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C-141B Starlifter

President John F. Kennedy's first official act after his inauguration was to order the development of an all-jet transport to extend the reach of the nation's military forces. Lockheed's C-141 StarLifter was the result.

The C-141 Starlifter was the workhorse of the Air Mobility Command. The Starlifter has fulfilled a vast spectrum of airlift requirements through its ability to airlift combat forces over long distances, inject those forces and their equipment either by airland or airdrop, re-supply employed forces, and extract the sick and wounded from the hostile area to advanced medical facilities.

The C-141B is a stretched C-141A with in-flight refueling capability. Stretching of the Starlifter consisted of lengthening the plane 23 feet, 4 inches (53.3 centimeters), which increased cargo capacity by about one-third - 2,171 extra cubic feet (65.13 extra cubic meters). Lengthening of the aircraft had the same effect as increasing the number of aircraft by 30 percent. The C-141 was the first jet aircraft designed to meet military standards as a troop and cargo carrier.

A universal air refueling receptacle on the C-141B transfers 23,592 gallons (89,649.6 liters) of fuel in about 26 minutes, allowing longer non-stop flights and fewer fuel stops during worldwide airlift missions. The C-141 force, nearing seven million flying hours, has a proven reliability and long-range capability.

The Starlifter, operated by the Air Mobility Command, can airlift combat forces, equipment and supplies, and deliver them on the ground or by airdrop, using paratroop doors on each side and a rear loading ramp. It can be used for low-altitude delivery of paratroops and equipment, and high-altitude delivery of paratroops. It can also airdrop equipment and supplies using the container delivery system. It is the first aircraft designed to be compatible with the 463L Material Handling System, which permits off-loading 68,000 pounds (30,600 kilograms) of cargo, refueling and reloading a full load, all in less than an hour.

The C-141 has an all-weather landing system, pressurized cabin and crew station. Its cargo compartment can easily be modified to perform around 30 different missions. About 200 troops or 155 fully equipped paratroops can sit in canvas side-facing seats, or 166 troops in rear-facing airline seats. Rollers in the aircraft floor allow quick and easy cargo pallet loading. A palletized lavatory and galley can be installed quickly to accommodate passengers, and when palletized cargo is not being carried, the rollers can be turned over to leave a smooth, flat surface for loading vehicles.

In its aeromedical evacuation role, the Starlifter can carry about 103 litter patients, 113 ambulatory patients or a combination of the two. It provides rapid transfer of the sick and wounded from remote areas overseas to hospitals in the United States.

The Air Force Reserve, through its associate units, provides 50 percent of the Starlifter's airlift crews, 40 percent of its maintenance capability and flies more than 30 percent of Air Mobility Command's peacetime worldwide missions.

The first Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units to receive the C-141 as unit equipment became operational in fiscal 1987. The units are located at Jackson, Miss., and Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, a C-141 from the 437th Military Airlift Wing, Charleston AFB, S.C., was the first American aircraft into Saudi Arabia, transporting an Airlift Control Element from the 438th Military Airlift Wing, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. In the following year, the C-141 completed the most airlift missions - 7,047 out of 15,800 - supporting the Gulf War. It also carried more than 41,400 passengers and 139,600 tons (125,690 metric tons) of cargo.

The first C-141A, delivered to Tinker AFB, Okla., in October 1964, began squadron operations in April 1965. Soon, Starlifters made flights almost daily to Southeast Asia, carrying troops, equipment and supplies, and returning patients to U.S. hospitals.

Several C-141s have been modified to carry the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile in its special container, up to a total weight of 92,000 pounds (41,400 kilograms). Some C-141s have been equipped with intraformation positioning sets that enable a flight of two to 36 aircraft to maintain formation regardless of visibility. The C-141 was the first jet transport from which U.S. Army paratroopers jumped, and the first to land in the Antarctic. A C-141 established a world record for heavy cargo drops of 70,195 pounds (31,587.7 kilograms).

Service Life

The first C-141B was received by the Air Force in December 1979. Conversion of 270 C-141s from A to B models was completed in 1982. C-141 modifications aim to preserve the remaining force by reliability and maintainability improvements and capability improvements necessary for effective use through 2006. Thirteen aircraft will receive additional SOLL II upgrades under the Special Operations Forces Improvement program. Sixty-three aircraft in the current C-141 fleet will undergo major modification. Each will receive the All Weather Flight Control System (AWFCS) consisting of a digital autopilot, advanced avionics display, and Ground Collision Avoidance System (GCAS). Other major improvements include a Defensive Systems (DS), Fuel Quantity Indicating System, and GPS modifications. As a general rule, these 63 aircraft are the "youngest" (fewest equivalent damage hours) in the fleet and will carry the weapon system through programmed retirement in 2006.

Recently, the C-141 went through a series of major repairs. Wing Station 405, windshield post crack repairs and center wing box repair/replacement are complete. As the aircraft continues to age, it is quite possible new structural problems may limit the readiness of the force. To slow aircraft aging of the active duty fleet, 56 PAI aircraft have been transferred to the UE Guard and Reserve as of FY95. Additionally, the process of retiring high flight hour equivalent aircraft will culminate with the retirement of the entire AMC active duty fleet by FY03. Retirement of Guard and Reserve aircraft should culminate in FY06. No C-141 aircraft participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, because the Air Force relied on newer and bigger C-17 transports, but C-141 aircraft did transport captured Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Primary Function Long-range troop and cargo airlift.
Contractor Lockheed-Georgia Co.
Power Plant Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofan engines.
Thrust 20,250 pounds (9,112.5 kilograms), each engine.
Length 168 feet, 4 inches (51 meters).
Height 39 feet, 3 inches (11.9 meters).
Wingspan 160 feet (48.5 meters).
Speed 500 mph (Mach 0.66).
Ceiling 41,000 feet (12,424 meters).
Maximum Takeoff Weight

323,100 pounds (145,395 kilograms).

Range 2,500 miles (2,174 nautical miles).
Unit Cost $8.1 million (1992 dollars).
Crew Six (pilot, co-pilot, two loadmasters, and two flight engineers).
Date Deployed C-141A: May 1964; C-141B: December 1979.
Inventory Active force, 241; ANG, 16; Reserve, 12.

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Last updated