Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

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C-141 Starlifter
USAF Lockheed C-141C Starlifter 65-0248.jpg
A United States Air Force C-141C of the 452d Air Mobility Wing in 2003
RoleStrategic airlifter
First flight17 December 1963
Retired6 May 2006
Primary usersUnited States Air Force
Number built285
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C-141 Starlifter
USAF Lockheed C-141C Starlifter 65-0248.jpg
A United States Air Force C-141C of the 452d Air Mobility Wing in 2003
RoleStrategic airlifter
First flight17 December 1963
Retired6 May 2006
Primary usersUnited States Air Force
Number built285

The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter was a military strategic airlifter in service with the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), its successor organization the Military Airlift Command (MAC), and finally the Air Mobility Command (AMC) of the United States Air Force (USAF). The aircraft also served with MAC-cum-AMC-gained airlift wings and air mobility wings of the Air Force Reserve (AFRES), later renamed Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC), the Air National Guard (ANG) and, in later years, one air mobility wing of the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) dedicated to C-141, C-5, C-17 and KC-135 training.

Introduced to replace slower piston-engined cargo planes such as the C-124 Globemaster II, the C-141 was designed to requirements set in 1960 and first flew in 1963. Production deliveries of an eventual 285 planes began in 1965: 284 for the Air Force, and one for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use as an airborne observatory. The aircraft remained in service for over 40 years until the USAF withdrew the last C-141s from service in 2006, after replacing the airlifter with the C-17 Globemaster III.

Design and development[edit]

In the early 1960s, the United States Air Force's Military Air Transport Service (MATS) relied on a substantial number of propeller-driven aircraft for strategic airlift.[1] As these aircraft were mostly obsolescent designs and the Air Force needed the benefits of jet power, the USAF ordered 48 Boeing C-135 Stratolifters as an interim step. The C-135 was a useful stop-gap, but only had side-loading doors and most bulky and oversize equipment would not fit, especially that employed by the U.S. Army.

In the spring of 1960 the Air Force released Specific Operational Requirement 182, calling for a new aircraft that would be capable of performing both strategic and tactical airlift missions. The strategic role demanded that the aircraft be capable of missions with a radius of at least 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) with a 60,000 pounds (27,000 kg) load. The tactical role required it to be able to perform low-altitude air drops of supplies, and carry and drop paratroops in combat.[2] Several companies responded to SOR 182, including Boeing, Lockheed and General Dynamics.[3]

Early C-141As of 436th Airlift Wing, MAC, at Brisbane Airport, Australia supporting the visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson, 22 October 1966.

Lockheed responded to the requirement with a unique design: the Lockheed Model 300, the first large jet designed from the start to carry freight. The Model 300 had a swept high-mounted wing with four 21,000 pounds-force (93 kN) thrust TF33 turbofan engines pod-mounted below the wings. An important aspect was the cabin floor's height of only 50 inches (130 cm) above the ground, allowing easy access to the cabin through the rear doors. The two rear side doors were designed to allow the aircraft to drop paratroopers (in August 1965 the type performed the first paratroop drop from a jet-powered aircraft). The rear cargo doors could be opened in flight to allow airborne freight drops. The shoulder-mounted wings gave internal clearance in the cargo hold of 10 feet (3.0 m) wide, 9 ft (2.7 m) high and 70 ft (21 m) long. The size enabled the Starlifter to carry, for example, a complete LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile in its container. The aircraft was capable of carrying a maximum of 70,847 pounds (32,136 kg) over short distances, and up to 92,000 pounds (42,000 kg) in the version configured to carry the Minuteman, which stripped other equipment. The aircraft could also carry up to 154 troops, 123 paratroopers or 80 litter patients.

The Apollo 11 Mobile Quarantine Facility is unloaded from a C-141 at Ellington Air Force Base, July 27, 1969.

