C-141A, Tail number 61-2775, was the very first C-141A aircraft built and had its maiden flight on 17 December 1963, the 60th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. It spent its entire career as a test aircraft in numerous programs. The last program this A model carried out was to test a new tension rope from NASA while towing a QF-106 in the air. The last C-141A off the assembly line was tail number 67-0166 and was delivered to the US Air Force in February 1968.
The first C-141 converted to the "B" configuration was aircraft 66-0186. On 8 January 1977, the first "YC-141B" 66-0186 (stretched C-141A Starlifter) rolled out of the Lockheed Georgia Marietta plant. The first "YC-141B" conversion performed its initial flight on 24 March 1977. It was estimated that this stretching program was the equivalent of buying 90 new aircraft in terms of increased capacity.
On 29 June 1982, Tail No. 65-0248 was the last C-141A converted to the "B" model configuration.
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. This variant introduced some of the first glass cockpit technology to the aircraft and improved reliability by replacing some mechanical and electromechanical components with their electronic equivalents.
Four "NC-141As" were built as testbeds and not converted to C-141B standards. One of these, the "L-300" prototype for a commercial Starlifter that never went into production, was obtained by the US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) as a flying astronomical observatory and designated the "Kuiper Astronomical Observatory (KAO)."
The need for the C-141 Aircraft
Introduced to replace slower piston-engined cargo planes such as the C-124 Globemaster II, the C-141 was designed to requirements set in 1960 and first flew in 1963. Production deliveries of an eventual 285 planes began in 1965: 284 for the Air Force, and one for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use as an airborne observatory.
The C-141 aircraft was the workhorse of the Air Mobility Command from the 1970s into the early 2000s. The Starlifter fulfilled the vast spectrum of airlift requirements through its ability to airlift combat forces over long distances, delivering those forces and their equipment either by air, land or airdrop, resupply forces and transport the sick and wounded from the hostile area to advanced medical facilities. The aircraft remained in service for almost 40 years until the USAF withdrew the C-141 from service on 5 May 2006, replacing the aircraft with the C-17 Globemaster III.
On 16 September 2004, the C-141 left service with nearly all active duty USAF units, being confined to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units for the remainder of its operational service life. As of 25 September 2005, there were only eight C-141 aircraft still flying, all from the Air Force Reserve's 445th Airlift Wing (445 AW) at Wright-Patterson AFB. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, the C-141s assigned to the 445 AW participated in missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly for the medical evacuation of wounded service members. The last eight C-141s were officially retired in 2006.
The first C-141 aircraft, tail number 63-8078 named "Spirit of Oklahoma City” to enter the Military Air Transport Service fleet was unveiled in a ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., on October 19, 1964. Assigned to the 1707th Air Transport Wing (ATW) and would be flown by the 1741st Air Transport Squadron (later to be redesignated 57th Military Airlift Squadron). This aircraft was able to move the Army's troops anywhere in the world; the new jet gave the United States an instant response capability when it began operational missions in 1965. The C-141 was the first jet transport from which U.S. Army paratroopers jumped, and the first to land in the Antarctic.
C-141 A from the 60th Military Airlift Wing, Travis AFB, CA
Brand new 63d MAW C-141As on the ramp at Norton AFB, 1967. Serial 66-0177 is in foreground which would come to be known as "The Hanoi Taxi".
C-141A aircraft being stretched 23 ft 4 in at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA. 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. In addition, in-flight refueling capabilitywas added as operation Nickel Grass in 1973 helped the Air force to establish a requirement for aerial refueling to become standard practice in MAC so that its airlifters could operate without forward bases, if necessary.
C-141 A & B Model Aircraft
C-141B in Flight Over California
The last C-141 to fly was aircraft 66-0177 (Hanoi Taxi). At 9:30 AM on 6 May 2006, the Hanoi Taxi touched down for the last time and was received in a formal retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the United States.
-- US Air Force Fact Sheet Data For the C-141 --
The C-141 Starlifter was originally designed to meet a US Air Force requirement for a large troop-carrying aircraft with global range. To meet this need, the C-141 could transport up to 154 troops or 123 paratroopers over distances of nearly 3,000 miles. The C-141 was the world's first military transport powered by turbofan engines. The design also featured a high mounted wing to maximize cargo space as well as clamshell doors at the rear fuselage for loading and unloading.
Shortly after entering service in 1964, the new C-141 fleet soon proved its usefulness during the conflict in Vietnam. However, the Air Force quickly realized that the C-141 was capable of carrying much greater loads than could physically fit within the aircraft. Lockheed was then contracted to convert some 270 aircraft to the C-141B standard with a fuselage extension and in-flight refueling capability. About 68 of these aircraft were later upgraded with glass cockpit displays and designated as the C-141C.
The final years of service for the C-141 proved to be some of the most active for the aircraft, and the Starlifter remained an important component of the US Air Force's transport fleet through 2005. From 2002 until the aircraft's final combat mission in September 2005, the C-141 completed over 2,000 combat sorties and transported more than 70 million pounds of equipment and materials in the Middle East. The C-141 also flew over 70 percent of the aeromedical evacuation flights from the Middle East and Iraq.
The final C-141 mission was flown in May of 2006 and was retired to go on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft (66-0177), named Hanoi Taxi, had flown the first mission of Operation Homecoming in 1973 to return American prisoners of War from North Vietnam to the US.
As the remaining C-141 fleet was retired during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the aircraft was replaced by the C-17 Globemaster III.
(YC-141A) 17 December 1963
(YC-141B) 24 March 1977
C-141A: October 1964; C-141B: December 1979; C-141C: October 1997
(C-141C) 6 May 2006
Pilot, co-pilot, two flight engineers, loadmaster (plus navigator for airdrops) aeromedical evacuation crew typically includes two flight nurses and three medical technicians
(C-141A) 154 troops or 123 paratroops
(C-141B) 200 troops or 155 paratroops
(C-141B) $47.4 million [2002$]
168.4 ft (51.m)
160 ft (48.70 m)
39.3 ft (11.9 m)
Width, 10.25 feet (3.12 meters); height, 9.08 feet (2.76 meters)
Height, 9 feet 1 inch (2.77 meters); length, 93 feet 4 inches (28.45
meters); width, 10 feet 3 inches (3.12 meters)
(C-141A) 133,730 lb (60,680 kg)
(C-141B) 148,120 lb (67,185 kg)
(C-141A) 70,850 lb (32,135 kg)
(C-141B) 90,880 lb (41,220 kg)
Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-7 turbofans
84,000 lb (374 kN)
Max Level Speed
Initial Climb Rate
2,920 ft (890 m) / min
41,600 ft (12,680 m)
Unlimited with in-flight refueling