Dover Air Force Base is the starting point for tons of supplies shipped every day to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “This is arguably the most strategically important mile-and-a-half strip of concrete on the east coast,” says base commander Colonel David Hafer.
A primary user of Dover’s runway is the Lockheed C-5, which can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo—a load equivalent to that carried by five 747-cargo jets. The Smithsonian Channel episode “Mighty Planes: C5M Super Galaxy” (see the full episode above) shows how it’s done.
The C-5 has been the Air Force’s workhorse for more than 40 years, but now the aging fleet is getting upgraded at the Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Georgia. Each C-5 will be transformed into a C-5M Super Galaxy; the refurbishment takes nearly a year to complete. The process includes replacing the engines and stripping the aircraft of their old analog instruments to add new digital displays. Each new CF6 turbofan engine is more than 1,000 pounds heavier than its predecessor, the TF39. This upgrade is the most time-consuming: It requires that the cowling be replaced, and technicians have to fortify the pylons that connect the engine to the wing and reinforce the skeleton inside the wing to withstand the increased stress on the airframe. (Sadly, the galley remains old-school. But hey, frozen lasagna is great, right?)
The Smithsonian Channel show also follows the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command as they attempt to set a new world record with their new C-5M, flying nonstop from Dover to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in just 14 hours.