By: Retired Lt. Col. Niki Gentry
American aviation enthusiasts are very familiar with the names of famous aircraft such as “The Wright Flyer,” “Spirit of St. Louis,” “Glamorous Glennis” and “Memphis Belle.” These groundbreaking machines and their pilots each made history during the relatively young story of manned flight. Yet the longevity of aircraft often means past exploits may go unknown among the Airmen at the controls of the aging flying machines. Such is the case of a Lockheed C-5A aircraft delivered to the Air Force in 1970 known simply as #69-0014.
In recent days much media attention has been focused on this particular aircraft last assigned to the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 164th Airlift Wing in Memphis. Aircraft #69-0014 has been highly publicized for a mission conducted on October 24, 1974 while assigned to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. On that date the aircraft was loaded with a 56-foot long, 86,000 pound Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile placed in a specially designed cradle. After takeoff, and 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, the missile was deployed by parachutes from the aircraft and its massive rockets fired sending the unarmed weapon 30,000 feet above the water. The test was unprecedented in that it proved a nuclear missile could be launched from an aircraft versus strictly a ground based silo.
On August 7, the C-5A Galaxy taxied to the runway at the Memphis International Airport headed for its final retirement destination, the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Del. The giant aircraft, tail emblazoned with the singular word “Memphis” painted on a red striped background, along with an American flag and the number “90014” lifted off into the gray afternoon sky. A few hours later, to the enthusiasm of onlookers in Dover, the aircraft touched down becoming the first C-5A in the world to soon be available as a public exhibit.
Aircraft #69-0014 was stationed at numerous active Air Force bases across the country until it joined the Tennessee fleet from 2011 to 2013. Although the missile mission was a highlight in the aircraft’s story, the role #69-0014 played in Tennessee’s aviation history is equally impressive.
Aircraft #69-0014 flew its first local training flight with the 164th AW on December 8, 2011. Over the next few years it accumulated 242.5 flying hours around the United States and the globe conducting many critical military airlift tasks. Missions were flown in support of wartime airlift for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. The aircraft was also involved in tasks to support National Guard Bureau and most notably provided assistance in transporting equipment used during Presidential travel.
“The unique history of #69-0014 is a perfect example of the C-5 Galaxy’s legacy of versatility and impact,” said Col. Mark Devine, Commander of the 164th AW. “The wing is carrying that legacy forward with the C-17 Globemaster to provide unparalleled mobility capability for Tennessee and the U.S. Air Force.” During 2013 the 164th received the first of eight C-17 aircraft to replace the aging C-5A fleet.
“No matter how many missions I’ve flown, each time I step away from that airplane I’m amazed by its size and capability,” said Maj. Brian Childress, a pilot with the 155th Airlift Squadron, the flying unit of the 164th AW.
“The last around the world mission for #69-0014 was by far the very best. It’s an awesome airplane,” said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Mowery, a flight engineer with the 155th AS. During that particular global mission, Mowery explained, the aircraft flew in support of the Pacific and Central Command areas. Tennessee Airmen who flew the aircraft have many fond memories of their often lengthy voyages aboard the massive cargo plane and they are very proud to have served on such a historic aircraft.
The air bases of the Tennessee Air National Guard have witnessed constant transitions of airframes and missions throughout their illustrious history. In times of war and peace, units have flown fighter, reconnaissance, cargo and refueling aircraft around the globe spanning two centuries of flight. There are countless stories of bravery, sacrifice and dedication to duty that reflect the professionalism of the Airmen who fly and maintain the complex machines that serve our state and nation each day. Aircraft #69-0014 is but one example of the planes that have played a vital role in our nation’s defense and it is mankind’s ingenuity and desire to meet ever increasing aerial challenges that is the cornerstone of the American aviation spirit.