In September 1970, I became part of an Air Force program that, while not experimental, can be described as an operational test program. For the first time in history, the Air Force decided to test a new weapons system in operational use rather than putting it through extensive testing prior to determining the final configuration for delivery to operational squadrons. The new weapons system was the Lockheed C-5A transport, a gigantic airplane that was the result of the CX-X transport program initiated in the early 1960s by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Discussions had begun under the administration of his predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, at the urging of retired Air Force General William H. Tunner, who commanded the Military Air Transport Service at the time of his retirement. Tunner, who never flew a combat mission, retired because President Dwight Eisenhower refused to fund his pet project, a four-engine jet transport. Tunner became a Kennedy advisor during his campaign and one of the first things the new president did was sign an executive order directing the Air Force to invest in the project, which became the C-141. The C-141 was the first of Tunner’s pet ideas. The second was a large transport capable of carrying the largest vehicles in the US Army inventory. Tunner had an ally in South Carolina Congressman L Mendel Rivers, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, whose Congressional district included Charleston. His predecessor was Georgia Congressman Carl Vinson, also a Tunner ally, whose district included Marietta, Georgia where the Lockheed factory is located.
I was stationed at Robins AFB, Georgia, about 100 miles south of Marietta, as a C-141 loadmaster when the C-5 first flew. Although I don’t recall seeing the gigantic airplane while I was at Robins, it sometimes made appearances there. I knew a woman who lived in Marietta and who talked about seeing the huge airplane fly over. The MAC Flyer, Military Airlift Command’s newspaper, carried frequent articles about the new airplane. I knew that the first squadron would be at Charleston, which was natural since it was Congressman Rivers’ home town and he had a reputation for acquiring as much military equipment and personnel for the area as he possibly could. My interest, however, was passing and in September 1968 my life changed when I was notified that I had been ordered back to Southeast Asia, to a C-130 squadron at Clark Air Base, Philippines. I had only been back in the States for a year after 18 months at Naha AB, Okinawa on C-130s. I arrived at Clark in February 1969. It is no exaggeration to say that my new unit was overjoyed to see me. The replacements they were getting were coming out of MAC and had no C-130 experience or from TAC C-130 squadrons. I had almost three years of C-130 experience, much of it in Southeast Asia. I was upgraded to instructor soon after my arrival and a year later was selected to become a standardizations/evaluations evaluator.
Since I only had a few months to go when I went to Stan/Eval, I was asked to put in for an extension of my tour for another year. When I came back from my first tour at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam as an evaluator, my stateside assignment was in my vertical file, and it was to Charleston, which had been my first choice on the “dream sheet” I had filled out when I processed in at Clark. I could only hope that I’d be assigned there at the end of my extended tour. However, the wing was notified by assignments at Pacific Air Force headquarters that my request for extension had been denied because I had been past the six-month deadline for extension requests when I submitted it. The chief of Stan/Eval said they should be able to get a waiver, but I decided to just go ahead and accept the assignment. The war had changed after the Cambodia Incursion a few weeks before and flying in Vietnam was no longer as exciting as it had been – it had become routine.
I still had almost three months to go on my tour and my reporting date to Charleston was in early September. I decided that since I had orders to Charleston, I might as well volunteer for C-5s. I met the requirements, which was to be at least an E-5 with 1,000 hours on C-141s or some other large aircraft (C-130 time didn’t count.) Volunteering consisted of writing a letter to the chief of each program at MAC headquarters, which for loadmasters was Chief Master Sergeant Sam Hanna. I sat down at the table in my trailer and wrote Hanna a letter in which I said I was a loadmaster with an assignment to Charleston and that I had been on C-141s at Robins previously, and that I wanted to volunteer for the C-5 program. A few weeks later I talked to my parents and learned that a letter had come there for me from Chief Master Sergeant Bill Ramsey, the chief loadmaster in the 3rd Military Airlift Squadron, advising that I had been accepted in the C-5 program and welcoming me to the squadron. (As it turned out, I most likely would have gone to the 3rd anyway because they weren’t getting the volunteers needed to man the loadmaster section.)
At the time of my letter to Hanna, the first C-5 had yet to be delivered to Charleston. It was delivered a few weeks later in front of a crowd of dignitaries and the delivery was announced in Air Force Times and Stars and Stripes. The landing had been more than spectacular because one of the main gear wheels came loose and followed the huge airplane down the runway. By coincidence, I was at Cam Ranh when the first C-5 mission came in. I was in my second week of my tour and was giving check rides. I had given a check ride in the morning and was in the barracks on Herky Hill when the big airplane came over. I jumped on the shuttle bus down to C-130 Ops and walked across the ramp to where the airplane had been positioned at the air transportable loading dock that had been erected in anticipation of the airplane’s arrival. The airplane was knelt, and the visor was open. I walked up to the front ramp and spoke to two of the loadmasters. I told them who I was and that I had orders to the squadron. As it turned out, one of the loadmasters was Bob Blum, who worked in scheduling and was one of the first people I would see when I walked in the squadron a couple of months later. One of the others, whose first name was Nathan, would be my instructor on my first C-5 mission in that very same airplane.
