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

by Harold H. Martin


IN A BIG, high-ceilinged room at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois a gigantic map of the world covers all one wall. Here is the nerve center, the command post of MAC, the Military Airlift Command of the U. S. Air Force, the biggest, busiest, most far-ranging aerial cargo-carrier in the world. From a glassed-in balcony facing this giant map the general directing MAC's operations can read at a glance the status and the whereabouts of any one of the more than one thousand planes under his command. Markers bearing the tail numbers of each aircraft are moved across the map as, at fixed times and places around the world, the plane commanders report their position, their altitude, their estimated arrival at the next checkpoint, and the en route weather. Over a global communications network, this information feeds into a computer in this room.

In one quick glance, therefore, the MAC commander may see the entire global picture. On a routine day, for example, a hundred planes from MAC's 22nd Air Force, whose squadrons fly from Travis and Norton in California, and McChord in the state of Washington, may be in the air over the Pacific, bound to and from Alaska, New Zealand, Guam, Hickam at Honolulu, Clark in the Philippines, Tan Son Nhut in South Vietnam, Bangkok in Thailand, and Karachi in West Pakistan. They are carrying supplies to the scientists at McMurdo on the South Polar ice cap, hauling whole blood and weapons and explosives to the troops still left in Vietnam, bringing home wounded from Saigon, Da Nang, and Cam Ranh Bay, and supplementing the charter planes as troop-haulers as that war slowly winds down. On the other side of the country, planes from the 21st Air Force, located at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey; Charleston, South Carolina; Dover, Delaware; and Warner Robins, Georgia, are flying over the subpolar route to Okinawa, Japan, and Korea, their final destination Vietnam. Eastward over the Atlantic, planes from these same squadrons are headed for Tor-rejon Air Force Base, in Spain, and Rhein Main, Germany. There they will pick up cargo bound for Pisa, Naples, and Rome, Athens, Crete, and Cyprus. They will end their day of quick stops at Incirlik Air Force Base, in Turkey, at the Far Eastern end of the Mediterranean. There they will load again for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, New Delhi, India, and Karachi.

Between MAC's 22nd Air Force at Travis and the 21st at McGuire, the whole wide globe is covered with this loose and often changing airlift network. Aircraft from Travis range from the Mississippi River northward to Shemya and Adak on the tip of the Aleutians, southward to Pago Pago, Sydney, Christchurch, and the South Pole, and westward to Pakistan. McGuire birds fly north and west to the Orient, northeastward to Greenland, southward to Chile and Easter Island, and east from the Mississippi around the world to the common turn-around point at Karachi. Twice every week planes of the embassy run, carrying passengers and mail, make the complete circuit, leaving from Travis and Charleston to fly in opposite directions around the globe. They pass each other in the night skies high over the Indian Ocean, and their commanders may chat briefly, swapping weather information over the MAC radio frequency, which is known as "the company phone."

MAC's global cargo-hauling operations are like the old Pony Express in reverse. The horse, the tireless StarLifter, goes on. The crews stop for rest. The MAC commander must be able to learn from the Airlift Command Post computers not only where his planes are, and what cargo they are hauling, and how long they still may fly before they must be grounded for inspection and repair; but what crews are in the pipeline, and where they are, and how much flying time they have left before they must take a mandatory rest.

Though designed primarily for combat airlift, ready for instant action in support of our military commitments around the globe, MAC in its day-to-day operation is an aerial truckline of fantastic range and complexity that flies on peaceful missions into all the free nations of the world.

This book is the story of that global operation, told in terms of the sturdy airplane that is the backbone of the cargo fleet- the highflying, jet-powered, long-range StarLifter. Its narrators are the men who know it best-the engineers and craftsmen who designed and built it, and the pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters, and maintenance experts of MAC's line squadrons who fly it and keep it flying. With them the author traveled many thousands of miles, and talked for many hours-on the flight deck, in bars and BOQ's, and on windy ramps around the world. To the flight crews the StarLifter, in the words of a Travis loadmaster, is "the best thing that has happened in the flying business since Wilbur told Orville to come on down to the bicycle shop." To their wives it is both a beauty and a beast. They hate it for taking their husbands away so often. They love it for always bringing them safely home.

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