Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter is a retired military strategic airlifter that served with the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), its successor organization the Military Airlift Command (MAC), and finally the Air Mobility Command (AMC) of the United States Air Force (USAF).



The original Starlifter model, designated C-141A, could carry 154 passengers, 123 paratroopers or 80 litters for wounded with seating for 16.

A total of 284 A-models were built.

The C-141A entered service in April 1965.

It was soon discovered that the aircraft’s volume capacity was relatively low in comparison to its lifting capacity; it generally ran out of physical space before it hit its weight limit.

The C-141A could carry ten standard 463L master pallets and had a total cargo capacity of 62,700 pounds (28,400 kg).

It could also carry specialized cargoes, such as the Minuteman missile.

NASA obtained Lockheed’s C-141 demonstrator, designated L-300.

The airplane was modified to house the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) telescope for use at very high altitudes.

This aircraft, NC-141A is in storage at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Federal Airfield, California.

The KAO was retired in 1995 and was replaced by the 747SP-based Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).


In service, the C-141 proved to “bulk out” before it “grossed out”, meaning that it often had additional lift capacity that went wasted because the cargo hold was full before the plane’s weight capacity had been reached.

To correct the perceived deficiencies of the original model and utilize the C-141 to the fullest of its capabilities, 270 in-service C-141As (vast majority of the fleet) were stretched, adding needed payload volume.

The conversion program took place between 1977 and 1982, with first delivery taking place in December 1979.

These modified aircraft were designated C-141B.

It was estimated that this stretching program was equivalent to buying 90 new aircraft, in terms of increased capacity. Also added was a boom receptacle for in flight refueling.

The fuselage was stretched by adding “plug” sections forward and aft of the wings, lengthening the fuselage a total of 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m) and allowing the carriage of 103 stretchers for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads.


In 1994, a total of 13 C-141Bs were given SOLL II (Special Operations Low-Level II) modifications, which gave the aircraft a low-level night flying capability, enhanced navigation equipment, and improved defensive countermeasures.

These aircraft were operated by AMC in conjunction with Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).


A total of 63 C-141s were upgraded throughout the 1990s to C-141C configuration, with improved avionics and navigation systems, to keep them up to date.

New capabilities, including traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) and Global Positioning System (GPS), were added to aircraft that received this upgrade package.

This variant introduced some of the first glass cockpit technology to the aircraft, as well as improving reliability by replacing some mechanical and electromechanical components with more modern electronic equivalents.

The final C-141C were delivered during late 2001.


Crew: 5–7: 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers, 1 navigator, 1 loadmaster (a second loadmaster routinely used, in later years navigators were only carried on airdrop missions); 5 medical crew (2 nurses and 3 medical technicians) on medevac flights


168 ft 4 in (51.3 m)


160 ft 0 in (48.8 m)


39 ft 3 in (12 m)

Wing area

3,228 sq ft (300 m2)

Empty weight

144,492 lb (65,542 kg)

Max take-off weight

342,100 lb (147,000 kg)


4 × Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofans, 20,250 lbf (90.1 kN) thrust each


Maximum speed

567 mph (912 km/h, 493 kn)


2,935 mi (4,723 km, 2,550 nmi)

Ferry range

6,140 mi (9,880 km, 5,330 nmi)

Service ceiling

41,000 ft (12,500 m)

Rate of climb

2,600 ft/min (13.2 m/s)

Wing loading

100.1 lb/sq ft (490 kg/m2)





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