I did not stick around since the crew was busy. I don’t recall exactly what I did but most likely went back to Herky Hill. I do remember watching the airplane take off several hours later, but it took off to the south, in the opposite direction from Herky Hill. There have been a lot of lies spread by non-C-5 people that the airplane was stuck in the kneeling position and remained on the ground at Cam Ranh for several days, but it is just that, a lie. A lot of lies have been spread about the C-5A, including some in the media. I know FOR A FACT that the airplane was on the ground for about four hours, the scheduled ground time. For one thing, I saw it take off. For another, crewmembers on that first flight that I am in contact with say the mission was uneventful. I do not recall ever hearing of a C-5 being stuck on the ground in Vietnam.
The first C-5 mission to Vietnam was in mid-July 1970. I left Clark a few weeks later and reported to the 3rd in early September. As I said, one of the first people I saw was Bob Blum, who was one of the schedulers. Bill Ramsey was also in the section. I knew him. A couple of years previously, he had flown with my crew in my place after I was injured in a loading accident at Cam Ranh. (I was trying to line up a pallet and was caught between it and the side of the airplane.) I went to the flight surgeon at Kadena and was temporarily grounded but was cleared to fly as an additional crew member. Ramsey was a flight examiner at Dover where our parent wing was located and the airlift command post (ACP) put him on the crew in my place. I went to the flight surgeon at Elmendorf when I got there and was cleared to resume flying duties and he caught the next plane bound for Dover. In all three of my previous assignments, I had been encouraged to finish processing as quickly as possible and had been sent out on a trip within a week. This was not to be the case with the 3rd; I was advised that I would be attending C-5A FTD before I did any flying and it was going to be several weeks before a new FTD class would be starting. I also learned that I was only one of a handful of single men in the squadron and that I wouldn’t be able to draw a quarters allowance. Furthermore, there was no NCO barracks. The 3rd had given up its rooms in the barracks (all of the non-flying enlisted personnel were WAFs) and I would have to live in a 41st MAS room. I was given a set of manuals – MAC Manual 55-1, the Dash One flight manual and Dash Nine loading manual – and a stack of revisions and supplements three feet high – literally!
My new roommate – Chris Gray – was out on a trip so I had the room to myself for a few days. After I finished in-processing, which took about a day, I had nothing to do but post the damned revisions and supplements in an attempt at getting the manuals up to date. The task was made more difficult by the constant flow of new revisions that showed up in my file at the squadron, or on the desk in the loadmaster section with my name on it. I’d get up, go to chow, post revisions, go to chow again and check my mail, post more revisions until I got tired of it then either take a drive or go to the NCO club, where I usually ended up anyway. It didn’t matter the time of day, I’d find a bunch of guys in there wearing wings on their 1505s. Some were engineers but most were loadmasters, like me. All were recent Southeast Asia returnees. I knew a few of them from previous assignments. They were mostly in the C-141 squadrons although a few were in the 3rd. The number of 3rd people would quickly grow.
Finally, I started FTD. There were morning and afternoon classes. I was in the morning class, which started at 0600 and finished at noon. There were about twenty in each class. Most were recent overseas returnees like me. I don’t recall that anyone had volunteered for C-5s other than me. We were mostly E-5s and E-6s. There might have been one master sergeant. At the time, C-5 loadmasters had to be E-5s and above and hold a seven-level AFSC. We’d finish class and adjourn to the club. There were days when some of us never left until time to go to class the next morning. I knew many of them from C-130s, although many had been to Southeast Asia for a tour in C-123s while I went back to C-130s. We’d finish class and adjourn to the club. There were days when some of us never left until time to go to class the next morning. Except for me, the C-123 people were the clubbers. They got use to hanging out at the club at Phan Rang and couldn’t get it out of their system. After they got to Charleston and had little to do, they’d get bored at home and head for the base, and end up in the club. MAC clubs were twenty-four hours in order to accommodate aircrews who came in at all hours of the day. The cocktail lounge where we hung out would close but the casual lounge, formerly the stag bar, stayed open all night. It’s a wonder some of us learned anything, but we did. There were a few, like Jay Barry and Ted Miller, who had been at Phan Rang but had come back to Charleston after previous assignments there and had young, hot wives who kept them at home. I didn’t have a wife of any kind and the club was the only place where I could spend time socializing and drinking and not be too concerned about a DUI.
The C-5A was a complicated airplane, far more so than anything any of us had ever been exposed to, including those who had been on C-124s or C-133s. The airplane was designed to be knelt to truck-bed height to facilitate loading and if the crew wasn’t at the airplane, kneeling was the loadmasters’ responsibility. The airplane also had a forward visor as well as the conventional cargo door at the rear; both were complicated because of the way they were designed. Both door systems included pressure doors that either floated above the open ramp when it was in the level position of became part of it when the cargo was rolling stock that had to be loaded from the ground. Pallets were loaded from K-loaders or the loading dock, if there was one available. Loadmasters had to know how to operate the airplane’s two auxiliary power units, particularly the fire extinguishers, which were required for kneeling and door operations. Operating of the kneeling system and the visor and rear cargo doors required APU power for electrics, hydraulics and the pneumatics that powered the kneeling motors whenever the engines weren’t running. Three loadmasters were required to operate the systems whenever the rest of the crew wasn’t present and there wasn’t a maintenance man to keep watch on the APUs when they were running. Either a loadmaster or scanner had to be outside to monitor the opening of doors and the raising of the visor.
