The US Air Force's largest aircraft can carry loads up to 281,000 pounds

Find out all you need to know about the C-5M Super Galaxy.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The C-5M Super Galaxy in flightU.S. Air Force

What’s the Air Force’s largest aircraft? It’s the C-5M Super Galaxy and it is a strategic transport aircraft. The U.S. Air Force owns and operates 52 of these mighty planes and they are kept at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Travis AFB, California; Lackland AFB, Texas; and Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts.

A well-equipped plane

"The C-5M Super Galaxy is equipped with five sets of landing gear, 28 wheels, four General Electric CF6-80C2-L1F (F-138) commercial engines, and a state-of-the-art maintenance diagnostics system. It can carry oversized cargo over intercontinental ranges and can take off and land on relatively short runways. Both the nose and aft doors open, allowing ground crews to simultaneously load and off-load cargo from both ends, reducing cargo transfer times. The full-width drive-on ramps at each end enable double rows of vehicles to be transported," states the Air Force on its website.

The plane can accommodate a cargo load of 281,001 pounds (127,460 kg) and can fly 2,150 nautical miles, offload, and fly to a second base 500 nautical miles away from the original destination — all without aerial refueling.

The first C-5 was delivered to the Air Force by Lockheed-Georgia Co. in June of 1970. The last planes came in March of 1989.

Many changes were made to these powerful planes to become the C-5s they are today. In 1998, the Air Force decided to upgrade its inventory of C-5s.

"Based on a study showing 80 percent of the C-5 airframe service life remaining, Air Mobility Command began an aggressive program to modernize the C-5s in 1998. The C-5 Avionics Modernization Program included upgrading the avionics to improve communications, as well as upgrading the navigation, surveillance and air traffic management systems to maintain compliance with national and international airspace requirements. It also added new safety equipment and installed a new autopilot system," stated the Air Force’s website.

Transforming into C-5M Super Galaxies

But what transformed these regular old C-5s into C-5M Super Galaxies? It was a comprehensive Reliability Enhancement and Re-engineering Program undertaken in 2018.

"The C-5 aircraft engines were upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric CF6-80C2-L1F (F-138) commercial engines. This engine delivers a 22 percent increase in thrust, a 30 percent shorter take-off roll, a 58 percent faster climb rate, and will allow significantly more cargo to be carried over longer distances. With its new engines and other system upgrades, the RERP modified C-5A/B/Cs became C-5M Super Galaxies," explained the Air Force.

These upgrades also had the added benefit of making the C-5 fleet quieter (Federal Aviation Administration Stage 4 Compliant) and providing the aircrafts with advanced features such as enhanced aircraft reliability, maintainability, maintained structural and system integrity, reduced cost of ownership and increased operational capability.

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