C-5M: One For The Record Books

By Jeff Rhodes Posted 14 April 2015

A joint active duty US Air Force/Air Force Reserve Command crew, flying a C-5M Super Galaxy, set forty-five new world aeronautical records on a single flight from Travis AFB, California, on 3 April 2015.

Once certified, the new records will give the C-5M a total of eighty-eight world records, which breaks the mark of eight-four records set by Air Force crews flying a B-1B Lancer bomber in the early 1980s.

“We deliberately picked this date for the flight—it’s the 22nd Airlift Squadron’s seventy-third birthday,” said Maj. Jon Flowers, who served as the aircraft commander on the flight. The 22nd AS, activated as the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron near Melbourne, Australia, during World War II, flew Lockheed C-56 and C-60 Lodestar transports shortly after the unit was formed.

The flight, which took off at midnight, established records in categories where there had been no previous record attempt. The records were set in the Class C-1.T, 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 (6,562 feet).

Class C-1.T is for aircraft weighing from 300,000 kilograms (661,387 pounds) to 400,000 kilograms (881,849 pounds). The C-5M had a takeoff weight of 731,220 pounds (nearly 366 tons), which included fuel, crew weight, equipment, and the 265,300-pound payload.

The flight set a new record for altitude with payload of approximately 37,300 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), 80,000 kilograms (176,370 pounds), 90,000 kilograms (198,416 pounds), 100,000 kilograms (220,462 pounds), and 120,000 kilograms (264,554 pounds).

Unofficially, the flight took four minutes thirty-six seconds to attain 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) altitude; eight minutes, seven seconds to attain 6,000 meters (19,685 feet); and thirteen minutes, three seconds to attain 9,000 meters (29,528 feet).

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.

Getting Ready
“Last fall during retrograde operations in Afghanistan, we were regularly taking loads of 220,000 to 280,000 pounds of cargo out of the AOR,” noted Flowers. “Bagram is a high temperature, high pressure altitude airfield. There was never a question we’d be able to takeoff from there in the C-5M, even with a very heavy payload.”

Planning and coordination for the record flight took several months.

Travis currently only has six assigned C-5Ms. “Maintenance narrowed the choices for the record flight down to a couple of traditionally high performing airframes in the last couple of months,” said Lt. Col. Matt Jones, the 22nd AS commander, who served as the mission commander on the record flight. “Maintenance kept watch on how those two performed, but didn’t do anything special to prepare the aircraft.”

The final decision on which Super Galaxy would set the record was made on 1 April. The choice was serial number 85-0010, which has accumulated more than 20,350 flight hours, including its pre-modification life as a C-5B. Notably, the aircraft survived a missile attack over Bagdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

“The payload consisted of thirty-three pallets stacked with sets of cargo netting, tie-down chains, and some other equipment,” noted MSgt. Matthew Thomas, the primary loadmaster on the flight. “Collecting that many cargo nets took a fairly long time to do.” Each of the pallets ended up weighing between 4,000 and 10,000 pounds.

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 before takeoff.

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.

In The Record Book
“The aircrew for the record flight was chosen based in large part on their C-5 experience,” said Jones. “Most everyone has flown in the C-5A, B, C, and now M.”

Jones noted that the 22nd AS has completed its conversion to the C-5M and the 312th AS, the Reserve Associate unit at Travis, “is not far behind and will be fully converted this year.” The 312th AS, which was also formed during World War II, was at one time a fighter-bomber unit, flying Lockheed F-80s.

In addition to Flowers, Jones, and Thomas, the enhanced aircrew on the record-setting flight consisted of Maj. Matt Etlinger (copilot), SrA Justin Thomas (second loadmaster), MSgt. Jason Matsuoka (third loadmaster), TSgt. Christopher Booty (flight engineer), and SMSgt. Chris Kerr (second flight engineer). Etlinger, Matsuoka, and Kerr are all Reservists.

Prior to the flight, the crew spent time in the C-5M simulator, rehearsing the planned profile. “As we went through rehearsal, we found that using a combination of the aircraft’s automated features and hand-flying the aircraft to control power levels and pitch worked best,” said Flowers. “In the sim, we concentrated on technique and airmanship. We found we climbed faster each time we went through the profile.”

The time-to-climb clock started as soon as the aircraft began rolling down the runway for takeoff. The crew flew runway heading and began a steady climb, flying out more than eighty miles over the Pacific Ocean. Elapsed time was recorded at 3,000, 6,000, and 9,000 meters before turning back toward Travis and continuing the climb past 37,000 feet for the altitude with payload record.

In September 2009, a joint active duty/Reserve/Lockheed Martin aircrew at Dover AFB, Delaware, set forty-one world time-to-climb and payload-to-altitude records on a single flight. Two additional records came later, including one set by Air Force Reserve Command crew flying nonstop, unrefueled from Dover to Incirlik, Turkey.

The Travis records will first be certified by the NAA as US national records and then by the FAI as world marks. Certification is expected to take several months.

“This flight was well within the normal capabilities of the aircraft,” noted Etlinger. “The performance of the M-model is amazing. We can make fourteen hour flights without refueling and we can carry hundreds of thousands pounds of cargo. The capability this aircraft gives the warfighter is incredible.”

Matusuoka, who in civilian life is an emergency medical technician, had a slightly different take. “A flight like this shows we can move a very large amount of relief supplies, medicine, and doctors very quickly when there is a disaster. That’s the big difference for me.”

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.