The visor and cargo doors were hydraulically operated and activated by electronic switches that controlled hydraulic valves. They could be opened in either of two modes, a level mode to mate with a dock or a K-loader used in the 463L cargo handling system or the vehicle loading position, with the ramp extension, which was also a pressure door, extended to ground level. In the event the electric switch failed, the doors could be opened by pressing on buttons on the hydraulic valves. It was actually fairly easy but loadmasters and engineers were required to follow a supplement to the flight manual which had to be physically present and open (at least theoretically.) The airplane could be knelt either level, in the forward kneel or aft kneel positions. The level mode was most commonly used. The forward and aft modes were only needed when loading vehicles with clearance so low the angle needed to be lessened to allow them to cross over the break between the ramp and the cargo compartment floor.
We also spent several classes planning loads and filling out practice Form Fs, the airplane weight and balance clearance form that was required for all military flights. The Form F was only complicated because we had to make computations for as many as 36 pallets of cargo. For reasons I never have understood, MAC required that Form Fs be filled out using mathematical computations rather than a load adjuster as we used on C-130s in other commands. Civilian aircrews also used load adjusters. Someone had the erroneous idea that math was more accurate than a load adjuster. In reality, load adjusters were just as accurate, as most pilots were well aware. The C-5A was also equipped with an automatic weight and balance computer. We had them on C-130s, and they were highly accurate, but the sensors had to be calibrated and maintenance didn’t want to take the time to keep them working. Resistance to new ideas was common in the military, particularly among loadmasters, many of whom weren’t the brightest bulbs in the box anyway. The weight and balance computers were actually electronic scales that measured the weight on each of the landing gear and computed the gross weight and center of gravity with the push of a button. MAC, however, had no intention of using them. MAC insisted that loadmasters compute the gross weight and center of gravity mathematically. This was in the days before the advent of the simple handheld calculators that would soon become so common. Computations had to be computed with pencils.
The C-5 was equipped with a system of rollers and rails that were practically identical to those found on C-141s except there were double rows and the locks were on the inside rails instead of the outside rails and were individually locked. On C-130s and C-141s the locks were on the left-hand rails. The inside rails and rollers were flipped over and became part of the cargo compartment floor when rolling stock was carried. There were problems with the rails and rollers, as we would discover when we started flying. Lockheed had taken steps to save weight and the rails had been constructed from material that turned out to be brittle and unable to absorb the energy produced by pallets that might strike them during loading. The rollers were practically worthless. The bearings would become compressed and would barely roll. Lockheed developed rollers with Teflon-impregnated bearings that would roll, but until the original rollers were replaced, loading individual pallets was a chore. The airplane was equipped with winches installed in compartments on either ramp. They were operated using push buttons on specially designed interphone junction boxes that loadmasters and engineer/scanners wore around our necks. Each airplane was equipped with snatch blocks – pulleys with hooks to attach them to tiedown devices on the floor – to redirect and/or increase the strength of the winch cables.
Right after I finished FTD, I went out on my first trip. Jay Barry and I were students. We went out with the Lead the Force crew, the same crew I had met at Cam Ranh and in the same airplane, 212, the first airplane delivered to the squadron. One of the engineers was Jon Sanders, a former C-130 flight engineer who had managed to avoid overseas service by first volunteering for C-141s then for C-5s because C-5 crewmembers were on a three-year freeze. Jon’s freeze was cancelled a year or so later due to the assignment disparity for C-130 engineers, who were spending not much more than a year in the States before going back to Southeast Asia, and he was reassigned to the C-130 wing in Taiwan. Jon died over An Loc in April 1972. Our trip was to Cam Ranh by way of Dover, Delaware to pick up our load; Elmendorf, Alaska for fuel; Yokota, Japan for crew rest then on to Cam Ranh to deliver the load, with a return to Charleston by way of Kadena, Okinawa and Elmendorf. Dover was the East Coast shipping point for air freight bound for Southeast Asia.
We used the loading dock at Dover to load our cargo, which consisted of a full load of palletized cargo. We probably carried 35 pallets and left one space on the ramp open for a baggage pallet, if we had passengers. I don’t recall for sure. The load had been positioned on the dock and the pallets had been connected together with straps, which were actually pieces of the same material used for 5,000-pound tiedown straps with hooks on each end. The pilots pulled up to the dock and knelt the airplane. We opened the doors then hooked our winch to a harness on the first pallet on the right hand side and winched the train into the airplane and secured the pallets with the locks on the inside rails. I don’t recall who did the winching, but it was probably either Jay or me since we were students and were on the mission to satisfy the requirements of the lesson plans. After the first train was aboard and secured, we brought in the other train. I do not recall any issues with the loading. While the loadmasters loaded the airplane, the engineers refueled.
MAC had decreed that C-5 crews would be augmented, meaning a third pilot and second navigator had to be on board. The rationale was that C-5 crews would have a 24-hour crew day. There were no stage crews as there were with C-141s. The crew would stay with the airplane all the way to the destination and the return to Charleston. The loadmaster crew wasn’t augmented per se, but MAC had decided that five were necessary in order to carry passengers. If passengers were carried, troop compartment loadmasters had to remain awake and were allowed crew rest while the rest of the loadmaster crew was expected to sleep infight if necessary. MAC manual 55-1 dictated flight operations and it specified that loadmasters were not required to have full crew rest as other crewmembers were. The only stipulation was a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep in a 24-hour period, which could be inflight.
