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C-5 History

In 1961 several aircraft companies began design studies of a heavy logistic jet transport intended to replace and augment the capabilities of the aging Douglas C-133 and complement the existing fleet of C-141 jet-powered transports. The aircraft was intended to deliver payloads in the range of 100 000 to 200 000 pounds over intercontinental distances and be able to operate from semiprepared runways.

The Army wanted something more than the the C-141 Starlifter -- a transport capable of flying 4,000 nautical miles with a minimum payload of 135,000 pounds, about twice that of the C-141. A 15-foot-wide fuselage would be needed to transport bulky Army equipment, and the airplane would have to be capable of parachuting both cargo and troops. At that time, the Air Force was thinking about a new, multi-purpose, long-endurance transport to complement the C-141. In October 1961 the Military Air Transport Service received a Qualitative Operational Requirement (QOR) from Air Force headquarters for a successor to the turboprop Douglas C-133, which could accommodate a strategic missile in its cargo bay but lacked reliability, as demonstrated by several unexplained crashes, and ease of maintenance. MATS officials concluded that the new transport should be available before mid-1967, and that some 160 of the new aircraft would be required to support a limited war contingency operation in a single theater, and more in the event of a simultaneous emergency elsewhere.

In August 1962, however, the proposed transport, by then referred to as program CX-4, was rejected by the Army, which was of the view that it did not represent any "significant advance" over the C-141. On 20 June 1963 the Air Force released another version of the CX-4, which promised the Army what it wanted. By the end of October 1963, the CX-X conceptual design envisioned a gross weight of 550,000 pounds, a maximum payload of 180,000 pounds, a maximum speed of Mach .75; and an unrefueled range of 5,000 nautical miles with a payload of 115,000 pounds. The cargo compartment would be large-measuring 17 1/5 feet wide by 13 1/2 feet high and 100 feet long-with access through doors at the front and rear.

Requests for Proposal for the Heavy Logistics System (CX-HLS), as the CX-X was now known, went to prospective airframe and propulsion contractors on 27 April 1964. The new CX-HLS was equipped with only four engines, instead of six as planned for the defunct CX-4. On 18 May 1964, airframe proposals arrived from the Boeing Company, Douglas Aircraft Company, General Dynamics Corporation, Lockheed-Georgia Company, and Martin Marietta Corporation; the General Electric Company, Curtiss-Wright Corporation, and the Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation submitted engine proposals. The Air Force emphasized that the program, although restricted to a relatively small initial purchase, could eventually total as many as 200 aircraft.

Following the design competition, Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed were given contracts for further development of their designs. Concurrently, General Electric and Pratt & Whimey were given design contracts for high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines to power the new aircraft. The weight of the aircraft was expected to be in the 700 000-pound class, and the thrust level required of the new engines was about 40 000 pounds.

All three industry designs incorporated high-wing configurations with four large turbofan engines in underwing nacelles and front and rear doors with ramps for flow-through loading and unloading. The Boeing and Douglas designs had conventional tail configurations, whereas the Lockheed design incorporated a T-tail configuration. The C-5 design submitted by Boeing was found to have superior aerodynamic cruise performance in the transonic wind-tunnel tests performed at Langley. Boeing's experience with the C-5 competition coupled with Boeing management's vision of the market-ability of jumbo civil transports (and interest from Pan American Airlines) led to the development of the Boeing 747, which enabled Boeing to dominate the world market with a new product line. Although the 747 was a completely new aircraft design (low wing, passenger-carrying civil aircraft), the general configuration influence of the earlier C-5 candidate is in evidence.

The selection of the General Electric Company to develop the engine was announced in August 1965.

On 30 September 1965, Secretary of Defense McNamara announced that Lockheed had won the airframe production contract for the program's first increment-the 58 aircraft of Production Run A. The approved purchase of 58 C-5As, known as Production Run A, would almost surely be followed by the procurement of another 57 C-5As, referred to as Production Run B. Finally, a last buy of 85 aircraft, or Production Run C, was anticipated. This award came at a critical time for Lockheed because C-141 production was coming to an end, threatening to shut down the enormous, government-owned Marietta plant, which Lockheed leased, and deliver a damaging economic blow to the state of Georgia.

In the initial design of the C-5, Lockheed implemented an aggressive weight reduction program to meet performance requirements. The wing weight was reduced by using higher design stress levels and reducing primary component thickness. By early 1967, Air Force officials realized that the stress values of the new transport's wings left little margin for potential static overloading or the effect of metal fatigue. The higher stress levels proved to be a problem, and wing cracks were found early in full-scale ground fatigue tests in July 1969. Lockheed agreed to deal with the problem, but subsequent events proved the contractor to be either unwilling or unable to comply. By mid-1970, when wing fatigue began to occur, the fortieth C-5A was being assembled and Lockheed employees were already machining wing parts for the sixtieth airframe. the C-5A's many structural problems would limit the aircraft's life to one-fourth of the 30,000 flying hours sought by the Military Airlift Command.

