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People sometimes ask me to name my favorite airplane. My answer is usually the one I’m learning the most about at the time. What that means is my favorite airplane tends to change. Right now, it’s the Lockheed C-140 JetStar. I think the JetStar is an interesting and attractive airplane with a fascinating history.

Business jets are common today but the JetStar was the first jet designed and built specifically as an executive and VIP (“Very Important Person”) transport. It captured the fancy and imagination of many during the 1960s. George Haddaway, a pilot and publisher of Flight Magazine said, “This plane makes me want to be 19 again and just starting to fly.” Robert Fowler, editor of the Cobb County Times in Marietta, Georgia, said, “A flight in the JetStar is an experience one must have if he is to realize fully what is in store for this Jet Age.”1

The prototype Jetstar flew for the first time on September 4, 1957. The JetStar’s engines were mounted on the rear fuselage in what was then an unconventional design. The two prototypes were built in Burbank,California, and had two engines. Production JetStars were built here in Georgia at the Lockheed plant in Marietta and had four engines. Lockheed-Georgia built just over 200 JetStars.

Front view of a JetStar in flight. Distinctive features include the four engines mounted  on the rear fuselage, two per side, and the “slipper tanks” on the wings that carried fuel.

Front view of a JetStar in flight. Distinctive features include the four engines mounted on the rear fuselage, two per side, and the “slipper tanks” on the wings that carried fuel.

The JetStar had a top speed of about 600 miles per hour, though it cruised most efficiently around 500 miles per hour. It had a range of over 2,200 miles and could seat 10 passengers. In 1962, the legendary pilot Jacqueline Cochran set numerous aviation records while flying a Jetstar from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Bonn, West Germany.

The United States Air Force (USAF) bought sixteen C-140 JetStars. The Warner Robins Air Materiel Area at Robins Air Force Base (AFB), Georgia, had worldwide logistical management responsibilities for the JetStar throughout its service life.

The Air Force Communications Service (AFCS) used five C-140As equipped with electronic gear to check the accuracy and reliability of navigational aids and air traffic control systems at U.S. military installations around the world. The JetStar was able to duplicate the flight patterns of high-performance military aircraft and served in this role for decades. In late 1962, three C-140As were assigned to the 1852nd Facility Checking Flight at Robins AFB, with more scheduled for delivery at the beginning of 1963.2

An Air Force Communications Service C-140A JetStar in flight in the early 1960s.

An Air Force Communications Service C-140A JetStar in flight in the early 1960s. What a cool paint scheme!

A technician checks the test console inside an Air Force Communications Service C-140A.

A technician checks the test console inside an Air Force Communications Service C-140A.

On November 7, 1962, a C-140A crashed while landing at Robins AFB. The aircraft burst into flames and five men, all residents of Warner Robins, died: Major Lee M. Tappan, Captain Earl B. Butler, Captain Joseph Q. Spell, Captain Thomas L. Edmondson, and Technical Sergeant Billie E. Garrison. The sole survivor was Captain Dendy Lewis, who managed to get out of a cockpit window and was then dragged to safety by a young Airman from Albany, Georgia, named Thomas J. Brice.3  Lewis suffered severe burns but recovered and returned to flying. In 1966, he landed a JetStar on the aluminum mat runway at Chu Lai Air Base,South Vietnam, to pick up a ground crewman who was under fire.4

Firefighters extinguish the JetStar that crashed while landing at Robins AFB in 1962.

Firefighters extinguish the JetStar that crashed while landing at Robins AFB in 1962.

JetStars wore a camouflage paint scheme for operations in Southeast Asia during the  Vietnam War. This C-140A is taking off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam.

JetStars wore a camouflage paint scheme for operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. This C-140A is taking off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam.

Eleven C-140Bs were assigned to the Military Airlift Command. Six were flown as VC-140Bs on special government and White House airlift missions by the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, Maryland. The Museum of Aviation’s JetStar, serial number 61-2488, entered service in October 1961 and was the first VC-140B delivered to the USAF.

61-2488 shortly after it entered USAF service.

61-2488 shortly after it entered USAF service.

JetStar 61-2488 wearing US presidential markings.

JetStar 61-2488 wearing US presidential markings.

Lyndon B. Johnson (“LBJ”) liked the JetStar and used it often as both vice president and president, primarily to fly to his ranch in Texas but also for other trips. Whenever the President was on board, it flew under the call sign “Air Force One.” We have documentation of LBJ flying on 61-2488 numerous times from 1964-1968. President Gerald R. Ford also flew on 2488 at least once. I’d love to find records showing that other presidents flew on this airplane. We’re told that 2488 was used by many high-ranking government officials, including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

President Johnson (at right, looking out the window) aboard the museum’s JetStar  on June 3, 1966 enroute to his ranch. (LBJ Library/photo by Yoichi Okamoto.)