The C-5 featured what is perhaps the most comfortable crew facilities of any airplane ever built. The crew compartment included the cockpit with two bunk rooms with three bunks each behind it on the right side and a relief crew compartment with six airline type seats, four of which were on either side of a table and a lavatory and galley behind it. The galley had an oven and coffee maker, but since MAC crewmembers would usually forego flight lunches and order “snack packs” – which didn’t count against per diem – the oven was rarely used. Behind the galley was an area designated as a courier compartment with several airline seats, but it was actually used as seating for additional crewmembers. The airplane was incredibly quiet. Crewmembers in the relief crew compartment could communicate in normal tones. There was a large area containing environmental and other equipment behind the courier compartment and the troop compartment was behind it. The troop compartment was not accessible from the front. A retractable ladder went up from the cargo compartment to it. A similar ladder provided access to the crew compartment. Emergency egress from both compartments was by slides, but the crew compartment and cockpit were equipped with egress reels, which were coiled steel bands inside handles that the crewmember was supposed to use to go out the cockpit windows and overhead escape hatches. The possible use of one was a scary prospect. Allegedly, when a combat controller went down on a reel on a test airplane at Edwards, the reel failed, and he broke both legs. The troop compartment had two lavatories, two galleys and airline-type seats for passengers. They weren’t the same seats found in the crew compartment but were of lessor quality and comfort, but they were better than the nylon sling seats found on C-130s and C-141s. There was a seat for two loadmasters at the head of the entrance ladder. It faced forward while the passenger seats faced aft. There were ovens and coffee makers on the galleys and the troop compartment loadmasters acted as flight attendants.
We were only on the ground at Elmendorf for about an hour, just long enough to refuel. The passengers were deplaned and taken into the terminal, then brought back out for the departure. Maintenance personnel from the MAC support unit conducted a through-flight inspection, meaning they opened the bottom of the cowling and checked the oil levels. We opened the rear doors to allow air freight to remove the baggage pallet and take it in to switch out baggage. We continued on to Yokota and went into crew rest then continued on to Cam Ranh the next day. MAC restricted C-5s to daylight operations at Cam Ranh due to the threat. We were scheduled for four hours on the ground, which was the normal time for offloading and reloading at non-crew rest stops. We pulled up to the dock, the pilots knelt the airplane and we hooked to the dock winch. I don’t recall if the straps had been left on at Dover – which would have been logical – or if they were removed and new ones had to be attached. I don’t recall if we had issues on that particular trip or not, but we sometimes had minor problems when the loadmaster operating the winch allowed slack in the cable and some of the pallets overran the ones in front of them. It wasn’t actually that big of a problem since all we had to do was pull them apart with the winch, but it was irritating, and brittle rails were sometimes damaged. Many loadmasters didn’t like using the docks because there was some preparation involved. I wasn’t one of them. I used the docks for both loading and offloading at Dover, Cam Ranh and Charleston and had no real problems. (I think there was one at Rhine Main but don’t recall for certain.) Our trip went off without a hitch – until we got to Kadena.
I was supposed to be in the troop compartment out of Kadena, so I went in with the rest of the crew and one of the other loadmasters for crew rest. I don’t remember if it was while they were kneeling the airplane or bringing it back up, but the kneeling system malfunctioned when the airplane was partially knelt. Maintenance discovered that a part had failed and ordered a new one. The airplane was listed as NORS-G for parts, meaning it was “not repairable this station due to parts.” This was only some six months after this particular airplane, the first to be delivered, arrived at Charleston and there was no supply of parts at other bases. In fact, many parts had to come from the Lockheed factory in Marietta, Georgia. We were stuck at Kadena, which is not the worst place to be. We were there about a week waiting for parts, then it took maintenance a day or so to install the part and get the airplane off its knees. The other loadmasters loaded the airplane and we departed for Elmendorf.
As I recall, we took off from Elmendorf bound for Charleston twice, then had to dump fuel and go back in. I don’t remember why we went back the first time. It may have had something to do with the Inertial Navigation Systems (which we didn’t really need since we would be over land and had two navigators on board.) Whatever it was, we went to the barracks and spent a couple of days on the ground. When we departed for Charleston the second time, the cowling came off of number two engine and flew up and over the front of the wing, taking out the leading edge slat in the process. Evidently, the maintenance men who checked the oil failed to properly secure the cowling. Once again, we dumped fuel and went back to land then to the barracks. Lockheed was going to have to send up a crew to inspect the damage before they might determine how long it would be before the airplane was flyable again. The crew was going to have to stay with the airplane. I was expecting to spend a month or more at Elmendorf but then a message came in from the squadron. Jay Barry and I were to catch the next C-141 that came through and come on home so we could go out on a check ride to complete our qualification. A C-141 was going to be departing soon and we were to get to the flight line. To my dismay, the loadmaster was my barracks roommate, Chris Gray! Chris and the other young loadmasters in the barracks had been giving me grief about how the C-5s were always breaking. I had been defending the airplane, now Chris was bringing me home! The squadron sent me out a few days later on a trip to Rhine Main with a flight examiner. He signed me off on the way to Germany and I came back to Charleston as a qualified C-5 loadmaster.
Now that I was qualified, the squadron had no reason to send me back out. Trips were being utilized for training new loadmasters and I no longer needed training. Consequently, for the first time in my flying career, I found myself spending weeks at a time at my home base, which was okay with me. The problem was that I was spending too much time in the club, which was usually filled with 3rd loadmasters and engineers with time on our hands. About that time I met a nineteen-year old WAF and started hanging out with her. I had also come to the realization that I was on the way to becoming a drunk if not an alcoholic if I didn’t find something to occupy my time. I had obtained my private pilot’s license before I went to Clark. I had my full GI Bill benefits and decided to use them to get my commercial pilot’s license. Although I continued to patronize the club, I was no longer a fixture. I flew trips but had several weeks in between.
