to climb and, separately, time to climb with payload, as well as the greatest payload to 2,000 meters, or 6,562 feet. These were part of Class C-1.T, which is for aircraft weighing from 300,000 kilograms, or 661,387 pounds, to 400,000 kilograms, or 881,849 pounds. The C-5M had a takeoff weight of 731,220 pounds, or nearly 366 tons, which included fuel, crew weight, equipment, and the 265,300-pound payload.


Lockheed Martin

Back in 1961, several aircraft companies began studying heavy jet transport designs that would replace the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster and complement Lockheed C-141 Starlifters. The Army wanted a transport aircraft with a larger cargo bay than the C-141, whose interior was too small to carry a variety of their outsized equipment. These studies led to the "CX-4" design concept, but in 1962 it was rejected, because it was not viewed as a significant advance over the C-141.


Air Mobility Command

By late 1963, the next conceptual design was named CX-X. It was equipped with four engines, instead of six engines in the earlier CX-4 concept. The CX-X had a gross weight of 550,000 pounds, a maximum payload of 180,000 pounds and a speed of Mach 0.75, or 500 mph. The cargo compartment was 17.2 feet wide by 13.5 feet high and 100 feet long with front and rear access doors.


Air Mobility Command

To meet the power and range specifications with only four engines required a new engine with dramatically improved fuel efficiency. The criteria were finalized and an official request for proposal was issued in April 1964 for the "Heavy Logistics System." After a down select, Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed were given one-year study contracts for the airframe, along with General Electric and Pratt & Whitney for the engines.


U.S. Air Force

Design similarities included a nose door, but the Boeing and Douglas designs used a pod on the top of the fuselage containing the cockpit, while the Lockheed design extended the cockpit profile down the length of the fuselage. All the designs had swept wings, as well as front and rear cargo doors. Lockheed's design featured a T-tail, while the designs by Boeing and Douglas had conventional tails.


Altus Air Force Base

The Air Force considered Boeing's design over Lockheed's, but Lockheed's proposal won due to being the lowest total cost bid. General Electric's TF39 engine was selected in August 1965 to power the new transport plane. At the time GE's engine concept was revolutionary, as all engines beforehand had a bypass ratio of less than two-to-one, while the TF39 promised and would achieve a ratio of eight-to-one, which had the benefits of increased engine thrust and lower fuel consumption.


Air Mobility Command

The first Galaxy started flight testing in 1968. These tests revealed that the aircraft exhibited a higher drag divergence Mach number than predicted by wind tunnel data. The weight was a serious issue, as well as the wing load. They tried to fix these issues over the next couple years, but cost overruns and technical problems became the subject of a congressional investigation in 1968 and 1969. It was the first program with a one billion dollar overrun.


U.S. Air Force

Production and testing started over at the Transitional Training Unit at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. After more issues and multiple adjustments over the course of the decade, the C-5B was built in the early '80s and then consistently worked on for the next several years. Throughout the '90s more upgrades came about, including navigational equipment and a new autopilot system. Another part of the C-5 modernization effort is the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program, or RERP.


Royal Air Force Mildenhall

The C-5 is a large high-wing cargo aircraft with a distinctive high T-tail fin stabilizer with four TF39 turbofan engines mounted on pylons beneath wings that are swept 25 degrees. It has 12 internal wing tanks and is equipped for aerial refueling. There's an upper deck for flight operations and for seating 75 passengers who face to the rear of the aircraft during flight. Openable bay doors at both nose and tail enable "drive-through" loading and unloading of cargo.

Cargo Hold

Altus Air Force Base

The cargo hold of the C-5 is one foot longer than the entire length of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. For its voracious consumption of fuel and its maintenance and reliability issues, the Galaxy's aircrews have nicknamed it FRED, for F-ing Ridiculous Economic/Environmental Disaster. Takeoff and landing distance requirements for the plane at maximum-load gross weight are 8,300 feet and 4,900 feet, respectively.

Landing and Loading

Wright Patterson Air Force Base

Its high flotation main landing gear provides 28 wheels to distribute gross weight on paved or earth surfaces. The rear main landing gear can be made to caster to make a smaller turning radius, and rotates 90 degrees after takeoff before being retracted. "Kneeling" landing gear permits lowering the aircraft when parked, thereby presenting the cargo deck at truck-bed height to facilitate loading and unloading operations.

Back In Time


The first C-5A was delivered in 1969, and in 1970 its first mission was in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. It transported equipment and troops, and was later used in evacuation efforts, with one actually crashing in a devastating accident. They were also used in the Yom Kippur war of 1973 in Operation Nickel Grass, as well as providing support for the allies in the British-led peacekeeper initiative in Zimbabwe in 1979.


Royal Air Force Mildenhall

The C-5 features a Malfunction Detection Analysis and Recording (MADAR) system to identify errors throughout the aircraft. It can accommodate up to 36 463L master pallets or a mix of palletized cargo and vehicles. The nose and aft cargo-bay doors open the full width and height of the cargo bay. Full width ramps enable loading double rows of vehicles from either end, and it's capable of moving nearly every type of military combat equipment.



