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Lockheed C-141 Starlifter
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Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter was a military strategic airlifter in service with the Air Mobility Command (AMC) of the United States Air Force (USAF). The aircraft also served with AMC-gained airlift wings and air mobility wings of the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and the Air National Guard (ANG) and, in later years, one air mobility wing of the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) dedicated to C-141, C-5, C-17 and KC-135 training.

Introduced to replace slower piston-engined cargo planes such as the C-124 Globemaster II, the C-141 was designed to requirements set in 1960 and first flew in 1963. Production deliveries of an eventual 285 planes began in 1965: 284 for the Air Force, and one for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use as an airborne observatory. The aircraft remained in service for over 40 years until the USAF withdrew the last C-141s from service in 2006, after replacing the airlifter with the C-17 Globemaster III.


Design and development

In the early 1960s, the United States Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) relied on a substantial number of propeller-driven aircraft for strategic airlift.[1] As these aircraft were mostly obsolescent designs and the Air Force needed the benefits of jet power, the USAF ordered 48 Boeing C-135 Stratolifters as an interim step. The C-135 was a useful stop-gap, but only had side-loading doors and most bulky and oversize equipment would not fit, especially that employed by the U.S. Army.

In the spring of 1960 the Air Force released Specific Operational Requirement 182, calling for a new aircraft that would be capable of performing both strategic and tactical airlift missions. The strategic role demanded that the aircraft be capable of missions with a radius of at least 3,500 nmi (4,000 mi, 6,500 km) with a 60,000 lb (27,000 kg) load. The tactical role required it to be able to perform low-altitude air drops of supplies, and carry and drop paratroops in combat.[2] Several companies responded to SOR 182, including Boeing, Lockheed and General Dynamics.[3]

MAC]], at Brisbane Airport, Australia supporting the visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson, 22 October 1966.

Lockheed responded to the requirement with a unique design: the Lockheed Model 300, the first large jet designed from the start to carry freight. The Model 300 had a swept high-mounted wing with four 21,000 lbf (93.4 kN) thrust TF33 turbofan engines pod-mounted below the wings. An important aspect was the cabin floor's height of only 50 in (1.27 m) above the ground, allowing easy access to the cabin through the rear doors. The two rear side doors were designed to allow the aircraft to drop paratroopers (in August 1965 the type performed the first paratroop drop from a jet-powered aircraft). The rear cargo doors could be opened in flight to allow airborne freight drops. The shoulder-mounted wings gave internal clearance in the cargo hold of 10 ft (3.05 m) wide, 9 ft (2.74 m) high and 70 ft (21.34 m) long. The size enabled the Starlifter to carry, for example, a complete LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile in its container. The aircraft was capable of carrying a maximum of 70,847 lb (32,136 kg) over short distances, and up to 92,000 lb (41,730 kg) in the version configured to carry the Minuteman, which stripped other equipment. The aircraft could also carry up to 154 troops, 123 paratroopers or 80 litter patients.

The Apollo 11 Mobile Quarantine Facility is unloaded from a C-141 at Ellington Air Force Base, July 27, 1969.

President John F. Kennedy's first official act after his inauguration was to order the development of the Lockheed 300 on 13 March 1961, with a contract for five aircraft for test and evaluation to be designated the C-141. One unusual aspect of the aircraft was that it was designed to meet both military and civil airworthiness standards. The prototype C-141A serial number 61-2775 was manufactured and assembled in record time, being rolled out of the Lockheed factory at Marietta, Georgia on 22 August 1963 and first flying on 17 December, the 60th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight. The company and the Air Force then started an operational testing program and the delivery of 284 aircraft, initially to units of the MATS, later renamed the Military Airlift Command (MAC) in 1966.

An effort to sell the aircraft on the civilian market resulted in provisional orders from Flying Tiger Line and Slick Airways for four aircraft each. These were to be a stretched version, 37 ft (11.28 m) longer than the C-141A, and marketed as the L-300 SuperstarLifter. Other changes were also incorporated to make more commercial including a different yoke. The development was not sustained and only one civilian demonstration aircraft was built. When no commercial sales were made Lockheed donated the aircraft to NASA.

Operational history

The prototype and development aircraft then began an intensive operational testing program including the first delivery to MATS (63-8078) on 19 October 1964 to the 1707th Air Transport Wing, Heavy (Training), Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.[4][5] Testing continued and a Federal Aviation Authority type certificate was awarded on 29 January 1965. The first delivery to an operational unit (63-8088) was made on 23 April 1965 to the 44th Air Transport Squadron, 1501st Air Transport Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California.[6] Although operational testing continued, due to the United States' military involvement in South Vietnam, the C-141 was soon employed in operational sorties to the combat zone.

On 8 January 1966, following the disestablishment of MATS, all C-141s were transferred to the newly established Military Airlift Command (MAC).

C-141 participating in Operation Deep Freeze

On 1 June 1992, following the disestablishment of Military Airlift Command (MAC), all C-141s and the airlift wings to which they were assigned were transferred to the newly-established Air Mobility Command (AMC). Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and Air National Guard (ANG) C-141s and units were also transferred to AMC.