President John F. Kennedy's first official act after his inauguration was to order the development of the Lockheed 300 on 13 March 1961, with a contract for five aircraft for test and evaluation to be designated the C-141. One unusual aspect of the aircraft was that it was designed to meet both military and civil airworthiness standards. The prototype C-141A serial number 61-2775 was manufactured and assembled in record time, being rolled out of the Lockheed factory at Marietta, Georgia on 22 August 1963 and first flying on 17 December, the 60th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight. The company and the Air Force then started an operational testing program and the delivery of 284 aircraft, initially to units of the MATS, later renamed the Military Airlift Command (MAC) in 1966.

An effort to sell the aircraft on the civilian market resulted in provisional orders from Flying Tiger Line and Slick Airways for four aircraft each. These were to be a stretched version, 37 feet (11 m) longer than the C-141A, and marketed as the L-300 SuperstarLifter. Other changes were also incorporated to make more commercial including a different yoke. The development was not sustained and only one civilian demonstration aircraft was built. When no commercial sales were made Lockheed donated the aircraft to NASA.

Operational history[edit]

The prototype and development aircraft then began an intensive operational testing program including the first delivery to MATS (63-8078) on 19 October 1964 to the 1707th Air Transport Wing, Heavy (Training), Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.[4][5] Testing continued and a Federal Aviation Authority type certificate was awarded on 29 January 1965. The first delivery to an operational unit (63-8088) was made on 23 April 1965 to the 44th Air Transport Squadron, 1501st Air Transport Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California.[6] Although operational testing continued, due to the United States' military involvement in South Vietnam, the C-141 was soon employed in operational sorties to the combat zone.

On 8 January 1966, following the disestablishment of MATS, all C-141s were transferred to the newly established Military Airlift Command (MAC).[citation needed]

C-141 participating in Operation Deep Freeze

In October 1973, C-141s and C-5s airlifted supplies from the United States to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as part of Operation Nickel Grass. Over the course of the operation, C-141s flew 422 missions and carried a total of 10,754 tons of cargo.[7]

The first strategic airlift flight of Operation Desert Shield was flown by a MAC C-141 of the 437th Military Airlift Wing out of Charleston AFB, SC, on 7 August 1990. The C-141 proved to be a workhorse airlifter of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, flying 159,462 short tons (144,661,000 kg) of cargo and 93,126 passengers during 8,536 airlift missions.[8]

On 1 June 1992, following the disestablishment of Military Airlift Command, all C-141s and the airlift wings to which they were assigned were transferred to the newly established Air Mobility Command (AMC). Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and Air National Guard (ANG) C-141s and units were also transferred to AMC.

On 16 September 2004, the C-141 left service with all active duty USAF units, being confined to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units for the remainder of its operational service life. As of 25 September 2005, there were only eight C-141 aircraft still flying, all from the Air Force Reserve's 445th Airlift Wing (445 AW) at Wright-Patterson AFB. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, the C-141s assigned to the 445 AW participated in missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly for the medical evacuation of wounded service members. The last eight C-141s were officially retired in 2006.

Hanoi Taxi flying over the National Museum of the United States Air Force in December 2005.

In 1994 one of the aircraft at Wright-Patterson AFB was identified by its crew chief as the Hanoi Taxi (AF Serial Number 66-0177), the first aircraft to land in North Vietnam in 1973 for Operation Homecoming in the final days of the Vietnam War, to repatriate American POWs from North Vietnam.

In 2005, Hanoi Taxi and other aircraft were marshalled by the Air Force to provide evacuation for those seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina. This aircraft and others evacuated thousands of people, including the medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) of hundreds of ill and injured.

With the 5 May 2005 announcement of the retirement of these last eight C-141s, the Hanoi Taxi embarked on a series of flights, giving veterans, some of whom flew out of POW captivity in Vietnam in this aircraft, the opportunity to experience one more flight before retirement.[citation needed] On 6 May 2006, the Hanoi Taxi landed for the last time and was received in a formal retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.[9]



Cockpit of early C-141 on display at McChord AFB

The original Starlifter model, designated C-141A, could carry 154 passengers, 123 paratroopers or 80 litters for wounded with seating for 16. A total of 284 A-models were built. The C-141A entered service in April 1965. It was soon discovered that the aircraft's volume capacity was relatively low in comparison to its lifting capacity; it generally ran out of physical space before it hit its weight limit.[10] The C-141A could carry ten standard 463L master pallets and had a total cargo capacity of 62,700 pounds (28,400 kg). It could also carry specialized cargoes, such as the Minuteman missile.