Several things occurred in my life soon after I checked out in the C-5A. For one thing, I moved off base to an apartment just outside the main gate. My roommate was a loadmaster in one of the C-141 squadrons. His former roommate, a first-term loadmaster, decided he couldn’t afford to pay rent and moved back into the barracks. I was promoted to E-6, technical sergeant, in the first promotion cycle in which I became eligible. Shortly afterwards, the squadron sent me to the Joint Task Force along with another loadmaster to help them out. The JTF had been set up at Charleston but included pilots, navigators, flight engineers and loadmasters from Travis and Dover as well. When the JTF completed its duties, they would be going back to their home bases to assume leadership positions in new C-5 squadrons. The other loadmaster and my duties were to help out the JTF loadmasters with paperwork. They were the people who got the operational reports and used them to develop procedures and write the numerous revisions and supplements to the Dash One and Dash Nine. One of the reasons the squadron picked me was because they somehow found out I can type. I took typing in high school. How they found out, I don’t know. The JTF had a WAF clerk assigned but she was overwhelmed. They gave me a desk next to hers and I spent my time doing paperwork. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but it kept me busy.
To say that the airplane had problems would be an understatement, but in some respects they were no worse than any other airplane, including Boeing’s new 747 which had been developed originally for the same contract. It seemed like the airplanes were broke all the time because parts had to come from the States whenever they were needed. Another problem was that maintenance was new to the airplane, which had far more complex systems than the C-141s they were use too. It took them much longer to diagnose a problem and even longer to make the repairs, and usually had to wait for days for the necessary parts. Some problems were due to the airplane still being in the development phase and some systems and configurations were not finalized. We loadmasters had problems with the inefficient rollers, but those problems went away when they were replaced with new rollers with Teflon-impregnated bearings. With the original rollers, it took a whole crew of men to move one pallet. With the new rollers, a single person could move a 10,000-pound pallet with one finger. The kneeling system caused the most headaches. The pneumatic motors had to stay in synch with each other or the system would lock up and maintenance would have to get it back in synch, which could take several hours. If parts were required, it took several days. There were a lot of discussions about why Lockheed didn’t use hydraulic motors instead, which they eventually did. Once the pneumatic system was replaced with hydraulics, kneeling problems went away. I personally don’t recall being involved in any kneeling incidents other than the one at Kadena but there were instances when airplanes were grounded awaiting parts as we had been.
The C-5A wasn’t just a big airplane, it was revolutionary. Lockheed had incorporated technology into the airplane that had just come into existence. The avionics were top-of-the-line at the time. There were a lot of new systems on the airplane, including the MADAR maintenance analysis system. MADAR was a function at the flight engineer’s panel that gave him an instant analysis of every system on the airplane. If a system had a malfunction, MADAR gave the engineer the part number for any part that wasn’t working properly and even where a replacement part was located (which was usually either at Charleston or at the factory.) Since we were operationally testing the airplane, MAC wanted all systems to be working whenever the airplane was dispatched. Since there were often problems with various systems, we often found ourselves sitting on the ground somewhere waiting for maintenance to fix a broken system. Sometimes the problem was found before the crew was alerted but they were often discovered by the crew after everyone was at the airplane, in which case we usually sat in the relief crew compartment waiting to either takeoff or for our crew day to run out and be sent back to quarters. It was stressful, so much so that I took up smoking. (I eventually quit.)
When MAC set forth its requirements for the airplane, it wanted a large airplane with some tactical capabilities. No doubt the requirement was due in large part to an Air Force policy of not paying to develop any airplane that wasn’t tactical. One requirement was that the C-5A would be able to land on unimproved runways, i.e. dirt. The C-141 had failed off runway testing because it kept blowing tires, so Lockheed decided to disperse the weight on the C-5 landing gear by developing bogies of multiple wheels and tires. As far as I know, MAC never got to the point of off-pavement testing. The airplane also included aerial refueling capability and crews at the MAC school at Altus AFB, Oklahoma checked out. However, the project ended when a problem developed in the refueling line. Airdrop was a major tactical mission and MAC intended to drop troops and cargo from the huge airplane. An airplane and crew spent time at Pope AFB, North Carolina testing drop methods. The head of the loadmaster part of the project was Jim Sims, who I had first met in 1965 when I was involved in the movement of Australian troops in Vietnam and he was there to oversee the operation. A few years later, Jim would launch a missile from a C-5. The C-5A airdrop system didn’t use the integral rollers and rails as the C-141 did but used a special rail system that was installed along the cargo compartment centerline. They dropped cargo and troops. I recall there being a problem with parachutes striking the aft pressure door when they were dropped through the open ramp.
