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Ever wonder why the C-5 is nicknamed FRED? Read this!


We’re talkin’ about the Galaxy – the C-5 transport plane, not the Ford MPV (multiple people vehicle).

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is the largest transport plane of the United States Air Force. It’s larger than the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and can carry almost twice the load of a C-17 Globemaster.

The C-5 has been in operation since 1969 but it had a rocky start. The development and testing led to cost overruns and created financial difficulties for Lockheed. Once the planes entered service, cracks in the wings grounded the aircraft until the problem was solved.

To best serve the military, the C-5 was built with a cargo hold big enough to carry bulky equipment. Its cargo capacity is 135 tons and it can accommodate up to six Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters or five Bradley Fighting Vehicles at one time

The Galaxy has a range of 2,760 miles and a cruising speed of 570 mph. The cargo is one foot longer than the entire length of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

The C-5 has plenty of detractors because of its reputation as a gas guzzler and the need for constant maintenance. The ground crew who service the Galaxy has named it FRED – F***ing Ridiculous, Economic/Environmental Disaster.

Aviation historian Robert F. Dorr is blunt in his assessment of the C-5:

“After being one of the worst-run programs, ever, in its early years, it has evolved very slowly and with great difficulty into a nearly adequate strategic airlifter that unfortunately needs in-flight refueling or a ground stop for even the most routine long-distance flights. We spent a lot of money to make it capable of operating from unfinished airstrips near the front lines, when we never needed that capability or had any intention to use it.”

Be that as it may, the development and eventual deployment of the C-5 proved to be a trail blazer for modern-day commercial aircraft. By building “the biggest plane possible” Lockheed was able to provide a template for development of planes like the 747 and the L-1011.

However, the C-5M Super Galaxy is an upgraded version with new engines that are more fuel efficient and upgraded avionics.

(The nearly 30-minute documentary about the C-5 also harkens back to the day of cheesy film-making about these sorts of “dry” topics. “Just the largest airplane in the world, that’s all.” We’ve come a long way in aviation – and video.)


Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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