On 16 September 2004, the C-141 left service with all active duty USAF units, being confined to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units for the remainder of its operational service life. As of 25 September 2005, there were only eight C-141 aircraft still flying, all from the Air Force Reserve's 445th Airlift Wing (445 AW) at Wright-Patterson AFB. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, the C-141s assigned to the 445 AW participated in missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly for the medical evacuation of wounded service members. The last eight C-141s were officially retired in 2006.

Hanoi Taxi flying over the National Museum of the United States Air Force in December 2005.

In 1994 one of the aircraft at Wright-Patterson AFB was identified by its crew chief as the Hanoi Taxi (AF Serial Number 66-0177), the first aircraft to land in North Vietnam in 1973 for Operation Homecoming in the final days of the Vietnam War, to repatriate American POWs from North Vietnam.

In 2005, Hanoi Taxi and other aircraft were marshalled by the Air Force to provide evacuation for those seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina. This aircraft and others evacuated thousands of people, including the medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) of hundreds of ill and injured.

With the 5 May 2005 announcement of the retirement of these last eight C-141s, the Hanoi Taxi embarked on a series of flights, giving veterans, some of whom flew out of POW captivity in Vietnam in this aircraft, the opportunity to experience one more flight before retirement. On 6 May 2006, the Hanoi Taxi piloted by Col. James F. Blackman and Col. Benjamin Johnson, landed for the last time and was received in a formal retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.[7]



Cockpit of early C-141 on display at McChord AFB

The original Starlifter model, designated C-141A, could carry 154 passengers, 123 paratroopers or 80 litters for wounded with seating for 16. A total of 284 A-models were built. The C-141A entered service in April 1965. It was soon discovered that the aircraft's volume capacity was relatively low in comparison to its lifting capacity; it generally ran out of physical space before it hit its weight limit.[8] The C-141A could carry ten standard 463L master pallets and had a total cargo capacity of 62,700 lb (28,900 kg). It could also carry specialized cargoes, such as the Minuteman missile.

NASA obtained Lockheed's C-141 demonstrator, designated L-300.[9][10] The airplane was modified to house the Kuiper Airborne Observatory telescope for use at very high altitudes. This NASA NC-141A is now in storage at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Federal Airfield, CA.[9]


A lengthened C-141B in front of a C-141A

In service, the C-141 proved to "bulk out" before it "massed out", meaning that it often had additional lift capacity that went wasted because the cargo hold was too full. To correct the perceived deficiencies of the original model and utilize the C-141 to the fullest of its capabilities, the entire fleet of 270 in-service C-141As were stretched, adding needed payload volume. The conversion program took place between 1977 and 1982, with first delivery taking place in December 1979. These modified aircraft were designated C-141B. It was estimated that this stretching program was equivalent to buying 90 new aircraft, in terms of increased capacity. Also added was a boom receptacle for inflight refueling.[11] The fuselage was stretched by adding "plug" sections before and after the wings, lengthening the fuselage a total of 23 ft 4 in (7.11 m) and allowing the carriage of 103 litters for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads.

The upgraded glass cockpit of the C-141C variant


In 1994, a total of 13 C-141Bs were given SOLL II (Special Operations Low-Level II) modifications, which gave the aircraft a low-level night flying capability, enhanced navigation equipment, and improved defensive countermeasures. These aircraft were operated by AMC in conjunction with Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).


A total of 63 C-141s were upgraded throughout the 1990s to C-141C configuration, with improved avionics and navigation systems, to keep them up to date. This variant introduced some of the first glass cockpit technology to the aircraft, as well as improving reliability by replacing some mechanical and electromechanical components with their electronic equivalents.


  • 60th Military Airlift Wing 1966 1998 (redesignated Air Mobility Wing, 1994)
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing (AETC) 1992-2001
  • 164th Airlift Wing (ANG) 1992-2004
  • 172d Airlift Wing (ANG) 1986-2003
  • 305th Air Mobility Wing 1994-2004
  • 943d Military Airlift Group, (AFRES), 1968-1973
  • 315th Airlift Wing 1973-2000
  • 938th Military Airlift Group (AFRES) 1969-1973
  • 349th Military Airlift Wing 1973-1998 (redesignated 349th Air Mobility Wing, 1994)
  • 412th Test Wing (AFMC) 1993-1999
  • 452d Air Mobility Wing 1994-2005

  • 436th Airlift Wing, 1966 1973
  • 1608th Air Transport Wing, (MATS), 1965 1966
  • 438th Airlift Wing 1967-1994
  • 443d Airlift Wing, 1966 1992
  • 939th Military Airlift Group (AFRES) 1968-1973
  • 446th Airlift Wing 1973-2001
  • 459th Airlift Wing 1986-2003
  • 912th Military Airlift Group (AFRES) 1968-1973
  • 903d Military Airlift Group (AFRES) 1970-1973
  • 514th Military Airlift Wing 1973 2004 (redesignated 514th Air Mobility Wing, 1994)
  • 944th Military Airlift Group (AFRES) 1968-1973
  • 4950th Test Wing (AFSC) 1971-1993

