Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How the C-5 Galaxy got so big

I see by the aviation news that NASA and the American military-industrial complex are reviving the idea of building an SST -- SuperSonic Transport -- since that worked out so well for the British-French consortium that built the Concorde. The contractor being given charge of the project is... wait for it... Lockheed-Martin. That's the corporate successor to Lockheed, who built the C-5 Galaxy, which was for a time the world's largest military transport aircraft. The picture below gives a good idea of the size of the thing. As Donald Trump would say, it's huuuuuuge!

The reason given for building this monster, according to the Air Force Fact sheet extant in the 1970s, was to "provide a vast capability for rapid deployment of both combat forces and their fighting equipment". Wikipedia tells us "The C-5 Galaxy's development was complicated, including significant cost overruns, and Lockheed suffered significant financial difficulties. Shortly after entering service, cracks in the wings of many aircraft were discovered and the C-5 fleet was restricted in capability until corrective work was completed." No surprises there, then.

Still the question remains, why was the C-5 built so damn big? John Kidner, author of The Kidner Report (Acropolis Books, 1972) provides an explanation which should be read (or reread) by the folks at the Pentagon and every other government department or agency planning the SST or whatever other Next Big Thing. The Kidner Report is a satirical look at bureaucracy. In the chapter headed "The Paper Criterion", the author makes a revolutionary suggestion...

I maintain that as long as there must be files, then let's make them more valuable from the standpoint of sheer volume as well as contents. That way, there won't be so much bellyaching about having to store them. This can be accomplished by using them as a standard -- a criterion. Before this is dismissed as a three-martini concept, let me point out that it may have already been tried.

There has been a good bit of speculation about just how the C-5 Galaxy...came to be as big as it is: six stories high and a block or so long.... I think that a PAPER CRITERION experiment is in progress and that it will be made known when it proves successful.

Rumor has it that back in 1950 an Air Force general, dismayed at the mountains of proposals he had to plow through, said to his aide, "By Gawd, Alphie! I wish somebody'd build an airplane big enough to carry all the Gawdamned paper it takes to get it built! That way we'd be able to carry all we needed to\" Knowing that a general's wish is a colonel's panic, I felt that something must have come of it.

I learned that the invitations to bid on the Galaxy were 1500 pages long. The five competing contractors responded in 240,000 pages. These were reproduced in 30 copies and distributed for review to 400 people. The significant point here is the weight of the paper -- 35 tons! 70,000 pounds!

Now comes the matter of costs. Thne original estimate was about 3.2 billion dollars but the final tab amounted to 5 billion, or about 60 percent over estimate. Acting on the assumption that the size of the aircraft would be proportional to the weight of the paper, I concluded that the costs would be related to the size in the same manner. Therefore we must add 60 percent of the original weight of the paper (70,000 lbs) which is 42,000; then 70,000 and 42,000 total up to 112,000 lbs. To this add 1000 lbs. for paper clips and staples and the total is 113,000 lbs. This is exactly the cargo carrying capacity of the C-5A, and is quoted in the fact sheet describing its characteristics.

It is not hard to envision the immense value the files will take on as they are used as standards for larger aircraft carriers, space stations, submarine fleets, and transports [including SSTs! Walt]. Bureaucracy will no longer have to fight for storage space, and fellowcrats won't have to blush over the file drawers pregnant with their creations. And the time will come when the old request -- "Can we get that in writing" -- will be given the honored reception it deserves.

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