President Johnson (at right, looking out the window) aboard the museum’s JetStar on June 3, 1966 enroute to his ranch. (LBJ Library/photo by Yoichi Okamoto.)

Aerial view of JetStar 61-2488 on June 24, 1967 at President Johnson’s  ranch in central Texas, about 50 miles west of Austin. (LBJ Library photo.)

Aerial view of JetStar 61-2488 on June 24, 1967 at President Johnson’s ranch in central Texas, about 50 miles west of Austin. (LBJ Library photo.)

JetStar 61-2488 in the 1970s.

JetStar 61-2488 in the 1970s.

The C-140 was capable and versatile, but by the early 1980s the Air Force was looking for a replacement. JetStars were out of production and spares were getting expensive. The JetStar was also not as fuel efficient as newer designs. 61-2488 was retired in 1984 after accumulating over 11,500 hours of flight time. It was flown to Robins AFB for preservation at the Museum of Aviation in 1985 and is currently on display in the Scott Exhibit Hangar. It is the only C-140 JetStar on display in the Southeast. And it’s my favorite airplane—for now.

Mike Rowland, Curator

Notes:

1. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. What it’s Like to Fly in the JetStar: Writers and Newscasters from Coast to Coast Give Reactions to Flights in New Jet Utility Plane. Marietta: Lockheed-Georgia Division, News Bureau, n.d. Print.

2. United States Air Force. C-140 Crashes at Robins, Five Killed, One Injured. Robins Air Force Base: Warner Robins Air Materiel Area, Office of Information, 8 November 1962. Print.

3. Ibid.

4. United States Air Force. Whatever Happened to Captain Dendy  Lewis? Robins Air Force Base: Warner Robins Air Materiel Area, Office of Information, 2 November 1966. Print.

9 thoughts on “My New Favorite Airplane: The C-140 JetStar

  1. Another great article Mike. Thanks. I have a model of our C-140 in my office and now I know more about it.

    Robert D. Dubiel

    Director of Marketing

    Museum of Aviation

    Office: (478) 926 -6870

    Cell: (478) 952-4388

    Fax: (478) 923-8807

    http://www.museumofaviation.org

    _____

  2. My Father in law was one of the first pilots to log 2000 hours on the C140 – he is turning 92 nd I am looking for a book or magazine article on this airplane – any suggestions?
    Thank you in advance for your time,
    Clay Richardson

  3. Loved this piece Mike! I really enjoyed it when the plane was in the Century of Flight Hangar Hangar and always included it in my tours. Partial to the the picture of President Johnson holding his Beagle named “Him”.

  4. Mike,
    I really enjoyed this informational article. It’s one of the reasons I love the MOA!
    You guys do a great job! Keep up the good work!
    Thanks for making it a great attraction!
    Wayne Leever

  5. The man that:

    A) wrote each and every manual (Including the Instructor’s) for the original C-140
    B) was Jackie Cochran’s Instructor when she wanted to create and/or break world records with her C-140

    Is still alive and kicking at 94 years.

    Louis Snyder, my Dad.

    BTW, he was the Chief Flight Engineer on the C-1649 at the Skunk Works and had breakfast with Kelly Johnson every Monday to discuss the project.

  6. Loved the C-140A Jetstar. Flew over 2,500 hours of flight inspection all over the world. Great airplane to fly. Have a Facebook page and website dedicated to USAF Flight Check.

    https://www.facebook.com/USAF.Flight.Check

    http://usafflightcheck.com.

    By the way, did you know that the B-47, 51-2120, now on static display at Whiteman AFB MO flew high altitude flight check missions from 1956-1963. Even flew “wingman” not lead on fighters flying high altitude holding patterns above 30,000 ft

  7. I am retired Lt Col George R Malone. I was the first instructor pilot AFCS C-140A Aircraft as they were delivered to Robins AFB. I delivered three of the five to Robins and 595962 to Wiesbaden and the 1858 Facility Checking Squadron in May 1963. Was Flight Operations Officer at Robins, Wiesbaden West Ger, and Clark AIr Base, Philippines 1968-1971 flying 4 jet stars in Vietnam, Laos South Korea. Have flown the aircraft all over the world. had the experience of flying the first jet military aircraft to Berlin in 1963. showed the Jetstar at the Paris Air Show for the first time in 1963. I cumulated over 3000 hours over ten years in the wonderful bird. Logged just over 900 hours Combat Support time flight checking all of the navigational aids, and Air Traffic Control Systems in Southeast Asia. An aircraft way ahead of its time. I also had. The opportunity to fly the C-140B and one of the West German VIP Jetstars. I live in Marietta, Ga. Have visited the super Robins Air Museum many times. We all very proudly flew the Jetstar and still do.

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