Words mean quite a lot to a young person who is first learning them. They can be taken quite literally. I remember being a young child and hearing my dad talk very fondly about one of the jets that regularly flew over our house – the Starlifter. That name was so awe-inspiring. To an adult, they would more than likely hear the name and logically deduce that the aircraft did not, after all, lift stars from the sky. But to a young boy full of imagination and awe about the world around him, the name conjured incredible images. I remember watching the Starlifter arc loudly through the humid Georgia sky and wondering what sort of amazing things this plane had done to be given such a name.
The reality of it is, the Starlifter was given that name early in its service life with the United States Air Force and went on to do much in its long career to earn it. It never lifted a star but instead hauled countless other tons of priceless cargo including POWs returning home and evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. All of this was brought to mind because I had the opportunity to take a look inside of the Museum of Aviation’s C-141C recently. This Starlifter, tail number 65-0248, was the last of its kind to go through Robins Air Force Base for Programmed Depot Maintenance in 2003. The C-141C is a long airplane, longer actually than its original manufactured length. The original A model Starlifter, which entered service in 1956, had a total length of 145ft.
However, after entering service it was discovered that the aircraft would reach its maximum cargo volume limit with a surplus of power available. Beginning in 1977 the aircraft was stretched by adding two fuselage sections, one before and one after the wing, that gave the Starlifter an extra 23 feet 4 inches of room for cargo. The stretched version of the airplane also added an aerial refueling capacity and was known as the B model. Eventually some B models, including 248, were converted to C models by adding newer avionics systems.
The last Air Force C-141 flew in 2006 and all the aircraft have now been turned over to museums or sent to the boneyard to be scrapped. Entire museums could be dedicated to aircraft types with long service histories like the B-52, C-130 and of course the C-141. In the end though, it is the stories of the men and women that make the C-141 meaningful to a Museum. Those personal stories associated with aircraft range from tragic to heroic and everything in between. Hopefully someday the Museum will be able move 248 into a hangar and share some of the experiences people had with her. For my part, I will always have a little bit of a soft spot for that inspiration of so many of my child-hood imaginations, the Starlifter.