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First Flight of the Production C-5M Super Galaxy

The first production C-5M Super Galaxy (aircraft no. 83-1285), made its maiden flight at the Lockheed Martin facility at Marietta, Georgia on Sept. 19, 2010. The “M” signifies “modernized.” Offering new capabilities with an avionics upgrade and more powerful engines, the aircraft is actually the fourth to be converted to C-5M standard, following three pre-production examples (aircraft nos. 69-0024, 86-0013 and 86-0025) now on duty with the 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Del. The Dover-based transports have already lifted cargoes to the Southwest Asia war zone.

The USAF still must make a key decision about its oldest C-5A Galaxy models, which have poor “mission capable rates” but can haul outsized cargoes and offer far greater range than the C-17 Globemaster III.

Aircraft 69-0024 with the 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, is the only C-5A Galaxy to be upgraded to C-5M status. The USAF plans to acquire 52 C-5Ms by upgrading C-5B and C-5C models, but no more of the older C-5As.USAF Photo by Jason Minto via Robert F. Dorr.

Told to absorb 43 more C-17s than it requested (ending production at 223 airframes for U.S. use, including one already lost in a crash), the USAF now must require two C-5A units – one of which has not yet been publicly named – to convert to the C-17. The 445th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, will begin converting from the C-5A to the C-17 in the current year, even though many airmen in the unit profess a great fondness for the older aircraft.

The key decision: who’s next? The three candidates are the 105th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard (ANG) at Stewart Field near Newburgh, N.Y.; the 164th Airlift Wing, Tennessee ANG at Memphis, Tenn., and the 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia ANG at Martinsburg, W.Va. Airmen may love the airlifter they call “FRED” – an acronym for “fantastic, ridiculous economic disaster,” although a different f-word is sometimes used – but one of these units will have to convert to the C-17. The latter is nicknamed “Buddha,” one airman opined, because “it’s big and fat and can’t be moved very far, and everybody stands around and worships it.”

Aircraft in the C-5M series will wear a distinctive fin flash identifying each as a Super Galaxy model. Lockheed Martin via Robert F. Dorr.

The USAF Galaxy fleet of 111 aircraft comprises 59 C-5As, 46 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs and four C-5Ms. The long-term goal is a Galaxy fleet of 89 aircraft, made up of 37 C-5A and 52 C-5Ms. A further 22 C-5As will be retired. To achieve the lower total of C-5As and make room for C-17s, the USAF must force one more wing to convert to C-17s.

Experts guess the choice will be the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart, which has 13 C-5As, despite the fact that on September 30 the wing borrowed the first production C-5M to upgrade its interior. This year, Gen. Raymond E. Johns Sr., commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC) launched a project to remodel all C-5 flight decks. He tasked Stewart to create a template for the Galaxy fleet using the newest Galaxy in the service. But observers say that being entrusted with the C-5M flight deck remodeling doesn’t mean that Stewart won’t lose its C-5As and get C-17s.

The C-5M aircraft includes an avionics update and re-engining, with four 50,000-pound thrust F108-GE-100 (CF6-80C2) turbofan engines that deliver 22 percent more power than the current TF39. This C-5M now has “mission capable rates” in the 85 percent range while the figures for the C-5A consistently hover around 50 percent.


Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...