  • NASA - 1 C-141A Construction Number 300-6110. Did not receive a USAF serial number, was flown with civil registration N4141A and later as NASA N714NA. Operated 1966-1995


Up until 2004, 19 C-141s were destroyed in accidents.[12]

  • On 23 March 1967, the worst ground aviation accident of the Vietnam War occurred at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam when a traffic controller cleared USMC A-6A Intruder, BuNo 152608, of VMA(AW)-242, MAG-11, for takeoff but also cleared USAF C-141A-LM Starlifter, AF serial number 65-9407, of the 62nd Military Airlift Wing, McChord AFB, Washington, to cross the runway. The A-6's crew saw the Starlifter at the last moment, veered off of the runway to try to avoid the collision, but the A-6's port wing sliced through the C-141's nose, which immediately caught fire. The load of 72 acetylene gas cylinders ignited and caused a tremendous explosion, only the loadmaster escaping through the rear hatch. The A-6 overturned, skidded down the runway on its back, but both crew, Capt. Frederick Cone and Capt. Doug Wilson survived, crawling out of the smashed canopy after the jet stopped. Some of the ordnance load of bombs and rocket packs went off in the ensuing fire. Military Airlift Command crew killed were Capt. Harold Leland Hale, Capt. Leroy Edward Leonard, Capt. Max Paul Starkel, SSgt. Alanson Garland Bynum, and SSgt. Alfred Funck. This was the first of two C-141s lost during the conflict, and one of only three strategic airlifters written off during the Vietnam War.[13]
  • On 12 April 1967, C-141A, AF Ser. No. 66-0127 crashed after taking off from Cam Rahn Bay AB, Vietnam.[12] An improperly set switch caused the spoilers to activate during take off caused it to stall and crash; 7 crew were killed.
  • On 28 August 1973, C-141A, 63-8077 crashed in mountains near Torrejon AB, Spain.[12] A misunderstood descent clearance caused an aircraft to fly below its minimum safe altitude and impact the ground; 24 passengers and crew were killed.
  • On 18 August 1974, C-141A, 65-0274, of the 437th MAW, Charleston AFB, South Carolina, hit Mount Potosi at the 19,000 foot level, ~17 miles from destination, John F. Kennedy International Airport, La Paz, Bolivia, killing seven crew.[14][15][16][17]
  • On 21 March 1975, an air traffic controller confused aircraft call signs and cleared a McChord AFB based C-141A-20-LM, 64-0641,[18] of the 62d Military Airlift Wing, to descend below safe minimums and it impacted Mount Constance in the Olympic National Forest, Washington, killing 16 passengers and crew.[19][20]
  • On 28 August 1976 a C-141 stalled and crashed after an aborted landing at Sondestrom AB, Greenland killing 23 of the 27 crew and passengers; that same day a McGuire based C-141 broke up in a severe thunderstorm while on descent into Mildenhall AB, UK killing 18 passengers and crew.[21][22][23][24][25]
  • On 12 November 1980, C-141, 67-0030 crashed while landing at Cairo, Egypt.[12] It hit short of the runway while attempting to land at night in the desert with no ground lights as a visual reference, all 13 aboard were killed.
  • On 12 July 1984, a C-141B immediately after takeoff from NAS Sigonella on the Italian island of Sicily experienced an uncontained failure of its number 3 engine. Debris was ejected and caused number 4 engine to also fail. Debris also entered the cargo compartment and started a fire in a pallet containing paint. The cargo fire produced thick poisonous smoke which made visual control of aircraft extremely difficult. The aircraft entered a steep bank and crashed within 198 seconds of takeoff. All 8 crew men and a passenger on board were killed. Post crash toxicology indicated the crew had received potentially fatal levels of cyanide poisoning from the smoke, prior to impact. Subsequent to this accident, smoke goggles were added to crew oxygen masks.[26]
  • On 20 February 1989, C-141B, AF Ser. No. 66-0150, crashed while attempting to land at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The aircraft was executing a non-precision approach to the air base's Runway 18 during heavy thunderstorm activity with low visibility. The aircraft descended below minimum descent altitude and crashed in a wooded area north of Hurlburt Field. All 7 crew members and 1 passenger were killed.[27]
  • On 1 December 1992 two McChord-based C-141Bs flying a nighttime air refueling mission collided over Montana and crashed. All 13 crew members died.[28]
  • On 13 September 1997, a Luftwaffe Tu-154M (ex-East German Air Force) collided with a USAF C-141 at cruise altitude off the African coast near Namibia. All 24 crew on the Tu-154 plus the 9 crew on the C-141 were killed.[29]

Aircraft on display

vapor trail]] over Antarctica

Specifications (C-141B Starlifter)

A MAC C-141 transport plane takes the remains of the crew of Space Shuttle STS-51-L to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

See also




External links

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