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Off to the Boneyard for Westover’s last C-5A

  • The last C-5A modal aircraft takes off from Westover to be retired in the boneyard in Arizona Thursday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The last C-5A model aircraft takes off from Westover to be retired in the boneyard in Arizona Thursday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The last C-5A model aircraft flies over newer C-5M models at Westover. The C-5A made its last flight Thursday and headed to the boneyard in Arizona to be retired.  GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The last C-5A model aircraft flies over newer C-5M models at Westover. The C-5A made its last flight Thursday and headed to the boneyard in Arizona to be retired.  GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Master Sgt. Andrew Biscoe, the acting chief of public affairs at Westover, talks about the last C-5A model aircraft’s last flight, Thursday, at the Chicopee base.

  • Bud Shuback, the president of the Galaxy Community Council at Westover, talks about the last C-5A model aircraft, which departed Thursday for the boneyard in Arizona where it will be retired. Behind him are newer C-5M models. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Thursday, September 07, 2017

CHICOPEE — The last operational C-5A aircraft departed for the final time from Westover Air Reserve Base Thursday morning, marking the end of an era for the Air Force’s premier cargo plane and one of the largest aircraft in the world.

Incoming are the C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft, which will replace the old C-5As and upgrade the Westover ARB’s 439th Airlift Wing fleet.

The final C-5A that took off will go to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, otherwise known as the “Boneyard,” where it will join thousands of other retired aircraft used for spare parts.

Now retired, the C-5A series of aircraft included 81 planes produced by Lockheed-Martin and deployed in 1970. In 1987, Westover ARB received its first C-5As, and has used them for training exercises and military operations, including Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The planes have also been on display at the Westfield International Airshow. With the final C-5A’s departure from Westover, the U.S. military has officially switched to the C-5M Super Galaxy as its primary intercontinental cargo aircraft.

Speaking from a base runway, Master Sgt. Andrew Biscoe, acting chief of 439th Airlift Wing public affairs, described the C-5s as the “cream of the crop” for the Air Force for 30 years.

“That was our past that just took off. Right here is our future,” Biscoe said, gesturing towards a C-5M Super Galaxy that arrived at Westover ARB in June.

Westover currently has two C-5M Super Galaxies. The base expects the third to arrive soon, and is expected to have eight C-5M Super Galaxies by next summer. The C-5M Super Galaxies are upgraded C-5B aircraft, which were first deployed in 2009.

After undergoing an overhaul, each modified C-5B is fitted with four new engines, cockpits and avionics, becoming a C-5M Super Galaxy. The Super Galaxies are far more fuel efficient, consuming 22 percent less fuel than the old aircraft.

“It’s like they have a fifth engine,” Biscoe said. “These planes can haul up to 270,000 pounds over intercontinental distances without needing to refuel. During Hurricane Katrina one of these planes was able to carry six full-sized rescue boats, and that’s just a drop in the puddle compared to what these can do.”

Planes of the C-5 series have been known to transport multiple M1 Abrams tanks and full platoons of geared soldiers over long distances. They are the U.S. military’s largest aircraft and among the largest aircraft in the world, dwarfing commercial jets and stretching 247 feet — longer than the Wright Brothers’ entire first flight.

The upgraded C-5Ms will have a 30 percent shorter takeoff roll and a 58 percent faster climbing rate, significantly increasing the distance these planes can haul cargo, according to Westover base officials. A C-5M Super Galaxy filled with cargo can travel over 5,500 miles without refueling, roughly the distance from Dover, Delaware to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

Biscoe said one of the most attractive features of the C-5M Super Galaxies is their sound — or lack of sound, really. While the outgoing C-5A produced a relatively loud sound, the C-5M Super Galaxy is relatively silent, undetectable even at distances as short as a few blocks away.

In recent conflicts such as the Iraq War, insurgents have used rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles to take down aircraft, making the C-5M Super Galaxy’s silence a particularly useful feature in such combat areas.

“These are silent and far more efficient planes. They are really limited only by their four crew members and how much coffee they have,” Biscoe said.

In 2015, Westover lost eight of its 16 C-5Bs, 59 full-time and 275 part-time positions due to budget cuts. The new C-5M Super Galaxies represent a large investment by the Air Force at Westover, the country’s largest Air Force base by land area. Each C-5M costs $90 million, bringing the total investment in Westover’s new fleet to about $720 million.

Bud Shuback, president of the Galaxy Community Council, a group of volunteers that promote interaction between Westover Air Reserve Base and the surrounding communities, was present at the C-5A’s final departure on Thursday.

Shuback, who for years has witnessed C-5As refueling in mid-air, marveled at the idea of a Super Galaxy journeying to Europe without needing to refuel. For that reason, he’s not unhappy to see the C-5As go.

On the other hand, Biscoe, who grew up watching the C-5As take off, was saddened.

“I’ve got a little moisture in my eyes. I’m going to miss that sound, and it’s sad to know that the Pioneer Valley has heard that sound for the last time,” Biscoe said.

Other Air Force C-5M Super Galaxies are assigned to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and Joint Base in San Antonio, Texas. The Air Force plans to keep the aircraft in use until 2040 and currently has 52 C-5M Super Galaxies.