top of page
C-5 Galaxy - Modern Flight

Modern Flight

The U.S. Air Force airlifts personnel and material in support of military objectives for two missions: strategic and tactical.  Strategic airlift (inter-theater) is sustained air transportation between operational areas, or between the continental United States and overseas areas.  Tactical airlift (intra-theater) is deployment, airborne assault, air evacuation, and air supply within an operational area.

Strategic Airlift

Although strategic airlift is not new, it came of age with the development of two types of giant air transports:  the C-141 “Starlifter” and the C-5 “Galaxy.”

In the late 1970s, a project was begun to increase Military Airlift Command's airlift capability using the most cost-effective method.  The result was the development of the C-141B, a modified, stretched version of the C-141A. The planes were lengthened about 23 feet and an aerial refueling capability was added. These modifications enabled the B model to carry a greater volume of cargo (three additional pallets) and fly longer distances than the A model.  The first stretched Starlifter was delivered to the Air Force in December 1979. The last aircraft was delivered to the Air Force June 29, 1982.

The C-5 and the C-141B could/can carry fully equipped, combat-ready Army or Marine divisions to any point in the world on short notice.  The C-17 Globemaster III is the latest giant air transport added to the Unites States military fleet.


C-141 Starlifter - Serial Number 63-8088

In May of 2006, the C-141 “Starlifter” ended its distinguished U.S. military career.  After 43 years and approximately 10.6 million flying hours, the last C-141 Starlifter in the fleet completed its mission, landing at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force, its permanent destination.


While in 2005, the Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Foundation spearheaded the drive to refurbish the C-141 ”Golden Bear.”  The Foundation donated the majority of the funds ($45,000) and gathered the ”sweat equity” and supplies to get the job done.  It was truly a splendid endeavor that garnered the cooperation and support of the Foundation, Travis AFB, the local communities and ”Golden Bear” enthusiasts from far and near.

During the September 16, 2005 C-141 Golden Bear Dedication Ceremony, 349th Air Mobility Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Gisler, Jr. said, "With the Starlifter on display, I will be able to bring my grandchildren here and tell them of the time that I flew this bird and all that it has accomplished in history for the American people."

C-141 Golden Bear Dedication Ceremony

C-141 Golden Bear Dedication Ceremony

US Air Force photo by Arielle Kohn

Lockheed C-5 “Galaxy”

The C-5 Galaxy has been an integral part of the Travis Air Base team since 1969.  It is a worldwide workhorse for strategic airlift.  The C-5 Galaxy helps Travis Air Force Base handle more cargo and passengers than any other military air terminal in the United States.

The C-5 can hold six Apache helicopters, or two M1 main battle tanks weighing 135,400 pounds each, or six M2/M3 Bradley Infantry Vehicles, or a quarter-million pounds of relief supplies.  The C-5 is one of the biggest aircraft ever made.  There is no piece of army combat equipment the C-5 cannot carry, including a 74-ton mobile bridge.  The Wright brothers could have made their miraculous first flight within the C-5's cargo bay.

Lockheed C-5 "Galaxy"



  • Wing Span 223 feet

  • Length: 247 feet

  • Wing Area: 6,200 square feet

  • Maximum Weight:  837,000 pounds (Restricted to 769,000  pounds in peacetime)

  • Maximum Payload:  73 troops and 291,000 pounds cargo

  • Range:  3,400 miles

  • Powerplant:  4x 43,000 pound st TF39-GE-1C turbofans

Listen to a C-5

Lockheed C-5 “Galaxy”

Yet despite its size, the C-5 is amazingly versatile.  Even with a payload of 263,200 pounds, the latest version can fly non-stop for 2,500 miles at jet speeds.  With aerial refueling, it has near-unlimited range. It can load outsized cargo from both ends at once (at truck-bed height or ground level), and its 28-wheel, high-flotation landing gear allows operation from unpaved airfields without ground-support equipment.

