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Air Force Fleet Viability Board releases C-5A assessment

Military trucks are unloaded from the nose ramp of a C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Military Airlift Command, in support of Operation Desert Shield. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SAN ANTONIO -- The first Air Force Fleet Viability Board released a report indicating the C-5A Galaxy such as this one has at least 25 years of service life remaining. (File photo)

1990's -- Supplies and equipment are unloaded through the nose of a C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Military Airlift Command, in support of Operation Desert Shield.

SAN ANTONIO -- The first Air Force Fleet Viability Board released a report indicating the C-5A Galaxy such as this one has at least 25 years of service life remaining. (File photo)

WASHINGTON -- With some qualifications, the first Air Force Fleet Viability Board assessment shows the C-5A Galaxy has at least 25 years of service life remaining.

While the aircraft is among the oldest in the Air Force inventory, officials reported there are no major structural life issues. In the board’s judgment, with avionics and engine modifications, the C5-A has the service life remaining.

The report indicates the aircraft still requires significant maintenance effort and support costs, but nothing disproportionate to the enormity of the aircraft itself.

This was the first aircraft to be assessed by the board.

“In this age of trying to make important weapon-system decisions with severely constrained budgets, the C-5A assessment provides valuable insight into the aircraft's projected technical fitness, costs and availability,” said Col. Francis Crowley, the board’s director.

“As one program manager told me, it is great to have a detailed assessment of the physical characteristics and associated costs in one concise document,” Colonel Crowley said. “Having said that, the board plans to make further improvements in our process based on Secretary (of the Air Force Dr. James G.) Roche's vision.”

The assessments focus on technical issues and the cost of continued ownership. The board considers cost, aircraft availability and operational health as top-level indicators of a fleet’s viability. Along with an analysis of alternatives, it leaves consideration of force structure or operational impact to the Air Force corporate structure.

Two major programs would significantly improve mission capability rates: avionics modernization and reliability enhancement and re-engining.

The avionics modernization program, which began in 1998, includes upgrading avionics to Global Air-Traffic Management compliance, improving navigation and safety, while increasing reliability and maintainability of the avionics.

The reliability enhancement and re-engining program is a comprehensive modernization that improves aircraft reliability, maintainability and availability. It incorporates reliability enhancements of on-board systems, re-engines the aircraft to improve operational performance and strengthens the aircraft structure to accommodate new engines and increased structural life. The most significant power plant-related change is the replacement of the old engine with the General Electric CF-6-80C2 commercial engine.

“Given that the board projects the C-5A to be viable for at least 25 years, assuming that avionics and engine modification programs occur as planned and continued positive results from teardown of an aircraft at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Ga., the C-5A assessment can serve as a valuable source for determining the best approach for meeting future Air Force capability needs,” Colonel Crowley said.

“There are a number of planning organizations in the Air Force that should find the board's analysis extremely helpful in their planning process,” he said.

The board stood up in August 2003 to provide senior leaders with an unbiased assessment of the service's aircraft fleet longevity.

The Galaxy is the nation’s largest cargo airlift aircraft. It can carry more cargo farther than any other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. However, the “A” model represents a 30-year-old fleet with significant issues and associated planned upgrade investments.

C-5s provide passenger and oversized cargo airlift for both air-land and special operations. One is capable of moving 291,000 pounds of cargo as far as 1,530 nautical miles, or 180,000 pounds of cargo as far as 3,200 miles. It is also capable of carrying 73 passengers, including cargo weight. With its unique visor door and kneeling capability, the aircraft can both load and unload simultaneously.

Of the 122 C-5s in active service, 70 of these aircraft are “A” models. During the assessment period, four aircraft were retired with another 10 aircraft slated for retirement at a rate of two per quarter through fiscal 2005. The average age of the C-5A is 33 years old, twice as old as the C-5B model. C-5As average 18,000 flying hours and range from 12,000 to 22,000 flying hours.

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