NASA obtained Lockheed's C-141 demonstrator, designated L-300.[11][12] The airplane was modified to house the Kuiper Airborne Observatory telescope for use at very high altitudes. This NASA NC-141A is now in storage at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Federal Airfield, CA.[11]


A lengthened C-141B in front of a C-141A

In service, the C-141 proved to "bulk out" before it "grossed out", meaning that it often had additional lift capacity that went wasted because the cargo hold was full before the plane's weight capacity had been reached. To correct the perceived deficiencies of the original model and utilize the C-141 to the fullest of its capabilities, 270 in-service C-141As (most of the fleet) were stretched, adding needed payload volume. The conversion program took place between 1977 and 1982, with first delivery taking place in December 1979. These modified aircraft were designated C-141B. It was estimated that this stretching program was equivalent to buying 90 new aircraft, in terms of increased capacity. Also added was a boom receptacle for inflight refueling.[13] The fuselage was stretched by adding "plug" sections before and after the wings, lengthening the fuselage a total of 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m) and allowing the carriage of 103 litters for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads.

The upgraded glass cockpit of the C-141C variant

SOLL II[edit]

In 1994, a total of 13 C-141Bs were given SOLL II (Special Operations Low-Level II) modifications, which gave the aircraft a low-level night flying capability, enhanced navigation equipment, and improved defensive countermeasures. These aircraft were operated by AMC in conjunction with Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).


A total of 63 C-141s were upgraded throughout the 1990s to C-141C configuration, with improved avionics and navigation systems, to keep them up to date. This variant introduced some of the first glass cockpit technology to the aircraft, as well as improving reliability by replacing some mechanical and electromechanical components with their electronic equivalents.


 United States

United States Air Force - 284 C-141A, B and C

Military Air Transport Service
44th Air Transport Sq
75th Air Transport Sq
20th Air Transport Sq
3d Air Transport Sq
1741st Air Transport Sq
Military Airlift Command/Air Mobility Command
7th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1966-93
19th Airlift Sq, 1993-96
20th Airlift Sq, 1993-98
44th Military Airlift Sq, 1966-72
75th Military Airlift Sq, 1966-71
86th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1966-93
4th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1966-2000
7th Airlift Sq, 1993-2000
8th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1966-2000
36th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1989-93
14th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1967-92
15th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1967-93
52d Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1988-92
53d Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-93
6th Airlift Sq, 1994-2004
13th Airlift Sq, 1994-2001
18th Airlift Sq, 1994-95
9th Military Airlift Sq, 1966-68
20th Military Airlift Sq, 1966-73
58th Military Airlift Sq (Robins AFB, Georgia) 1967-71
3d Military Airlift Sq, 1966-70
14th Airlift Sq, 1992-95
15th Airlift Sq, 1993-97
16th Airlift Sq, 1993-2000
17th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1987-93
20th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-93
41st Military Airlift Sq, 1966-92
76th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1966-93
6th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1970-94
13th Airlift Sq, 1993-94
18th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1968-94
30th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1967-93
57th Military Airlift Sq
Air Education & Training Command
57th Airlift Sq
Air Force Logistics Command
2875th Test Sq
Air Force Systems Command
4953d Test Sq, 1975-93
Air Force Materiel Command
418th Flight Test Sq
339th Flight Test Sq
Air Force Reserve
300th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-97
701st Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-97
707th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-2000
708th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq
710th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq
728th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-92
729th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-94
730th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-94
89th Airlift Sq, 1994-2005
356th Airlift Sq, 1994-2006
97th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-2000
313th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-96
728th Airlift Sq, 1992-99
729th Airlift Sq
730th Airlift Sq
756th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq
335th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-95
702d Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-2000
732d Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq, 1973-2004
335th Military Airlift Sq
702d Military Airlift Sq
732d Military Airlift Sq
326th Military Airlift Sq
301st Military Airlift Sq
312th Military Airlift Sq
97th Military Airlift Sq, 1969-73
313th Military Airlift Sq, 1968-73
300th Military Airlift Sq, 1969-73
701st Military Airlift Sq, 1970-73
707th Military Airlift Sq, 1970-73
728th Military Airlift Sq, 1969-73
729th Military Airlift Sq, 1969-73
730th Military Airlift Sq, 1968-73
Air National Guard
155th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq
183th Military Airlift Sq/Airlift Sq