On October 24, 1974, the Space and Missile Systems Organization successfully conducted an Air Mobile Feasibility Test where a C-5A Galaxy aircraft air dropped an 86,000 pound Minuteman ICBM from 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The missile descended to 8,000 feet before its rocket engine fired. The 10-second engine burn carried the missile to 20,000 feet again before it dropped into the ocean. The test proved the feasibility of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from the air.

Unusual Functions

Royal Air Force Mildenhall

During the development of the secretive stealth fighter, the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Galaxies were often used to carry partly disassembled aircraft, leaving no exterior signs as to their cargo. It remains the largest aircraft to operate in the Antarctic, and was a major supply asset in the international coalition operations in 1990-91 against Iraq in the Gulf War. C-5s have routinely delivered relief aid and humanitarian supplies to areas afflicted with natural disasters or crisis.


U.S. Air Force

The wings were replaced during the 1980s to restore full design capability. Their reliability has been a continued issue throughout its lifetime, however the upgrade program seeks in part to address this issue. Their strategic airlift capacity has been a key logistical component of U.S. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following an incident during Operation Iraqi Freedom where one C-5 was damaged by a projectile, the installation of defensive systems has become a stated priority.


Royal Air Force Mildenhall

In response to plans to retire older C-5 aircraft, Congress implemented legislation that set limits on retirement plans for C-5As in 2003. As of November 2013, 45 C-5As have been retired, 11 have been scrapped, parts of one are now a cargo load trainer at Lackland AFB, Texas and one was sent to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center for tear down and inspection to evaluate structural integrity and estimate the remaining life for the fleet.


Air Mobility Command

The USAF began to receive refitted C-5M aircraft in 2008. Full production of C-5Ms began in the summer of 2009, when the Congressional ban on the retirement of C-5s was overturned. The Air Force seeks to retire one C-5A for each 10 new C-17s ordered. In October 2011, the 445th Airlift Wing based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base replaced all remaining C-5s with C-17s. The C-5M reached initial operating capability in 2014 with 16 aircraft delivered.

Fun Facts

Air Mobility Command

The paint weighs 2,600 pounds and more than 100 miles of wiring, and over five miles of control cables, are required to operate it. Each C-5 engine gulps approximately 42 tons of air per minute and the total engine power of a C-5 equals that produced by 800 average cars. The C-5 can carry 25,844,746 ping pong balls, 328,301,674 aspirin tablets, and 3,222,857 tortillas. Also, its fuel capacity is equal to the volume of an average five-room house.


Altus Air Force Base

The C-5A is the original version. From 1969 to 1973, 81 were delivered to USAF bases. Due to cracks found in the wings in the mid-1970s, the cargo weight was restricted. To restore the C-5's full capability, the wing structure was redesigned. A program to install new strengthened wings on 77 C-5As was conducted from 1981 to 1987. The redesigned wing made use of a new aluminum alloy that did not exist during the original production.


Air Force Reserve Command

As of 2016, there were 10 A-models in service flown by the Air Force Reserve Command 433d Airlift Wing at Lackland AFB, Texas, and 439th Airlift Wing at Westover ARB, Massachusetts. The last operational C-5A was retired in September 2017. The C-5B is an enhanced version of the C-5A, with improved wings, simplified landing gear, upgraded TF-39-GE-1C turbofan engines and updated avionics. 50 of the new variant were delivered to the U.S. Air Force from 1986 to 1989.



The C-5C is a modified variant for transporting large cargo, such as satellites. The major modifications were the removal of the rear passenger compartment floor, splitting the rear cargo door in the middle, and installing a new movable aft bulkhead further to the rear. Modifications also included adding a second inlet for ground power, which can feed any power-dependent equipment that may form part of the cargo. The two C-5Cs are operated by U.S. Air Force crews and NASA.


Air Mobility Command

Following a study showing 80% of the C-5 airframe service life remaining, Air Mobility Command (AMC) began an aggressive program to modernize all remaining C-5Bs and C-5Cs and many of the C-5As. The C-5 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) began in 1998 and includes upgrading avionics to Global Air Traffic Management compliance, improving communications, new flat panel displays, improving navigation and safety equipment, and installing a new autopilot system. The first flight was in 2002.

C-5M Super Galaxy

Westover Air Reserve Base

The Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) began in 2006. It includes new General Electric F138-GE-100 (CF6-80C2) engines, pylons and auxiliary power units, upgrades to aircraft skin and frame, landing gear, cockpit and pressurization systems. Each CF6 engine produces 22% more thrust, providing a 30% shorter takeoff, a 38% higher climb rate to initial altitude, an increased cargo load and a longer range. Essentially, upgraded C-5s are designated C-5M Super Galaxy.


U.S. Air Force

Lockheed also planned a civilian version of the C-5 Galaxy, the L-500. The all-passenger version would have been able to carry up to 1,000 travelers, while the all-cargo version was predicted to be able to carry typical C-5 volume for as little as 2 cents per ton-mile. Although some interest was expressed by carriers, no orders were placed due to operational costs caused by low fuel efficiency, a significant concern for a profit-making carrier.