During 1968 and 1969, testing of the first two aircraft disclosed that the main landing gear did not work properly. Lockheed attributed the landing gear's malfunction to the "interim configuration" of the first two C-5As, which functioned as test aircraft. The next aircraft, however, experienced similar problems. Correction of the failings in the landing gear took several years. On 06 June 1970, Gen. Jack Catton, the MAC Commander, piloted the first operational C-5A, to Charleston AFB. As the plane touched down, a tire on one of the main landing-gear trucks blew out, and a wheel came off another truck and bounced wildly down the runway, an especially embarrassing mishap since it happened before an assemblage of military officers and civilian officials.

By November 1968 the estimated price of the C-5A program had soared to more than $5 billion, or about $43 million for each of 115 aircraft. By mid-1973, when C-5A total production ended at 81 aircraft, the Aeronautical Systems Division of the Air Force Systems Command calculated two sets of figures for the C-5A program. The first one set a unit price of $46.92 million, representing the total sum paid to Lockheed for each C-5A, regardless of the aircraft's condition. A second figure [the valid one], calculated a unit cost of $55.37 million, which included the extra $9.45 million the Air Force had to spend on each and every C-5A for modifications. The aggregate cost of improvements, logistics support, aerospace ground equipment, and the replenishment of stocks of spare parts for the next five years brought the total cost of 81 aircraft to $4.48 billion, one billion more than initially agreed upon, and for 31 fewer airplanes.

When John Kennedy was a Senator, he was on the Joint Economic Committee. He said it was the “best fun Committee” of the Senate. You can get into any subject. The biggest game in town, as far as discretionary spendingwas concerned, was in the Defense Department. Of course, this had enormous economic implications. The C-5A cost overruns, technical problems, and actual concealment of such bad news became public knowledge when A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a civilian cost analyst and management systems deputy to Leonard Mark, the Air Force Assistant Secretary for Financial Management, testified about the C-5A before Congress, beginning in November 1968. Senator William Proxmire led the complaints about the rising cost of the new transport.

Ernest Fitzgerald not only ignited the fires of opposition with his initial testimony on November 13, 1968, he fanned the flames in three subsequent appearances before the Joint Economic Subcommittee headed by Senator Proxmire, in November 1968, Fitzgerald somewhat reluctantly confirmed Senator Proxmire's assumption that the Production Runs A and B, the purchase of 115 C-5As and their spare parts, would cost about $5.2 billion, almost $2 billion more than estimated by the Air Force in 1965.

Critics said that Ernie came up and blabbed out that there was a two billion dollar overrun on the C-5A and was disloyal to the Air Force. Ernie didn't deny that, but that isn't quite what happened. What really happened was that Richard Kaufman of the Joint Economic Committee staff had been briefed at the Pentagon on the C-5A, and had just stumbled, during the briefing, on the fact that there was a two billion dollar overrun.

So when Ernie came up to testify, he was asked about that. If you read the record you'll find that Ernie demurred, several times. He wasn't about to confirm it. So finally, Proxmire put it to him that there is a two billion dollar overrun on the C-5A, to which Ernie finally answered yes, which was truthful. He wasn't going to lie. Ernie is a hero, and deserves all kinds of credit, and was fired and rehired. The Defense Department tried to muzzle or to punish Ernie for testifying before the Joint Economic Committee. There's a statute which makes it illegal for a department or agency to punish an employee for giving testimony to Congress. Congress has to be able to get information and protect itself.

The Nixon administration decided to decrease the total C-5A procurement from 115 aircraft to 81. On 06 May 1971, Secretary of the Treasury Connally announced that President Nixon would ask Congress to provide a $250 million loan guarantee to ward off Lockheed's potential bankruptcy,

The first C-5A was delivered to the Transitional Training Unit at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., in December 1969. The first operational C-5s were delivered to the 437th Military Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., in June 1970.In September 1970 the first squadron in the Military Airlift Command (MAC) attained initial operational capability (IOC) at Charleston Air Force Base (AFB), South Carolina. The IOC lagged more than a year behind the original schedule, and several months beyond a revised date established on 17 December 1969, when MAC took delivery of its first C-5A. The operational C-5As at Charleston, moreover, experienced considerable difficulty with their landing gear, forcing postponement of the squadron's IOC until September.

In December 1984, the 433rd Tactical Airlift Wing (now the 433rd Military Airlift Wing) at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, became the first Air Force Reserve wing equipped with C-5 Galaxies.

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