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From the driver's seat of the military's largest plane, C-5 pilot talks about leaving earth with 840,000 pounds.

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

A mountain of grayish aluminum, if parked on a football field, the wings of an Air Force C-5 Galaxy, the military's largest aircraft, would touch the front row on each side of the stadium. Its tail and nose would be goal to go inside the 10-yard lines.

For those who are not football fans, that means a C-5 is a monster airplane with a cargo bay capable of holding four Greyhound buses. Sitting on its landing gear, it's as tall as a four-story office building and with a mile and a half of runway, its four jet engines can lift all 840,000 pounds of it into the air, a feat that would dumbfound Sir Newton and have a similar impact on Orville and Wilbur, whose 600-pound airplane's first flight lasted 12 seconds went a distance about equal to the tail section of the massive C-5.

The C-5s became local news when a number of the big transporters arrived at MacDill from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to remove them from the potential harm of Hurricane Isabel. While here, the 9th Airlift Squadron continued to stay on mission, setting up operations here until the all-clear was given to return to base. The visiting squadron provided tours of the big planes, allowing MacDill members and civilian employees to get up close and personal and to go aboard.

C-5 pilot Maj. Michael Eylander was one of those conducting tours. A veteran with 11 years on the ultimate cargo plane, he hasn't lost his enthusiasm for the seeming miracle that occurs each time a C-5 separates from the runway and goes airborne.

"It's amazing," said Major Eylander, moments after bidding farewell to the last tour group of the day. "From up here (the confines of the cockpit) it can feel like any plane, but when you get up and look out the window and you have this huge following, it really hits you."

Major Eylander said the plane is remarkably nimble on the taxiway, able to turn 180 degrees in just 150 feet. It needs a lot more than that to get off the ground when fully loaded and while not an issue where there is plenty of extra runway, he admits on some runways, as the plane reaches "go" speed and the runway is near running out, "the pucker factor" can get pretty high and one becomes acutely aware his stomach.

As high as the flight crew is from the deck, the first few flights are known to give pilots the strange sensation they already are off the ground before liftoff.

"It's something you get used to but (at first) it is a strange sensation to be sitting up so high," said Major Eylander.

He said while flying the largest aircraft in the fleet is a thrill, for him the most rewarding part of the job is working with the crews.

"The crew works so well together, it's the best part for me," said Major Eylander. "Everyone works together like one unit."

The travel is another bonus for C-5 pilots, he said. Having traveled to every continent but Antarctica, he said his job has let him see most of the world and with recent changes in the political climate, places he never thought he would see.

"I've been around the world to Iraq, Russia, China and places 10 years ago I never thought I would be able to land or go," said Major Eylander.




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