There is a common misconception that the C-5 and its predecessor, the C-141, were developed due to the Vietnam War. Actually, the two airplanes were developed as a result of a theory advanced by General William H. Tunner that troops could be brought home from Europe to reduce the cost of maintaining them and airlifted back in the event of an attack from East Germany. The two airplanes were to be troop carriers, not cargo carriers. One of our roles in the 3rd was to develop loading procedures for Army equipment, particularly armored equipment and helicopters. In the spring of 1971 I was on a crew sent to Gray Army Air Field at Fort Hood, Texas to allow personnel from the armored units based there to practice loading their equipment onto a C-5A and then offloading it. We flew over on Sunday afternoon and were there until Saturday. The loadmaster crew was split into shifts to allow the loading to continue throughout the day. We knelt the airplane when we got there and left it “on its knees” until it was time to depart. Similar operations were conducted at other Army posts to allow personnel to practice loading their equipment. Helicopters were a major cargo. The Army had hundreds of CH-47 helicopters in Vietnam and the South Vietnamese had their own. Prior to the introduction of the C-5, CH-47s were transported to and from the overhaul facility at Harrisburg, PA for major overhaul either aboard C-133s, in which case they had to be dismantled and only one could be carried, or by surface transportation. It took literally months to move the helicopters back and forth. We could carry three CH-47s and Marine CH-46s. In fact, we could carry three or more of most helicopters. We would pickup a load of three helicopters at the old Olmstead Air Force Base, which had closed in the mid-60s, and take them to Cam Ranh where we would offload them and pick up three more for the return trip to Olmstead. We could make the trip in less than a week, assuming the airplane didn’t break.
After I finished my stint with the JTF, the squadron gave me a job, an additional duty. The squadron had a ton of them but mine was unique. The 3rd loadmaster section was made up of two groups of men, the recent overseas returnees like me, most of whom had a ton of medals from combat flying, and an older higher-ranking group of men, most of whom had not been overseas. Many of them were master sergeants. The Air Force had come out with a new “weighted” promotion system called WAPS for short that took a number of things into consideration, including decorations. NCOs were also rated for their performance. The goal of nearly everyone in the squadron was to make as much rank as they could so they could retire with a larger pension. Master sergeants are normally in supervisory positions, meaning they supervise lower-ranking personnel. However, in the loadmaster section, there were only two supervisory positions, the NCOIC and assistant NCOIC. Someone came up with the bright idea of dividing loadmasters into groups and putting a master sergeant over each group. The sole purpose of the “reorganization,” which really wasn’t a reorganization but the creation of positions, was to give the master sergeants someone to supervise so their supervisor, the NCOIC and assistant, could write something on their performance reports about how good a supervisor they were. Actually, they weren’t supervising the men under them; they did not fly trips together and except for those of us who had additional duties, there were no duties at the squadron except duty NCO at night and on weekends. All these guys had to do was show up for flights. However, they needed to look good in hopes of being promoted to senior master sergeant so they were assigned a group of men they were supposed to be supervising and would write their performance reports, or APRs.
Problems developed when it turned out that few of these guys could write. They lacked mastery of the English language and the performance reports they wrote up were being rejected. In order to make the reports readable, the squadron came up with the office of “APR monitor” and put me in charge. My buddies Jay Barry and Ted Miller, who were staff sergeants while I was a tech, were put in with me. Technically, I was the NCOIC, but we worked together. Instead of turning the APRs into the orderly room for the WAFs to type up, they turned them into us. Our job was to go over the reports and correct errors, to generally put them in readable form before they went to the orderly room to be typed although we usually typed them ourselves. We also had the additional duty of awards and decorations for the loadmaster section. That involved going to the Form 5 section and counting up the number of “combat support” missions a man had flown and putting those who were eligible in for an Air Medal or cluster. Regulations called for 35 combat support missions, which meant a trip in and out of South Vietnam or an overflight on the way to Thailand (where we didn’t go but where the men had flown on C-141s). At the rate of one trip a month in country, it took three years for a man to earn an Air Medal. Now, the combat veterans had tons of them; I had eleven or twelve plus a Distinguished Flying Cross, which put me well over the maximum 25 points allowed for WAPs. Then came the Air Force Commendation Medal, which is somewhat of a joke. The AFCM is usually awarded to an airman upon completion of an assignment, when they are written up for all of the things they had done. What do you say about a master sergeant who’s only accomplishments were showing up for a flight? That’s where I learned creative writing!
At some point we learned of a REAL problem with the C-5. My recollection is that 212’s wings were x-rayed and found to have minute cracks. It was the LTF airplane and had been subjected to the most extreme conditions MAC could come up with in operational testing. Some “historians” claim restrictions were placed on the airplane because of stress testing of the wings on an airplane at the factory. Regardless, Lockheed and the Air Force realized that the C-5 wings were not going to be capable of their planned lifetime. Consequently, weight restrictions were put on all C-5s, meaning payloads were drastically reduced, all the way from some 200,000 pounds down to 100,000, which is only 30,000 pounds more than a C-141 payload. There were even rumors that the entire program might be cancelled. There were qualifications, however. The restrictions were for routine channel traffic missions. We could carry the maximum allowable payloads on some missions. We were departing on missions with the cargo compartment only half full. Furthermore, the aerial delivery program was canceled. There may have also been restrictions placed on kneeling on airplanes with the pneumatic system because I remember loading the airplanes using K-loaders with the airplane in the un-knelt position. At some point, MAC discontinued use of the loading docks.
