Video: A C-5 Galaxy Air Launches an ICBM. What!?

In the 1970s, the Air Force launched a Minuteman ICBM launched from a C-5 Galaxy. Hold on, what!?!?

That was my reaction upon learning that the above sentence is true.

In 1974, the Air Force decided that it could turn C-5 Galaxy airlifters into flying SSBNs. Yup, Air Force planners thought the missile would be tougher for the Soviets to take out with a preemptive strike if it was already aboard a moving target like a C-5 versus sitting in a stationary missile silo.

So, they loaded a Minuteman into a C-5 that parachute-dropped the 60-foot tall missile out of its aft cargo ramp over the Pacific Ocean.  After the ICBM fell for a few thousand feet, its rocket motor ignited and the missile flew for ten seconds under its own power. Just to prove it could be done. Wild.

Needless to say, the crazy concept of turning C-5s into flying boomers never made it to the operational stage.

Click through the jump to watch a video of the event. Don’t forget to giggle immaturely at the 24 second mark.

26 Comments on "Video: A C-5 Galaxy Air Launches an ICBM. What!?"

  1. This forms the cornerstone of a certain someone's KE-related posts.

  2. Heck, the skybolt air-launched IRBM was in the running with Polaris to form the US's first-strike proof nuclear deterent – the technology isn't much different.

    The tricky bit is getting an accurate enough positional fix for the launch, but GPS simplifies that problem greatly

  3. Aside from the positional fix as pointed out by Cthel its not that big a deal… off the shelf missile and aircraft. The payload extraction and various aerodynamic issues are well undersood.

    T/Space proposed this for a manned launcher for the CEV.

  4. I guess I'm showing my age, but this was the Air Force's answer when Carter (aka Turd) cancelled the B-1 a little later on. The B52 was considered non-survivable on a trip to Russia and they really wanted to maintain the "Triad", or at least the money that was attached to it. Reagan later restarted the B-1 program and this gem was tossed in the circular file.

  5. Prompt Global Strike, or NGB killer ? :)

  6. In essence this is what Paul Allen is going to do with StratoLaunch.

  7. " Strategic Air Command objected to mobile basing in 1973 because of its high expense, poor accuracy, and slow reaction time. Meanwhile, the defense community continued to explore both solutions. One approach to mobility was an air-mobile system, and during a 24 October 1974 test of the concept, SAMSO successfully launched a Minuteman I from a C-5A cargo aircraft. One month later, the Secretary of Defense, under intense political pressure to resolve basing issues and produce an economical missile system, pushed the M-X's initial operational capability from 1983 to 1985. At the same time, he initiated studies to determine the feasibility of developing a common M-X/Trident missile. In July 1976, Congress, convinced that silo-based missiles would be vulnerable to Soviet ICBMs, refused to appropriate funds for validation of a silo-based M-X system. Congress also deleted funds for air-mobile basing and directed validation of either a buried trench or shelter basing plan."

    Video with a better explanation:

  8. They did this when they found out the Soviets were planning on mobile basing their new nukes. Dropping one out of a C-5 brought an end to it. Funny, it seems like only yesterday when they did this. Hardly old news.

  9. This concept was a part of many studied MX basing strategies, including ones with the missiles based on seaplanes which could land on remote parts of the oceans for weeks before taking off to fire, replicating some of the capabilities of an SSBN, and more mundane plans for simply building giant cargo planes with four missiles in pods under each wing. Some concepts called for the aircraft to be kept on the ground equipped with large numbers of JATO rockets, or even zero length launch systems as were tested for the F-104 so they could rocket into the air on a moments notice. That would of course spare the fuel of flying constant airborne patrols.

  10. That narrator has such a great voice!

  11. Jesus, did you guys just start covering the defense industry? They also landed C-130s and U-2s on aircraft carriers, invented bombs that exploit the energy contained within nuclei, and figured out how to use radio waves to perform target detection and ranging. In case you have more slow news days, that is. HTH.

  12. This was already a none starter in technology since the USAF had the ALCM nuclear missile on B-52s already the whole crap media that time had on the survivability of Buffs over Russia was unfounded since the bomber could just shortly penetrate Soviet airspace and release over a dozen cruse missiles with massive atomic warheads on it. Most of this was classified so most annalist where still thinking of the old style abomb drop.

    Not really practical but a good way to make the Navy mad and worried over USAF boomers… LOL.

  13. "GUYS WAIT GUYS! Can we fly the C-5… off a carrier?"

  14. what the hell is so funny about the 24 second mark?

  15. Was it questioning the survivability of a C-5 near the front lines?

    I don't see why you need to get near the front lines. Did they forget what the IC in ICBM stands for?

    As for the ALCM being around to replace this concept, the years are off. From Wiki:
    In February 1974, the U.S. Air Force entered into contract to develop and flight-test the prototype or proof-of-concept vehicle AGM-86A air-launched cruise missile, which was slightly smaller than the later B and C models. The 86A model did not go into production. Instead, in January 1977, the Air Force began full-scale development of the AGM-86B, which greatly enhanced the B-52's capabilities and helped the USA maintain a strategic deterrent.

  16. Why couldn't one kick a jdam or two out the back of a c-130? Don't these aircraft have the capacity to remain airborne for a fairly long time, and thus be available when a jet might not?

  17. I prefer a blimp loaded with cruise missiles myself.


  19. "Don’t forget to giggle immaturely at the 24 second mark."

    Why "immaturely"? Nothing screams "adult" humor as much as long, slender objects achieving rear entry. ;)


  20. I think some crazy decided during a high altitude test somewhere over the pacific that he would eat the five fingers of death and the beans with it (from the first GEN MRE's)and then FART into the air ventilation system almost causing a nuclear mishap.. The Hot dogs and beans were banned from flights…I wish I could take credit for this story…

  21. I just read about American made (AND deployed) air-to-air missile with nuke warhead which was to be used to shoot down russian bombers with nuke bombs. Crazy indeed.

  22. For a long time this is what I thought they should do with UCAV drones. Take the Navy varient with the folding wings and load a bunch of them in a C-5, air drop them using a drag parachute and let them automatically fold out their wings and fly to their targets. You get less airial refueling issues, and instant swarm and quite a suprise too!

  23. This is a great idea.

  24. The air force also launched the minuteman from a c141 in a nearly identical test. The c141 is much cheaper and can use almost any standard commercial runway.

  25. We are doing a variation of this today to prove out the Patriot, THAAD and Ageis missile defense systems. A modified Minute Man II booster stack is fitted with non-lethal warheads and dropped out of a C-17. The ground based interceptors then shoot it down to prove that their sensor systems can detect and identify the target. The curent configurations only use the 2nd and 3rd stages of Minute Man II stack but still reach the length limits for the C-17 Cargo Hold.

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