I had a nice chat with a new friend a couple of days ago while we were both waiting for airline flights. He is currently taking flying lessons toward his private pilot’s license and is very enthusiastic about all things related to aviation. As I sat there on that next flight I thought about some of the statements that I had made during our conversation. I have been flying professionally for about 40 years and some of the things that I do or have done in aviation seem to me to be fairly commonplace. However, I could see that they didn’t appear that way to him. When I make a really good landing and am walking away from the gate and look back at the airplane, I still get an strong feeling of accomplishment, but having made the landing in a Boeing 747-400 with 400 people on board doesn’t strike me as unusual because that’s my job. The view changes considerably with a different frame of reference. That conversation made me think back on how I have arrived where I am in my career. I thought I might look back and write about some of the planes I have flown once in a while. I’ll start with the last airplane I flew during my military career.
I was a pilot in the USAF for 15 years of my 20-year military career. My last 8 years in the military were spent flying the Lockheed C-5A/B. The first four of those years I was based in California flying missions to both Asia and Europe. The other four years were spent at the C-5 training base in far, far, far southwest Oklahoma. (If you got a little too far south OR west of the field you found yourself in Texas.) By the time I retired from there, I was the chief of standardization for the training squadron. In that position I administered evaluations to the squadron instructors and to some of the students going through training, trying to make sure that everyone was teaching and learning the same information . At that time we were qualifying newly assigned pilots as C-5 copilots and upgrading first pilots to the aircraft commander position. We were also qualifying aircraft commanders in air refueling. The transition from copilot to first pilot was done at the squadron level. The difference between a copilot and a first pilot is mainly experience. The first pilot can make landings from either cockpit seat with the aircraft commander occupying the opposite seat. A copilot can only fly from the right seat. (At least that was the way it was 20 years ago.) I preferred to trade my evaluator hat for my instructor hat as often as possible so that I could teach air refueling to the new aircraft commanders. It meant I would be flying out of the local traffic pattern rather than requiring me to fly around the pattern for four hours practicing instrument approaches and simulated emergencies. The change of scenery was the best way I could find to help me avoid “Instructor Burnout.”
The C-5 is an amazing airplane by anyone’s standards, especially when you consider that it was put into service in mid-1970. I saw my first one sitting on the ramp at Tan Son Nuht Air Base in late 1970. It was just about sunset and I remember climbing up onto the flight deck and seeing a million instrument lights and fog rolling out of the air conditioning ducts. It was definitely otherworldly.
The flight crew area is above the cargo compartment and forward of the wing, accessible by a stairway from the cargo compartment level. The minimum crew for the C-5 is 6 people; two pilots, two flight engineers and two loadmasters. On operational missions, however, the crew can grow to as many as 22. The C-5 cockpit is, by normal standards, huge.The Flight Engineer station has two seats (facing right), the Navigator’s station has one seat (facing left) and there is an observers seat facing forward at the aft end of the center console. You can see from these photos that the cockpit is wide enough that the center console has two full sets of throttles and two speedbrake levers. The photo of the flight engineer station shows the engineer working on the MADAR system (Malfunction Analysis Detection and Recording). The aircraft has several hundred sensors scattered throughout the airframe that provide data to the MADAR unit. With today’s electronic capabilities, the MADAR system is roughly equivalent to stone tablets. It had checklists and troubleshooting steps available on a film pack and recorded all it’s readings on magnetic tape.
There is also a troop compartment above the cargo compartment aft of the wing. The troop compartment has 75 seats, room for 73 passengers (facing aft) and two loadmasters who take care of the passengers. It was designed to be a way to carry the drivers and maintainers of the equipment that the C-5 could carry in it’s cargo compartment. As a gee whiz factor, aft of the troop compartment there is an unpressurized area the size of a C-130 cargo compartment. It can be accessed on the ground through a hatch on the rear wall of the troop compartment. There is a walkway back there that leads to a ladder which takes you to the top of the T-tail.
In the next chapter I’ll talk a little more about the airplane. I have read through some of the other sites with information about the C-5 and they seem to have left off some historical information. Then we’ll get into the fun part, how it flies.