The Secret Airplane that Could Lob Giant 86,000-Pound Missiles

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In the fall of 1974, the Space and Missile Systems Organization did an air-launched ballistic missile test. The only plane that could carry the giant 86,000 pound-missiles was the recently unveiled Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.

It was able to drop it from 20,000 feet over the Pacific, and this impressive piece of engineering continues to serve the Air Force and took part in other unique missions. 

Here are some interesting facts that you need to know about the secret plane that could lob massive 86,000-pound missiles: 

Eight-Three-Oh-Three Heavy

On June 1968, aircraft serial number 66-8303 took its first flight piloted by Leo Sullivan with the call sign, “eight-three-oh-three-heavy.” 

The new aircraft provided the USAF with a heavy, intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability that could carry outsized and oversized loads and all air-certifiable cargo. 

Nearly Adequate

Despite problems with funding and production, Lockheed was able to finally deliver its first operations C-5 Galaxy to the 437th Airlift Wing, Charleston AFB, South Carolina in June 1970. 

In the words of aviation historian Robert Dorr, “After being one of the worst-run programs ever in its early years, it has evolved slowly and with great difficulty into a nearly adequate strategic airlifter that unfortunately needs in-flight refueling or a ground stop for even the most routine long-distance flights.” 


Going to the 80s, the C-5B received an expanded airlift capacity, as well as over 100 improvements and additional system modifications that enhanced its predecessor’s reliability and maintainability. 

Throughout the decade, 50 B models were added to the fleet of 76 A examples in the Air Force’s airlift force structure, and two space cargo-modified C-5Cs were also delivered. Modifications included the removal of the troop compartment, the redesign of the aft pressure door and bulkhead, and the widening of the aft doors to make room for the space shuttle’s cargo container. 

Throughout the latter years, the C-5 Avionic Modernization Program sought to upgrade the avionics, including the improvement of communications, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management, so that the aircraft could comply with national and international airspace standards. It also included modern safety equipment and a new autopilot system. 

Crucial Transportation

The C-5 airlifter supported the Air Force across all major military operations from Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and the Gulf War. 

Moreover, the plane has also been deployed in humanitarian aid missions and disaster relief operations in addition to the space program. Notably, the aircraft was also employed to aid the USAF with a highly secretive mission.

Secret Mission

The powerful C-5 was picked to transport the Nighthawk flying the disassembled aircraft in Skunk Works Facility in California to Groom Lake in complete secrecy. Upon arrival, the jet was then reassembled and test flown before its public unveiling in 1990. 

Up to this day, the airlifter, which is a massive military transport aircraft designed and built by Lockheed, is still the biggest aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory. As a strategic transport aircraft, its main mission is to move cargo and personnel for the Department of Defense.