NASA - 1 C-141A Construction Number 300-6110. Did not receive a USAF serial number, was flown with civil registration N4141A and later as NASA N714NA. Operated 1966-1995.[citation needed]


Through 2005, 19 C-141s were destroyed in accidents.[14]

Aircraft on display[edit]

A C-141 Starlifter leaves a vapor trail over Antarctica

Specifications (C-141B Starlifter)[edit]

A MAC C-141 transports the remains of the crew from Space Shuttle Challenger's doomed last mission to Dover AFB, Delaware.

Data from Simviation.com[37]

General characteristics


See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


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  2. ^ Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, The Aviation Zone
  3. ^ Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, World Military Aircraft
  4. ^ C-141 Tail Number: 63-8078
  5. ^ USAFHRA Document 00495863
  6. ^ C-141 Tail Number: 63-8088
  7. ^ "Operation Nickel Grass."Air Mobility Command Museum. Retrieved: 23 August 2014.
  8. ^ Matthews and Holt 1992, pp. 37-40.
  9. ^ a b "LOCKHEED C-141C STARLIFTER 'HANOI TAXI'."National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 28 November 2012.
  10. ^ Donald, David, ed. "Lockheed C-141 StarLifter". The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Barnes & Nobel Books, 1997. ISBN 0-7607-0592-5.
  11. ^ a b Lockheed L-300-50A-01
  12. ^ A Brief History of the KAO
  13. ^ Eden, Paul, ed. "Lockheed C-141 Starlifter". Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9.
  14. ^ a b c d Johnsen 2005, p. 98.
  15. ^ Hobson, Chris, Vietnam Air Losses. Hinkley UK: Midland Press, 2001, p. 93.
  16. ^ Gainesville, Georgia: WFOX-FM radio, Monday, 19 August 1974.
  17. ^ Columbia, South Carolina: The State, Thursday, 22 August 1974, page 2B.
  18. ^ Columbia, South Carolina: The State, Tuesday, 27 August 1974, p. 10A.
  19. ^ Greenville, South Carolina: Greenville News, Tuesday, 27 August 1974, p. 3.
  20. ^ http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1964.html
  21. ^ United Press International, "All 16 Aboard AF Jet Dead", Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Sunday 23 March 1975, Volume 30, Number 38, page 1A.
  22. ^ United Press International, "Air Traffic Controller Error Caused Crash", Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Wednesday 26 March 1975, Volume 30, Number 41, p. 5A.
  23. ^ Aircraft accident Lockheed ASN
  24. ^ "Spokane Daily Chronicle". Google. Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  25. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vx4TAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wq0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=3038,3311658&dq=peterborough+plane+crash&hl=en
  26. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mgYuAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CawFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1287,5104955&dq=peterborough+plane+crash&hl=en
  27. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yusgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CHIFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2344,4484455&dq=peterborough+plane+crash&hl=en
  28. ^ "USAF Mishap Report"C141 Heaven. Retrieved: 13 October 2014.
  29. ^ "Accident Description" Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: 13 October 2014.
  30. ^ https://opendata.socrata.com/Government/Airplane-Crashes-and-Fatalities-Since-1908/q2te-8cvq/3372
  31. ^ 1984 accident. Aviation Safety Network
  32. ^ C-141:66-0150
  33. ^ Mcchord Cargo Jets Collide -- 13 Killed In Crash Over Montana. The Seattle Times, December 1, 1992.
  34. ^ 1997 accident. Aviation Safety Network
  35. ^ Ogden 2011 p.161
  36. ^ Aircraft Collection
  37. ^ Aircraft Information - C-141 Starlifter. simviation.com

External links[edit]