Shuttle Carrier

Altus Air Force Base

Lockheed proposed a twin body C-5 as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft but the design was turned down in favor of the Boeing 747. The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA used to transport Space Shuttle orbiters. One is a 747-100 model, while the other is a short range 747-100SR. They're used to ferry Space Shuttles from landing sites back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center.


Flickr - Robert Couse Baker

Operators of the C-5 Galaxy include the US Air Force, which has 56. Other operators are Military Aircraft Command and Air Mobility Command, specifically their 60th, 436th, 437th and 443rd wings. The Air Education & Training Command's 97th Air Mobility Wing and 56th Airlift Squadron used them. And the 349th, 433rd, 439th, 445th, and 512th wings of the Air Force Reserve are operators, as well as the 105th, 164th and 167th wings of the Air National Guard.


U.S. Air Force

Three C-5 Galaxy aircraft have been lost in crashes along with two class-A losses resulting from ground fire, with a combined total of 169 fatalities. At least two other C-5 crashes have resulted in major airframe damage, but the aircraft were repaired and returned to service. As promised, we will now look at all of the notable incidents involving the C-5 Galaxies...

May 27, 1970

U.S. Air Force

On 27 May 1970, C-5A AF Serial No. 67-0172 was destroyed during a ground fire at Palmdale, California after an Air Turbine Motor (ATM) started backwards and quickly overheated, setting the hydraulic system on fire and consuming the aircraft. The engines were not running at the time of the fire. Five crew escaped, and seven firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze.

October 17, 1970

U.S. Air Force

On October 17, 1970, C-5A AF Serial No. 66-8303 was destroyed during a ground fire at the Lockheed Aircraft plant at Dobbins AFB in Marietta, Georgia. The fire started during maintenance in one of the aircraft's 12 fuel cells. One worker was killed and another injured. This was the first C-5 aircraft produced, and the second notable incident involving a ground fire.

September 27, 1974

445th Airlift Wing

On September 27, 1974, C-5A Serial No. 68-0227 crashed after over-running the runway at Clinton, Oklahoma Municipal Airport during an emergency landing following a serious landing gear fire. The crew mistakenly aligned the aircraft for the visual approach into the wrong airport, landing at Clinton Municipal Airport, which has a shorter runway than Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark. This was the first operational loss of a C-5 Galaxy.

April 4, 1975

Air Force Reserve Command

On April 4, 1975, C-5A Serial No.68-0218 crashed leaving Vietnam during an important military operation. This crash is one of the most notorious C-5 accidents to date. The crash occurred while trying to make an emergency landing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, following a rear pressure door lock failure in flight. 44 people were killed out of the 313 aboard. Use of the C-5 was heavily restricted for several months following this high-profile accident.

Gear Up

The Aviationist

In July 1983, C-5A Serial No. 68-0216 landed "gear up" at Travis Air Force Base, California. The accident occurred while the crew was performing touch-and-go landings, and did not lower the landing gear during the final approach of the day. The aircraft received significant damage to the lower fuselage and main landing gear pods. The C-5A was later flown to Marietta for repairs. While there, the aircraft was selected to be the first C-5A converted to the C-5C configuration.

Phoenix II

445th Airlift Wing

On 31 July 1983, C-5A Serial No. 70-0446 crashed on landing at Shemya, Alaska after hitting an embankment short of the runway. There were no fatalities, bu structural damage was extensive and the two aft main landing gear bogies were sheared from the aircraft. Following repairs, which included structural enhancements, an improved landing gear system, wing modification, and a color weather radar upgrade, it was renamed Phoenix II and returned to service.

Airman's Medal

Altus Air Force Base

On August 29, 1990, C-5A Serial No. 68-0228 crashed following an engine failure shortly after take-off from Ramstein Air Base in Germany in support of Operation Desert Shield. As the aircraft started to climb off the runway, one of the thrust reversers suddenly deployed. Of the 17 people on board, only four in the rear troop compartment survived. The sole surviving crew member, Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Galvan, Jr., was awarded the Airman's Medal for his actions in the evacuation.

April 3, 2006

U.S. Air Force

On April 3, 2006, C-5B Serial No. 84-0059 crashed following a cockpit indication that a thrust reverser was not locked. The C-5B assigned to the 436th Airlift Wing and flown by a reserve crew from the 709th Airlift Squadron, 512th Airlift Wing crashed about 2,000 feet short of the runway while attempting a heavyweight emergency landing at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware...


U.S. Air Force

The aircraft had taken off from Dover 21 minutes earlier and reported an in-flight emergency ten minutes into the flight. All 17 people aboard survived, but two received serious injuries. The Air Force's accident investigation board report concluded the cause to be human error from manipulating the throttle of the dead number-two engine as if it were still running while keeping the live number-three engine at idle...


U.S. Air Force

The situation was further worsened by the crew's decision to use a high flap setting that increased drag beyond normal two-engine capabilities. The aircraft was one of the first to receive the new avionics and glass flight displays for C-5 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP). This led to a redesign of the cockpit engine displays. It was declared a total hull-loss and the airframe was scrapped, but the forward fuselage became a C-5 AMP test bed.