In 1973, C-5s essentially saved Israel, flying desperately needed supplies to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the Yom Kippur War.  C-5s delivered more than 885,000 pounds of earthquake relief to Armenia in 1988.  In 1989, C-5s delivered two million pounds of clean-up gear to the Alaska oil spill.  And in Desert Storm they carried nearly half a million passengers, 15 mobile hospitals and, each day, over 200 tons of mail.

In 2005, while most of the United States sat glued to television and radio stations, watching and listening to reporters describe conditions in the Hurricane Katrina devastated region, the C-5 airmen, along with those of the C-17 Globemaster III, the C-141 Starlifter, and the C-130 Hercules provided strategic humanitarian airlift assistance to the region by airlifting tons of relief materials and military support personnel and equipment into several affected areas.  As of Sept. 1, 2005, the USAF Air Mobility command had flown in excess of 50 missions, and moved more than 530 passengers and 333 short tons of cargo for Hurricane Katrina relief.

C-5 Cockpit Procedural Trainer:


At Travis Air Force Base, the C-5 Procedural Trainer was part of the curriculum for the on-going training of Air Force C-5 pilots.

C-5 pilot and co-pilot station.


C-5 engineer's panel.


Aerial Refueling

Why Aerial Refueling?

The early development of the KC-97 and KC-135 Stratotankers was inspired by the desire of the United States to be able to keep fleets of B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers aloft during the Cold War.  A noted example of refueling used in this manner in the movies can be seen in the opening credits of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (a fictional movie, but the air-ballet of refueling scenes are from actual B-52s refueling from KC-135s).

A byproduct of this development effort and the building of large numbers of tankers was that these tankers were also available to refuel cargo aircraft, fighter aircraft, and ground attack aircraft, in addition to bombers, for ferrying to distant theaters of operations.

An aerial refueling boom is a long, rigid, hollow shaft around a telescoping fuel tube, usually fitted to the rear of the aircraft. The telescoping fuel tube incorporates a nozzle at the end which mates to the receptacle in the receiver aircraft. A poppet valve in the end of the nozzle prevents fuel from flowing until contact is made between the nozzle and receptacle. Mounted on the hollow shaft surrounding the fuel tube are small wings, or ruddevators, allowing the operator to "fly" the boom to enable alignment between the nozzle and receptacle. Once aligned, the fuel tube is hydraulically extended to effect contact. Toggles in the receptacle engage the nozzle holding it locked in place during fuel transfer. The receiver's receptacle is fitted somewhere on the top of the aircraft, usually on its centerline. Installations are design-specific for each aircraft resulting in procedural peculiarities for each receiver.


Aerial refueling boom on display at Travis Heritage Center

Strategic and Tactical Implications

The capability of refueling after takeoff conveys two considerable tactical advantages to those with tankers. Most obviously, it allows attack aircraft, fighters, and bombers to reach distances they couldn't otherwise, and patrol aircraft to remain airborne longer.  Additionally, since an aircraft's maximum takeoff weight is generally less than the maximum weight with which it can stay airborne, this allows an aircraft to take off with only a partial fuel load, and carry additional payload weight instead.  Then, after reaching altitude, the aircraft's tanks can be topped off by a tanker, bringing it up to its maximum flight weight.

KC-10 refueling an F/A-18
Aerial refueling training mission

KC-10 refueling an F/A-18

United States Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker,
two F-15 Eagles (twin fins)
and two F-16 Fighting Falcons,
on an aerial refueling training mission.

The KC-10 Extender is another air-to-air tanker aircraft in service with the United States Air Force derived from the civilian DC-10-30 airliner.  Though the 59 Extenders currently in service are greatly outnumbered by the older KC-135 Stratotanker, the KC-10 has a significantly larger fuel capacity.  KC-10s are currently stationed primarily at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and Travis Air Force Base in California.

Information derived from, “Travis Heritage Center” by Nick Veronico, copyright Travis AFB Historical Society and Travis AFB Heritage Center Foundation. This book is available from the Travis Heritage Center gift shop.

bottom of page