The C-5, with its massive payload capability, has opened unprecedented dimensions of strategic airlift in support of national defense. For 20 years it has been involved in many historic airlift missions, and is invaluable to the Air Force mission and humanitarian efforts. The spectacular airlift during the latter stages of Vietnam War by a few carefully selected C-5As demonstrated the importance of the aircraft in a strategy of flexible response.
C-5A cargo aircraft demonstrated their unique advantages after the Arab armies of Syria and Egypt attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, advancing from the Golan Heights and across the Suez Canal. Although the United States took immediate action to help Israel, a refusal by Arab petroleum producers to sell oil to nations supporting Israel deterred America's European allies from granting landing or overflight rights to aircraft bound for Israel. A ban on aerial refueling still handicapped the C-5A, complicating the employment of that airplane, which like all other American military aircraft, could stage only through Portugal's Lajes airfield in the Azores before flying over the Straits of Gibraltar to Lod airfield in Israel-an average distance from the United States of 6,450 nautical miles. On October 13, 1973, a week after the invasion but only nine hours after President Nixon ordered the first emergency resupply operation, a C-5A loaded with 193,000 pounds of cargo was on its way to Israel. All the American equipment that reached Israel before the ceasefire of October 24 arrived by air, and MAC C-5As flew 145 missions in less than two weeks. Twenty-nine of these missions airlifted vitally-needed M48 and M60 tanks, cargo that could be carried only by the C-5A.
In December 1988, four C-5s participated in the delivery of more than 885,000 pounds (398,250 kilograms) of earthquake relief supplies to the then-Soviet Republic of Armenia. The C-5 also assisted with an Alaskan oil spill cleanup in March 1989, transporting nearly 2 million pounds (900,000 kilograms) of equipment to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
The most dramatic display of the Galaxy's capability and value was during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The C-5, along with other Air Force transport aircraft, airlifted almost a half-million passengers and more than 577,000 tons (519,300 metric tons) of cargo. This included 15 air-transportable hospitals and the more than 5,000 medical personnel to run them, and more than 211 tons (189.9 metric tons) of mail to and from the men and women in the Middle East - each day. Altogether, Desert Shield and Desert Storm required the services of 80 percent of the Air Force's C-141 fleet and 90 percent of the C-5s. These aircraft moved nearly three quarters of the air cargo and one third of the personnel airlifted into the Gulf region. Since the C-5's capacity by far exceed that of the C-141, the deployment afforded an impressive vindication of the often criticized C-5 Galaxy.
The C-5 has been used more than planned since Operation Desert Storm in response to various contingencies as well as shortages of C-141 aircraft and delays in C-17 deliveries.
The combination of C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-5s compiled 11,400 sorties during the Operation Iraqi Freeddom build-up. C-5s flew about 900 fewer sorties than the Globemasters, but hauled about 11,500 more tons and 5,300 more passengers. C-5s hauled an average of 53.8 tons per sortie, compared with an average 33.1 tons by the smaller C-17. The C-5 fleet's reliability struggled to match the operational tempo during the early build-up, but improved by nearly 10 points by the end of hostilities in mid-April. Mission capable rates for the C-5 rose from 62.1 percent in January to 71.6 percent during the month of April. Compared with other Air Force airplanes, the C-5's mission capable rate was the lowest in the fleet, close to the U.S. Marine Corps' aging fleet of AH-1W Cobras. The Air Force reported the Cobras' mission capable rate at 68.2 percent, but some Marine officials say the actual number could be much lower.
Despite the high sortie rates, the deployment was nearly accident-free for the Air Force's biggest airlifters. C-17s sustained seven minor mishaps and the C-5s reported four incidents, but no airlifters crashed or sustained more than $1 million in damage. Overall, coalition forces lost 20 manned aircraft during the war, including six helicopters and one A-10A downed by enemy fire.
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