In my estimation, the reason MAC did away with the loading docks was that the older loadmasters didn’t like them. People by nature are resistant to change and the docks were foreign to their experience as C-141 pallet pushers. Granted, the pallet trains would sometimes jam up, particularly during offloading if the loadmaster with the winch controls allowed slack in the line, but it was a good system. Air freight may not have liked it, but I don’t know what their attitude was. I do know that it took them much longer to load the airplane as they had to go back and forth to fetch pallets. I actually departed Charleston with half a load on a Cam Ranh trip one time because air freight was unable to finish loading before our takeoff time. I was the primary loadmaster and in charge of the loading. The aircraft commander was a newly promoted light colonel who was in the JTF. He was anxious to make the airplane look good and couldn’t seem to grasp that the delay would be on airfreight instead of the airplane or crew. I protested to high heaven, but he was insistent that the rest of the load be bumped. I berated him several times during the trip. It’s a wonder he didn’t write me up for insubordination. It was one of the stupidest things I ever saw a pilot do. We flew a fuel-gulping C-5A from Charleston, South Carolina to Cam Ranh, Vietnam with half of the load we were supposed to take! I wrote a scathing trip report, but I doubt that it went anywhere, probably into File 13.
When I got to Charleston and for some time after, the 3rd was the only squadron in the Air Force operating the C-5A. MAC planned to have four squadrons, two on the East Coast and two on the West Coast at Travis AFB, California. The other East Coast squadron was at Dover, Delaware where the 9th MAS was scheduled to equip with C-5s. After the 3rd received about half of our complement of airplanes, one of the squadrons at Travis received it’s first C-5. Chief Master Sergeant Walter Scott, who had been the senior loadmaster in the JTF, left Charleston and went to Travis to supervise the transition of West Coast loadmasters into the Galaxy, or Fat Albert, as we called the airplane. As the Travis wing received more airplanes, it assumed responsibility for missions to the Pacific although we continued flying to Cam Ranh, then later to Saigon, well into 1973 and even after the United States had withdrawn all combat forces from the war-torn country. The United States had begun withdrawing from Vietnam in 1969 right after President Richard Nixon took office and the withdrawal had continued until by the spring of 1972 most US ground and air forces had been withdrawn. Except for the helicopter swaps, there was less need for airlift into the country from the United States. We assumed more and more missions to Europe and, eventually, Central Asia and the Middle East. Initially, our sole European destination was Rhine Main at Frankfort, Germany. MAC soon shifted C-5 operations to Ramstein. As we got more airplanes, missions were added to Mildenhall, England and Torrejon, the airbase outside of Madrid, Spain. We also picked up a mission for the Navy from Norfolk, Virginia to Rota, a navy base on Spain’s west coast. Incirlik, Turkey also became a destination. Later on, we started going to Tehran, Iran.
In April 1972, the Vietnam War flared up when communist troops came out of Cambodia and Laos to attack along Highway 13 in an effort to capture Saigon while others poured across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into South Vietnam’s northern provinces. This was when the C-5 came into its own. In response to the attacks, the US decided to beef up air forces in the Pacific, particularly in Guam where B-52s operated against communist targets in Southeast Asia, and within South Vietnam itself. C-5s were used to airlift cargo that was too big for other airplanes to carry, cargo such as large fire trucks, fuel trucks, etc. I was on a mission to Shreveport, Louisiana where we picked up a load of outsize vehicles and took them to Guam. I went back out on another Cam Ranh mission with palletized cargo then was sent to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, where we picked up a load of tiny O-2 Skymasters belonging to an Air Force tactical support squadron that was being returned to Vietnam. Three C-5 missions transported large tanks from Japan to Da Nang. MAC claimed it as a combat airlift, but the closest enemy opposition was fifty miles away at Dong Ha. The tanks had to be driven there.
At some point, MAC decided to transfer a number of experienced C-5 crewmembers from the 3rd to Dover, where the 9th MAS was equipping with C-5s. A number of 3rd loadmasters were transferred, mostly instructors. Just when the 9th actually started getting airplanes is unclear. The squadron was reactivated at Dover in April 1971, but I don’t believe it started getting airplanes for several months afterward. Rumors were starting to spread in the 3rd that we would be leaving Charleston and transferring to Dover to join the 9th. Congressman Rivers died of a heart attack a few months after I got to Charleston (he died on December 28, 1970) and many took his death as the handwriting on the wall. Rivers was the reason the C-5s were in Charleston in the first place, but once he was gone, complaints starting coming from local citizens about the noise and pollution made by the big airplanes. The engines did smoke, as did all jet engines, although the problem was rectified and all of the engines were modified. There was a lot of speculation about where we would move, if we actually did. Orlando, Florida where the Air Force was closing a large SAC base, was the favored destination. The former Hunter AFB at Savannah, which had transferred to the Army, was another. NOBODY wanted to go to Dover!
After two years of operations, the C-5 was getting much better. Most of the problems had been rectified and incorporated into the newer airplanes on the assembly line. One of the first fixes was the replacement of the rails and rollers which caused loadmasters so much trouble. Lockheed had also redesigned the kneeling system and replaced the pneumatic motors with hydraulics, which most people thought they should have had from the beginning. Other systems had become more reliable, thanks in large measure to the gradual familiarity of the maintenance personnel and the supply of parts out in the MAC system. If an airplane did break, parts were more likely to be available somewhere closer and didn’t have to come from the States. However, we still were not flying that much. Since MAC was holding the flying time down, trips for individual crewmembers were infrequent, which was okay with me. I was still single and living in an apartment with a lot of other singles “West of the Ashley.” I was heavily involved in commercial flight training and had even bought an airplane of my own. I wasn’t hurting for money but many of the other loadmasters were. They had been used to extra combat pay and per diem and it had dried up since we weren’t getting many trips to the combat zone. The Air Force had cracked down on MAC for it’s liberal per diem policies and we were no longer getting off base quarters without justification. MAC crew quarters had been set up at Kadena so we were no longer staying off base in contract hotels and drawing half per diem for meals. Many had purchased pickup trucks and boats with credit union loans and the reduction in their checks caused problems. Some, quite a few actually, took part time jobs. It was common to go to the commissary and have your groceries bagged by a C-5 loadmaster, a staff sergeant or even a tech sergeant, at the rate of a quarter a bag. Some were working at the NCO club.
