Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

For USAF's first long range jet transport aircraft Lockheed designed model 300, designated C-141 Starlifter in US military service. Unlike the C-135 already in service it has rear loading doors in the upward sweeping rear fuselage. The underside of the fuselage is close to the ground thanks to the short undercarriage. The main gear has four wheel bogeys that retract into fairings at the side of the fuselage.

The nose gear has two wheels. To keep the engine away from the ground the L-300 has high mounted swept wings, with the jet engines in slim nacelles underneath. Spinners extend from the front; the fan is close to the front of the nacelle. All engines have clam-shell thrust reversers. The T-tail has a small dorsal fin and a small bullet fairing on top.

The fan of the TF33 engines is so close to the front of the nacelles that the spinner stick out the front. Note the four wheel main landing gears.

The Starlifter's T-tail has bullet fairing on top but it is not as bg as for example on the Il-76.

Different versions

The different versions of the Lockheed Starlifter can be recognised by the fuselage length.


The first version of the Starlifter has a shorter fuselage than later versions. Also it has no refuelling receptor on top of the fuselage, after the cockpit. All aircraft were built as such, designated C-141A. The one execption is the only civilian Starlifter, that retained the L-300 designation.

Compare the length of the fuselage of this C-141A with that of the C-141B and you will immediately notice this large difference. (photo Mike Freer/WikiMedia)

The C-141A has no receptor for a refuelling boom on top of the fuselage, behind the cockpit. (photo Balon Greyjoy/WikiMedia)


As the C-141A had enough lifting capability but not enough volume, the fuselage was stretched by more than 7 metres to create the C-141B. Apart from the length the refuelling receptor on top of the fuselage is a recognition point. All C-141B are converted C-141As; no new C-141Bs were built.

The length of the C-141B Starlifter is clearly larger than that of the C-141A.

The bubble on top of the fuselage of this C-141B, behind the cockpit, is the receptor for a refuelling boom.


A cockpit modernisation programme led to the C-141C. However, from the outside we have discovered no differences compared to the C-141B.

The C-141C was the last version of the Starlifter, which is externally identical to the C-141B.

Confusion possible with

Ilyushin Il-76

il 76

Especially the wings and engines (and possibly the tail) of the Il-76 might confuse you as they look similar to those of the Il-76. However, the Il-76 has a glass nose and many more wheels on the landing gear (twenty instead of ten). Also the fuselage is wider.

Xian Y-20


The Xian Y-20 looks like a composition of the Il-76 (wings and engines), and C-17 Globemaster III (tail and landing gear). Mainly the engine nacelles are similar to those of the C-141, but in other aspects they are significantly different.

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

c 5

The heritage of the C-141 is still partly visible in the much bigger C-5, especially the cockpit windows and bullet fairing on top of the vertical stabiliser. Additionally, the C-5 has a pointed tail cone, separate fan exhaust for the engines and many more wheels.

McDonnell-Douglas C-17

c 17

The C-17 is of the same aircraft class and even the successor of the C-141. The C-17 has a wider fuselage, different cockpit windows, winglets, a pointed tail cone, separate fan exhaust for the engines and no bullet fairing on top of the vertical stabiliser.