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Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

United States (1965)
Picture of Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
Picture of Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft Picture of Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
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The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic transport proved itself a Cold War-era workhorse for the US military.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 2/26/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

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.

The C-141A marked initial production forms which totaled 284 in all. The variant was active as of April 1965 and, while cleared to carry up to 62,700lbs of internal cargo, it was soon found that the airframe's true internal volume was capped before the stated weight limit was ever reached. Volume allowed for 150 infantry or 120 airborne personnel or 80 patient litters and medical crew to be ferried. The limitation led to the revised lengthened C-141B standard.


Picture of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
Picture of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft


The C-141B began life through the YC-141B converted prototype airframe. The model reached flight for the first time on Mach 24th, 1977. After passing its requisite evaluation and acceptance phase, it resulted in 270 A-models being converted to the C-141B standard. The B-model incorporated a new 23 foot section of fuselage as well as an in-flight refueling boom above and aft of the cockpit (to extend its base range). Conversions took place between 1977 and 1982 and initial groups were handed the type in late-1979. The airframe could now carry 200 infantry, 170 airborne personnel or 100 patient litters though, by this time, the Vietnam War was over. Thirteen C-141B models were further converted for Special Forces service in 1994 by including advanced countermeasures systems, retractable FLIR pod and mission support equipment intended to allow for low-altitude, low-light level flying consistent with Special Forces missions.

The C-141B featured an operating crew of five to seven specialists made up of two pilots, a pair of flight engineers, a navigation and a loadmaster (with optional assistant/secondary loadmaster). Additional support staff could be carried based on mission type - for example those ferrying wounded, a medical support staff numbering at least five would be used. The airframe exhibited a running length of 168 feet with a wingspan of 160 feet and a height of 39 feet. Empty weight was 144,500lbs with a maximum take-off weight of 342,100lbs. Power was served through 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 series turbofan engines outputting at 20,250lbs each. Maximum listed speed was 567 miles per hour with a ferry range out to 6,140 miles. Combat range was approximately 3,000 miles. The aircraft could reach ceilings of 41,000 feet with a 2,600 feet per minute rate-of-climb. As a transport, the C-141B was not armed in any way.

The final Starlifter variant was embodied through the C-141C mark which were modernizations of existing airframes. These numbered 63 examples in all and included modern avionics and increased use of electric-based systems. The old "steam" style gauges of decades before gave way to digital screens and a more organized, compact instrument panel. Conversions occurred in the 1990s and headed by Raytheon.

Starlifters further served in Operation Desert Shield (1990) and into Operation Desert Storm of the first Persian Gulf War (1991). In 1992, Starlifters were placed under Air Mobility Command (AMC) direction. By 2001, the average age of the Starlifter fleet was 34 years, prompting a move to an all-new design. The line was followed by the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III detailed elsewhere on this site. Active numbers began considerable reduction from 2004 inwards until final missions in 2005 and 2006 ended their support. These aircraft served the American commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom (2001) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (2003) - and amazing testament to design considering the aircraft's 1960's Cold War-era roots.

Hanoi Taxi was preserved as a museum showpiece at the National Museum of the United States Air Force of Dayton, Ohio. The airframe is joined by several others around the country - many representing B-model variants. A sole C-141 transport of MAC was used to ferry the bodies of the seven astronauts killed in the failed 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch.

During its service life, the C-141 also completed a "first" by becoming the first jet-powered transport to land in Antarctica. It also served as the first jet-powered transport for US Army paratroopers.




Cockpit picture from the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Cockpit Picture


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (565mph).

    Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
285
285


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


Altitude Visualization
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National Flag Graphic
Origin: United States
Year: 1965
Type: Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Lockheed - USA
Production: 285
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
5 to 7


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
168.27 ft


Meters
51.29 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
159.91 ft


Meters
48.74 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
39.24 ft


Meters
11.96 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
148,118 lb


Kilograms
67,185 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
342,995 lb


Kilograms
155,580 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofan engines developing 21,000lb of thrust each.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
565 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
910 kph


Knots
491 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
6,388 mi


Kilometers
10,280 km


Nautical Miles
5,551 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
41,598 ft


Meters
12,679 m


Miles
7.88 mi


Performance
CLIMB RATE


Feet-per-Minute
2,920 ft/min


Meters-per-Minute
890 m/min

Armament - Hardpoints (0):

None. Special Forces models outfitted with defensive countermeasures, FLIR and low-light, low-level flight equipment.
Variants: Series Model Variants
• 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.