The Record-Setting C-5M

By Jeff Rhodes Posted 23 April 2010

The fall of 2009 was one for the record books for the C-5M Super Galaxy strategic transport. In September, a joint US Air Force and Lockheed Martin flight crew set forty-one world aeronautical records on a single flight from Dover AFB, Delaware. And in November, an Air Force Reserve Command crew set a speed over a closed course record flying from Dover to Turkey.

The early morning flight on 13 September broke eight existing world records and established marks in thirty-three other categories where there had been no previous record attempt. The records were set in the Class C-1.S, Jet category for altitude in horizontal flight; altitude with payload; time to climb and, separately, time to climb with payload; and greatest payload to 2,000 meters.

These records demonstrate the C-5M’s ability to quickly get out of harm’s way and fly at operational altitudes, all with a payload heavier than any other US airlifter can carry.

Class C-1.S is for aircraft weighing from 250,000 kilograms (551,155 pounds) to 300,000 kilograms (661,386 pounds). The C-5M had a takeoff weight of 649,680 pounds (nearly 327 tons), which included fuel, crew weight, equipment, and the 176,450-pound payload.

The flight set a new record for altitude with payload of 41,188 feet. It also set marks for time to climb and with payloads of 35,000 kilograms (77,162 pounds), 40,000 kilograms (88,185 pounds), 45,000 kilograms (99,208 pounds), 50,000 kilograms (110,231 pounds), 60,000 kilograms (132,277 pounds), 70,000 kilograms (154,323 pounds), and 80,000 kilograms (176,370 pounds). The flight took 4 minutes, 13 seconds to attain 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) altitude; 7 minutes, 27 seconds to attain 6,000 meters (19,685 feet); 13 minutes, 8 seconds to attain 9,000 meters (29,528 feet); and 23 minutes, 59 seconds to attain 12,000 meters (39,371 feet).

The flight also broke existing class records for altitude with payloads of 35,000, 40,000, 45,000, 50,000, 60,000, and 70,000 kilograms, (achieved at 41,188 feet) and altitude in horizontal flight (41,116 feet held for more than ninety seconds). The mission also broke the existing record for greatest payload (80,036 kilograms/176,450 pounds) to 2,000 meters (6,562 feet).

The new altitude in horizontal flight record broke the mark set by a Russian crew in a Tupolev Tu-160 bomber in 1989. The other records were set in 1993 by crews flying a C-17 airlifter.

Planning and coordination for the record flight took several months. Because this was a mass-to-altitude flight, each component—the aircraft, the payload, the fuel, and even the crew and their personal equipment—had to be carefully weighed beforehand. Kris Maynard, an observer with National Aeronautic Association, the nation’s oldest aviation organization, supervised the weigh-in. The NAA is the US representative to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, or FAI, the sanctioning body for all world aviation records.

As can be imagined, weighing a C-5 is not an easy task. The C-5M, Air Force serial number 86-0013 and nicknamed Spirit of Normandy, was towed into a hangar, and scales were set up under each landing gear bogie. Calculating the weight of the C-5M took the better part of a day.

Next, the payload was weighed. The 176,610-pound payload consisted of twenty-nine standard 463L military pallets with additional pallets stacked and strapped down on top of them. Each pallet of pallets had to be individually weighed on the scales at Dover’s aerial port squadron. All C-5s can carry thirty-six pallets.

Using a new drive-on/drive-off system, the fuel trucks were first weighed full and then weighed empty to calculate the total fuel weight put on the aircraft. After loading and fueling, the aircraft was sealed until the crew boarded for takeoff.

The crew was augmented for the record flight and consisted of pilots, flight engineers, and loadmasters from Dover’s active duty 9th Airlift Squadron, Air Force Reserve Command’s 709th Airlift Squadron, Air Mobility Command, and Lockheed Martin. Air Force Maj. Cory Bulris, a 9th AS pilot and the 436th Operations Group C-5M Program Integration Office chief, was the aircraft commander.

Lt. Col. Scott Erickson, the pilot on the flight and a Reservist with the 709th AS, noted there wasn’t a lot of conversation on the flight deck during the 1.6-hour flight. “The crew knew we had benchmarks to reach and was working quietly. We were watching the altimeter with one eye and the clock with the other. We shared the anticipation. We just wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. And it did.”

The forty-one records were certified as US national records by the NAA in December and as world marks by the FAI in January.

The forty-second record came on 6 November when an Air Force Reserve crew led by Lt. Col. Mark Alderson set a new speed over a recognized course record flying from Dover to Incirlik AB, Turkey, in 10 hours, 9 minutes. The aircraft took off at a weight of 807,581 pounds and delivered a payload of 115,781 pounds, nonstop and unrefueled. The record was set in the third C-5M (serial number 69-0024), a former C-5A. That record is expected to be certified in early 2010.

“Both of these flights were well within the normal capabilities of the aircraft,” noted Erickson. “There was nothing we did that was outside of what is in the technical manual. What we did can be done in the C-5M every day.”

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.
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