YC-141B StarLifter

YC-141B StarLifter

Lockheed YC-141B StarLifter

The C-141 is the first all-jet powered military transport to enter service with the United States Air Force.  In addition, the StarLifter is the first aircraft completely designed and built at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA.  Well before the age of computer assistance, engineering and manufacturing was done by slide rules, manual calculations, and manual machining.  Destined to replace its slower predecessors, the C-141 first roared down the runway at Dobbins Air Force Base on December 17, 1963 and took to the skies on the 60th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ historic first powered flight.   Early versions of the C-141 had a fuselage length of 145 feet, or 25 feet longer than Orville Wright’s first powered flight.  

After over a decade of service, military and Lockheed engineers recognized that the C-141 could be improved. The plane was strong enough to carry more weight but needed additional volume to maximize the payload.  Furthermore, the addition of aerial refueling capabilities would extend the range of the aircraft.  Designers planned to insert two “plugs” into the fuselage, adding a total of 23 feet-4 inches of additional cargo space and add an aerial refueling receptacle on top of the flight deck.

In December of 1975, StarLifter 66-0186, on display at the Aviation History & Technology Center, landed at Dobbins Air Force Base to start testing for the modification process.  In the Spring of 1976, #66-0186 became the prototype “stretched” version of the aircraft, earning it the “Y” in its official designation.  Following successful testing of the YC-141B, an additional 269 of the original 285 C-141As were converted to “B” models .    

President John F. Kennedy envisioned the C-141 as an asset that meant “the power of the United States will be felt on behalf of the cause of freedom all over the globe.”  In the four decades that the C-141 was flown by U.S.A.F. personnel, it proved the president right.   It served as the workhorse of the military, transporting cargo, equipment, troops, and wounded on military and humanitarian missions around the globe, from Vietnam to Hurricane Katrina.

C-141 Specifications


First Flight
December 17, 1963  (A Model)

U.S. Usage (all models)

Varies by mission, minimum of 5

168 ft. 4 in.

160 ft. 0 in.

Empty Weight
144,492 lbs.

Max. Takeoff Weight
342,100 lbs.

Max. Speed
567 mph

Max. Altitude
41,000 ft.

4 x P&W TF-33-P-7

Used By (all models)
U.S. Air Force

AHTC Logo reverse

Technology Tidbit

The forward thinking to modify the existing airframes increased the capacity of each aircraft, extended the capability of the fleet by an estimated 90 additional aircraft, and resulted in a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars to taxpayers while still meeting the growing needs of the military.

The C-141 also played a role in exploration of the last frontier. When the Apollo 11 astronauts returned from the moon, they were placed in a quarantine capsule to prevent the spread of unknown space diseases.   N.A.S.A placed the capsule, a modified Airstream travel camper, inside the cargo bay of a C-141 with the astronauts still sealed inside for transport from Hawaii back to Houston.  N.A.S.A.  also purchased the only  C-141 not sold to the U.S. military and outfitted it with a huge airborne telescope to explore the furthest reaches of space