The Largest Aircraft in the USAF: Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy has been in service for over 50 years and it was a key asset in historical events such as Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Yom Kippur War.
M1 Abrams loaded on a C-5 Galaxy

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is the biggest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) today, and one of the largest aircraft in the world just behind airplanes such as the Antonov An-225 Mriya, Airbus A380-800, or Boeing 747-8.

This aircraft is so large that it does not fit in most hangars and usually, hangars must be modified so that the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy fits entirely in them – imagine how big it is! 

In addition, it is indisputably one of the giants of the skies, and after over 50 years, it remains one of the most important assets of the USAF because of its unrivaled capability to carry massive loads.


Why did the USAF need the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy?

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy preparing to take off
Lockheed-C-5-Galaxy-to-take-off by United States Air Force. Public Domain.

The C-5 Galaxy is a military logistics transport plane built to fly long distances and carry personnel and cargo. 

Since its first flights, it has kept the US armed forces well supplied in every conceivable corner of the planet where there is an American military base, improving the logistics of the USAF.

It was designed to be a top-notch aircraft despite its high fuel consumption. Its design is pleasant and accommodates 7 crew members to fly from one continent to another with ease and comfort.


These features have made the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy the cargo equivalent to the A-10 Warthog. This is what makes this aircraft so special!

The Lockheed C-5 and the Cold War

LockheedC-5Galaxy flying
60thogroup-kc10-c5 by U.S. Air Force photo. Public Domain.

Lockheed Martin started the construction of the C-5 Galaxy in 1966, and it made its first flight in 1968.

Lockheed initially built 58 C-5 Galaxies to help the air force transport its heavier tanks. As technology advanced during the Cold War, tanks reached a weight of 50 tons and the cargo planes of the time were not designed for the new weights of U.S. weaponry.


As a result, the USAF was looking for reliable solutions… and the C-5 was the aircraft they were looking for.

This aircraft served to provide a good part of the war material the army needed to keep well-supplied marines on the front lines.

In addition, due to its large size, it was also used for evacuating Saigon in the days prior to the fall of the city.


Just one accident marred the performance of the C-5 Galaxy, the Tân Sơn Nhứt C-5 accident. During the evacuation of thousands of civilians from Saigon, a C-5 crashed and 138 people lost their lives. Fortunately, 176 survived the accident. 

General specs

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
167th AS C-5A Galaxy by United States Air Force. Public Domain.

The C-5 has an impressive length of 247 feet long and a wingspan of 222 feet long which is enormous for the size of an average airplane. 

However, its huge size is an advantage when working with this aircraft. The loading process is quite simple since both the forward and back doors open, allowing ground crews to simultaneously load and unload cargo from both ends, reducing cargo transfer times – and it is possible to store one tank and six helicopters inside the aircraft.


Particularly, its main specifications are the following:

  • Main function: Transport of large cargo
  • Prime contractor: Lockheed Martin
  • Engine: Four F-138-GE100 General Electric engines
  • Wingspan: 222,9 feet
  • Length: 247,1 feet
  • Height: 65 feet. 1 inch
  • Maximum load: 281 pounds 
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 840,000 pounds 

The Future of the C-5 Galaxy

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
A C-5 Galaxy aircraft from the 436th Military Squadron by Public Domain.

In recent years, this aircraft has been upgraded several times, improving its performance by adding new advanced technologies such as a cutting-edge GPS, modern LCD screens, and a new engine for efficient takeoffs and lower power consumption.

This modernization process will keep these aircraft up to date for much longer, until 2040 when they will be replaced by aircraft that include new technologies that are emerging today.


In any case, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy will have an unforgettable legacy with more than 70 years of shaping American military aviation history by the time it retires around 2040.

Wrapping up

The C-5 Galaxy as a trendsetter in both military and commercial cargo aircraft has been the representation of the US Air Force’s power, and its ability to win wars and take aeronautical technology to the next level in spite of adversity.

Although it has been in service for decades, it still remains one of the major displays of USAF greatness and will continue to fly for at least 20 more years until it is replaced by aircraft with far greater capabilities to enhance the U.S. military air logistics.


Featured image credit: M1 Abrams loaded on a C-5 Galaxy by Roland Balik. Public Domain.