Celebrating the Galaxy: Part Two

Fifty years after it first entered operational service with the US Air Force (USAF), the C-5 Galaxy remains on call to provide a global airlifting capability. Khalem Chapman speaks with Col Brian Trumble, the commander of the 22nd Airlift Squadron (AS) 'Mulies' at Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in California, about this true titan of the sky.

This is the second of a two part feature, to read the first part follow the link here.

C-5A Galaxy [US Air National Guard/SSgt Stephany Richards] #1
A Travis AFB-assigned C-5 Galaxy pictured in flight over the US in November 2012. The aircraft had just refuelled with a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 191st Air Refueling Squadron (ARS). Utah Air National Guard/SSgt Stephany Richards

KA: How many C-5s are currently in operational service with the USAF?

Col Trumble: We have 52 operational C-5s total in the air force at large, but that also includes our reserve counterparts. So, active-duty only we have 36 and then there’s 16 reserve aircraft that are flown at Lackland AFB. They have eight there and then there’s eight more in Westover, Massachusetts. Those are the 16 that fly exclusively with the reserves. The 36 active-duty [aircraft] are shared between Dover AFB in Delaware and Travis here in California.


KA: Could you detail the logistics and maintenance the C-5 requires to remain operational? Does its age and size factor into longer maintenance, repair and overhaul times?

Col Trumble: The C-5 does take some extra love and care because, if you think about it, its essentially a flying hangar, right? And with that flying hangar, it also requires an additional hangars worth of highly experienced, highly trained technical experts in our maintenance side, but also just the equipment that goes along with it.

C-5M Super Galaxy [USAF/Senior Airman William Johnson] #1
A Super Galaxy undergoes a major maintenance inspection in the isochronal dock of the 436th Maintenance Squadron at Dover AFB in December 2015. This process takes approximately 55 days and more than 100 maintainers to complete. USAF/Senior Airman William Johnson

It is 100% a team effort at Travis AFB and also at Dover AFB in order to keep these aircraft safely flying and really in tip top shape as 50 year old aircraft. I will say that although the C-5 has been around for 50 years, the majority of our aircraft are upgraded B models that were designed in the 80s. So really, we’re looking at about 35/34 year old aircraft.

But again, there’s those C models I talked to you about. Those space airlift models are originally A models from the late-60s, early-70s. What’s unique though, is they were also upgraded to the M model standard. All of those upgrades that took place on the M model also took place on those two older aircraft and really the difference is undeterminable until you actually get inside the aircraft and see that the troop compartment is removed. The [C-5] definitely takes some additional care, some additional love – but it’s well worth it for this unique capability.  


KA: In the early-2000s, the C-5 was upgraded to C-5M Super Galaxy-standard. What new upgrades, systems and capabilities were added to the aircraft and how was it enhanced to continue its mission into the future?

Col Trumble: The C-5 is a robust airplane, designed in the Kelly Johnson era, [and had been] made more relevant today. We have new jet propulsion technology that has been added with the GE Aviation CF6 engines and essentially what that’s done is it’s added approximately 10,000 pounds of thrust to each engine, [providing] 52,000 plus pounds of thrust [in total].

So, if you think about, we’ve essentially added an additional engine to the aircraft if you want to talk about this from a thrust standpoint. What that does is [it] allows [the C-5] to take-off from shorter airfields, get to altitude much faster, and be able to burn less fuel when we are at altitude, increasing our range. It’s a huge force multiplier for us.

C-5M Super Galaxy [USAF/Louis Briscese] #1
A C-5M Super Galaxy departs Travis AFB on May 18, 2017. USAF/Louis Briscese

In addition to that we have some new automatic flight control systems on board that are a little more of a higher level of fidelity when operating [and] we’ve also [got] some increased command, control and communication (C3) capabilities. More of those are coming down the pipe and we’re talking about a denser airspace that’s going to be occupied across the globe. Obviously, it’s not happening right now with COVID, but many of the aviation regulations are being more and more constrained in those airspaces and we have to meet them in order to fly safely with our civilian counterparts and also our allies around the world.

The biggest pieces [of this upgrade are the] avionics, the jet engines, some electronic upgrades as well, and then what we’re looking forward to here in the future is an upgraded weather radar, which is going to be a huge enhancement for us, especially when flying in the Pacific.


KA: What’s in store for the Super Galaxy in the future? Are there any further modifications/upgrades being discussed?

Col Trumble: So, along with that constrained airspace I was referring to, we do have to have some upgrades to our transponder and monitoring systems to really be very precise when we’re talking to our ground control stations and other aircraft. Those upgrades are ongoing. [We’re also adding a] command and control [(C2)] suite, so we can increase our communications capabilities in flight as we work towards more multi-domain operations.

C-5M Super Galaxy [USAF/TSgt Nicholas Rau] #1
Troops from Task Force Destiny and airmen from the 9th AS unload a US Army Chinook heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter from a C-5M Super Galaxy at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on December 26, 2015. USAF/TSgt Nicholas Rau

The future is interconnectable command, control and communication [(C3)] at the speed of relevancy… The most recent Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen Charles Brown, alluded to this. One thing that’s very difficult for commanders now is how do you react as soon as information is being published, whether it’s going to be social media [or] whether it’s going to be the media at large. But it’s been happening so fast. Sometimes if you don’t have those enhanced communication capabilities, you’re already behind the power curve. In order to kind of keep that centralised C2 and de-centralised execution, we have to really leverage any of those upgrades and resources in that perspective. So that’s kind of what we’re looking forward to with the C-5M.


KA: It looks like the C-5 will be in service for a long time to come, is there a current timeframe for how long the C-5 will be in operational service?

Col Trumble: Right now, we are [set] to be operational through 2040. They haven’t really set a date that the C-5 is going to be flown to the Boneyard, if you will. I have no doubt that the Super Galaxy is going to continue to be a global force multiplier for the US and our allies.


The interview is also included as part of a feature celebrating 50 years of C-5 Galaxy operations in the October issue of Combat Aircraft Journal

Key.Aero would like to extend its thanks to the Col Trumble, the 22nd AS and wider 60th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) public affairs office for their time and assistance with this interview and associated features.

To learn more about the C-5 Galaxy, check out our Saluting the Galaxy feature by following the link.