The C-141, Lockheed's High Speed Flying Truck

by Harold H. Martin


EVER SINCE man first left his cave to travel and trade and fight, he has sought some better way to transport the goods and the weapons he has needed on his journeys. His first platform was his own back, or preferably that of his wife. Then the more docile pack animals-the burro, the donkey, the horse, the llama, the elephant, and the camel-took the place of the human being with his A-frame and shoulder pole. And after the animals the wheeled cart and the sailing ship came into use, and in time there evolved the steamship, the freight train, and the truck.

It was not until man learned to fly, however, and mated the lifting power of the aerodynamic wing to the tremendous thrust of the fanjet engine, that his cargo-carrying capability began to match his needs and dreams. And this is where the C-141 Star-Lifter, built by Lockheed for the Air Force in 1963 as a fast, long-range freight-hauler, came on the scene. It was the breakthrough plane.

It was not the biggest airplane ever built, nor was it the fastest, and it could not carry the heaviest loads. But it could carry larger and heavier loads faster and farther than any other plane then flying, and it could do this day after day, mile after mile, with a minimum of down-time for service and repairs.

It thus became the prototype, the forerunner, of all the huge airfreighters that have come after-the C-5 Galaxy, the world's biggest winged vehicle, and its commercial version, the L-500, and of all the gigantic cargo carriers now on the drawing board which in time to come will "see the heavens filled with commerce," as Tennyson prophesied, as it now is filled with passenger planes.

The seaborne freight-haulers have always had their poets. John Masefield, laureate of a seagoing nation, proved that there can be beauty and mystery and romance in the grubby trade of cargo-hauling no matter what the burden may be. In his poem called "Cargoes" he sang of the romantic

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in Sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine

and of the

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus
Dipping through the tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

But he saw an equal romance and he wrote with equal eloquence of the

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smokestack,
Butting through the channel in the mad March days
With a cargo of Tyne coal
Road-rails, pig-lead
Fire-wood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

The droop-winged StarLifter has carried its own share of exotic cargo, including a Buddha from Bangkok to New Delhi, and more gold bars than any stately galleon ever carried, airlifted from the U.S. to England during the banking crisis there. No apes and peacocks so far, but an elephant, from Cambodia to California, and a trained whale, carried in a huge wet sponge to Hawaii, and war dogs for Vietnam, and penguins for stateside zoos from the frozen shores of Antarctica, and astronauts, heading home to Houston from their journey to the moon, and moon rocks more precious than any emeralds or diamonds or amethysts ever seen on earth.

No poet has yet arisen to celebrate these exploits, which is just as well, for the StarLifter's impact on its time goes far beyond these occasional lifts of unusual cargo. Carrying its more prosaic burdens, the StarLifter in its purely military function is setting the pattern for an airlift revolution that inevitably must affect all the trading nations of the world. Ancient land and sea routes followed since the beginning of civilization will diminish in importance as more and more cargoes travel on paths marked only by the vapor trails of unseen planes. Old port cities grown rich on ocean shipping will find their historical function as ports of entry lessened radically as globe-girdling fleets of cargo carriers overfly them to huge new inland terminals.

New patterns of transport, within nations and between nations, will inevitably bring about broad changes in political, social, economic, and diplomatic relationships. It is to be hoped that these will be in the direction of greater understanding. Thus the StarLifter, as the pioneer plane in a great oncoming fleet designed to haul anything, anywhere, any time, may serve as an instrument of peace. It also can play another role. . . .

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