The Air Force may never send out big posters of cargo planes to its recruiters' offices, but its fleet of airlifters, which keeps the military moving all around the world, is one of the Pentagon's most useful tools. The emperor of that fleet is the behemoth C-5 Galaxy, which is to "airplane" what a supertanker is to "boat" -- a concept taken almost to its logical extreme. After decades in service, though, many of the Air Force's C-5s are worn out and they break a lot. Observers have noted in particular that C-5s rarely seem to be able to fly through Hawaii without requiring a day or so of repairs while their crews investigate the beaches.
The upgraded model, the C-5M, shouldn't have that problem. Jim Grant, Lockheed Martin's vice president for air mobility and special operations programs, told Buzz during Lockheed's media day on Tuesday that the M variant has better than 90 percent reliability, and that its new engines, wings and other systems will make the Ms last out to 2040 -- or beyond. Although it has plenty of C-17s and C-130s, the Air Force will always need the C-5s, Grant said, because of their chief virtues:
"This is a uniquely large airplane that has the ability to carry a lot of stuff over long ranges," he said. "There is no airplane that can provide what it does."
C-5Ms can fly more than 6,000 miles unrefueled, Grant said, which he said frees up tankers to top off combat aircraft or other cargo planes. The Air Force plans to upgrade 52 of its C-5s to Ms for about $90 million apiece; the cost to the Hawaii tourism trade is more difficult to calculate.