In the spring of 1973, the rumor of a move to Dover turned out to be true. I had just met a young WAF and we had decided to get married eventually. The move caused us to move up our wedding date – by almost a year. The 3rd was going to swap places with the remaining C-141 squadron at Dover, the 20th, and join the 9th at Dover which would become solely a C-5 base. The 3rd was heavy with Southerners (like myself) who liked hunting and fishing and warm weather. NOBODY was enthusiastic about moving north, even though Delaware is south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I wasn’t as put off by the move as I would have been if I were still single. The move actually took place over several months during which we did little flying. The 9th had become operational with C-5s and they got most of the missions. My bride and I were married at the end of June so she could put in for a “join spouse” assignment and move with me but our transfer didn’t take place until August. We were more enthusiastic about the move than most. My new wife had ties to the Dover area. As it turned out, most of the guys actually came to like Dover. The Dover move thinned the ranks of the squadron, especially the master sergeants. Many put in their paperwork to retire while others did so after they got to Dover. Sometime before the move, MAC had opened up the C-5 program to first-termers. Several came over from the C-141 squadrons and went with us to Dover.
The squadron had been at Dover for only a couple of months when we became part of a massive airlift of supplies to Israel, which had become embroiled in another war with its Arabic neighbors (the last, as it turned out.) The Israelis were taking heavy losses and running short of ammunition and other supplies. They appealed for help but only the United States was willing to support them. As it turned out, I was on the first C-5 to depart Dover bound for Tel Aviv. We were deadheading and were supposed to take the airplane on to Israel from Lajes AB, Azores while the other crew entered the stage. However, when we arrived at Lajes, we learned that the Portuguese government had yet to grant permission to use the base on missions to Israel so both crews were put into crew rest. My crew departed Lajes late the next afternoon – on a mission into a hazardous area without parachutes! Air Force regulations stipulated that any airplane venturing into a hostile area had to have parachutes, but MAC had got around the regulation in the past and had none for its crews. The Arab countries threatened to shoot down any transports that came to Israel’s aid. The Israelis said they’d protect us. We were intercepted by IAF F-4s who escorted us to Tel Aviv. I am not certain if we were the first C-5 to land at Lod or the second. We were told we would be number one in the stage, but the other crew may have been alerted before us. At any rate, we flew a Travis bird from Lajes to Lod, then flew back to Lajes. We were met by enthusiastic Israelis but no K-loaders to offload our load of ammunition. The Israelis finally supplied one of their cargo loaders from El Al Airlines and used it to offload.
The Israel Airlift, or NICKEL GRASS, proved the C-5A. After all of the growing pains of the previous three years, it had become a reliable airplane. The weight restrictions were lifted for the operation and we were carrying full loads of cargo, mostly ammunition although some carried tanks and other equipment. On one trip, I picked up a load of armor at nearby Fort Made that the Army wanted to test in combat. On a return mission, we carried a load of captured Russian equipment, a radar van and support equipment. We went to Dover from Lajes then flew it to Nellis AFB, Nevada the next day. The load was destined for the Air Force test range at Jackass Flats. The reliability rate for the C-5s was equal to if not greater than the C-141s that were also involved in the airlift and we were carrying three times as much cargo as they were. In the final analysis, C-5s brought in just under half of the total tonnage in a quarter of the missions while burning 25% less fuel. Prior to NICKEL GRASS, the C-5 was the butt of jokes throughout MAC and a favorite whipping boy of the press. Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin had been a constant critic as had columnist Jack Anderson. NICKEL GRASS shut them up. Perhaps the most glaring testimony to the C-5 is that the Soviet Union decided to build it’s own fleet of large transports.
 I am not 100% certain of his rank. I believe he had made chief since I had last seen him, but he may have still been a senior master sergeant. However, we had a senior master sergeant, Ray Yount, who was assistant loadmaster.
 The lavatories were equipped with specially-made seats that were manufactured to military specs. They were costly because they had to be able to withstand frequent changes in pressure.
 The coffee makers were high quality devices made in Germany and used on commercial airlines. They were nothing like the coffee makers available in department stores!
 I don’t recall what happened to the crew. When Jay and I left, they were supposed to stay with the airplane but I don’t know if they did or if they were brought home and sent back.
 She was a Jewish girl from New York City and I don’t remember her as being exceptionally bright. She had recently recovered from mononucleosis which may be why she had fallen behind.
 My own AFSC was that of a supervisor, a 7-level.
 In fact, Ted took a creative writing course there on base. Jay may have. I didn’t. I already knew how to bullshit.
 The 25 and 40K loaders the Air Force used could be raised hydraulically to levels compatible with airliners, which was the level of the C-5 cargo floor when the airplane wasn’t knelt.
 The FRED nickname didn’t come along until many years later.
 Charleston was famous for pollution from pulp mills!