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Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport (1965)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/24/2015

The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic transport proved itself a Cold War-era workhorse for the US military.

The Lockheed C-141 "Starlifter" became the United States military's first jet-powered, strategic transport when it was adopted in 1965. The aircraft was designed from the outset as a heavy hauler, capable of moving hundreds of men or thousands of lbs of equipment from stateside locations to forward regions around the world. While only produced in several hundred examples and seeing just three major variants throughout its service life, the C-141 series managed an existence until being formally retired in 2006 after 43 years of faithful service. The aircraft served only the US military and was never exported.

The large aircraft grew out of "Specific Operational Requirement 182" calling for a tactical-/strategic-level, jet-powered transport. Lockheed managed to secure the requirement after heading off proposed designs from competitors Boeing, Douglas and General Dynamics by revealing a cigar-shaped aircraft with high-mounted, swept-back wings and a T-tail empennage. Lockheed gained a certain amount of valuable experience in developing their high-wing C-130 Hercules transport and this, no doubt, assisted in the design of the C-141. Massive internal volume would allow the aircraft to fulfill the intended cargo/passenger hauling role for the USAF and the hold would be accessed through a rear door and ramp configuration. Power was served through 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33 series turbofan engines. The type was set to replace the limited-reach/scope propeller-driven aircraft still in use by US military forces of the post-World War 2 period. Interestingly, the program lacked a true prototype as the initial aircraft already carried the production-style designation of C-141A when it recorded its first flight on December 17th, 1963. Formal introduction followed in 1965 and production spanned from 1963 into 1968 and resulted in 285 total units.

The C-141 directly superseded the outgoing lines of Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, C-124 Globemaster II and Boeing C-135 Stratolifter transports.

Due to the period in which the C-141 was adopted, it was pressed into service immediately for the Vietnam War (1955-1975). The American commitment in Southeast Asia had grown to huge levels and logistical support was as important as ever. Starlifter units began flying from stateside locations to the region over Pacific waters as soon as possible. In January of 1966, all C-141 aircraft fell under the new operating banner of Military Airlift Command (MAC). One of the more famous C-141s became the "Hanoi Taxi" which ferried hundreds of American prisoners of war (to include future Republican presidential nominee John McCain) during Operation Homecoming. She served some 40 years before retirement including support of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath of 2005.

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Specifications for the
Lockheed C-141 Starlifter
Strategic Airlifter Transport

Focus Model: Lockheed C-141B Starlifter
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Lockheed - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1965
Production Total: 285

Crew: 5 to 7

Length: 168.27 ft (51.29 m)
Width: 159.91 ft (48.74 m)
Height: 39.24ft (11.96 m)
Weight (Empty): 148,118 lb (67,185 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 342,995 lb (155,580 kg)

Powerplant: 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofan engines generating 21,000lbs of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 565 mph (910 kmh; 491 kts)
Maximum Range: 6,388 miles (10,280 km)
Service Ceiling: 41,598 ft (12,679 m; 7.9 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,920 feet-per-minute (890 m/min)

Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:
None. Special Forces models outfitted with defensive countermeasures, FLIR and low-light, low-level flight equipment.

C-141A - Initial Production Model Designation; 284 examples produced

YC-141B - Conversion Prototype for B-model testing

C-141B - "Stretched" Model based on C-141A; appearing late 1979; lengthened fuselage of 23 feet; in-flight refueling probe added; 270 A-modesl converted to B-model standard; 13 examples further modified for Special Forces use through countermeasures equipment and FLIR pod for low-level, low-light flying.

C-141C - Modernized C-141B models; 63 examples converted to new glass cockpits and updated avionics; increased electrics; conversions by Raytheon in 1990s.

United States