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Lockheed C-141 Starlifter


Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft


United States | 1965



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



Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 02/26/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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The C-141 directly superseded the outgoing lines of Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, C-124 Globemaster II and Boeing C-135 Stratolifter transports.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.

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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.

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Cockpit
While traditional jobs involve workstations, office desks, or cubicles, aircraft provide operators with their own unique, ever-changing view of the world below.
Cockpit image
[ Click to Enlarge ]
Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft.
4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofan engines developing 21,000lb of thrust each.
Propulsion
565 mph
910 kph | 491 kts
Max Speed
41,598 ft
12,679 m | 8 miles
Service Ceiling
6,388 miles
10,280 km | 5,551 nm
Operational Range
2,920 ft/min
890 m/min
Rate-of-Climb
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Structure
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft.
5 to 7
(MANNED)
Crew
168.3 ft
51.29 m
O/A Length
159.9 ft
(48.74 m)
O/A Width
39.2 ft
(11.96 m)
O/A Height
148,118 lb
(67,185 kg)
Empty Weight
342,995 lb
(155,580 kg)
MTOW
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
RANGE
ALT
SPEED
Armament
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft .
None. Special Forces models outfitted with defensive countermeasures, FLIR and low-light, low-level flight equipment.
Variants
Notable series variants as part of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter family line.
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.
Operators
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 285 Units

Contractor(s): Lockheed - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (565mph).

Graph Average of 563 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
285
36183
44000
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
Sub
Trans
Super
Hyper
HiHyper
ReEntry
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
EarlyYrs
WWI
Interwar
WWII
ColdWar
Postwar
Modern
Future
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Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
MEDEVAC
TRANSPORT
SPECIAL FORCES
Recognition
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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