Military Airlift Command: Wikis


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Military Airlift Command
Military airlift command.jpg
Military Airlift Command emblem
Active 1966–1992
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Transport

Military Airlift Command (MAC) is an inactive United States Air Force organization. It was a Major Command of the United States Air Force from January 1, 1966 to June 1, 1992, being headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. When inactivated, its personnel and equipment were absorbed by Air Mobility Command.





  • Established as Air Corps Ferrying Command on May 29, 1941.
Redesignated: Army Air Forces Ferry Command on March 9, 1942
Redesignated: Army Air Forces Ferrying Command on March 31, 1942
Redesignated: Air Transport Command on July 1, 1942
  • Established and activated as Military Air Transport Service on 1 June 1948
Mission and operational control of Air Transport Command, established on 29 May 1941, consolidated into organization same date.
Air Transport command discontinued and inactivated same date.
Mission and operational control of Naval Air Transport Service, established on 12 December 1941, consolidated into organization same date.
Naval Air Transport Service disestablished, 1 July 1948.
Redesignated: Military Airlift Command on January 1, 1966
Inactivated on June 1, 1992


  • Headquarters, United States Army Air Corps, May 29, 1941
  • Headquarters, United States Army Air Forces, March 9, 1942 – September 17, 1947
  • Headquarters, United States Air Force, September 17, 1947 – June 1, 1992


for stations prior to January 1, 1966


January 1, 1966 – June 1, 1992
January 3, 1966 – June 1, 1992
January 3, 1966 – June 1, 1992
August 1, 1987 – May 22, 1990
January 1, 1966 – June 30, 1991
January 1, 1966 – December 24, 1968
June 23, 1978 – April 1, 1992
December 1–31, 1974

Strategic Airlift (C-5/C-141)

443d Military Airlift Wing (Training)
437th Military Airlift Wing
436th Military Airlift Wing
62d Military Airlift Wing
438th Military Airlift Wing
63d Military Airlift Wing
60th Military Airlift Wing

Tactical Airlift (C-130)

433d Tactical Airlift Wing
463d Tactical Airlift Wing
316th Tactical Airlift Wing
(MAC Facility Closed, 1975)
314th Tactical Airlift Wing
317th Tactical Airlift Wing

Special Air Mission

89th Military Airlift Wing

Major Components

for major components prior to January 1, 1966

76th Air Division
March 1, 1976 – September 30, 1977; December 15, 1980 – October 1, 1985
322d Air Division
January 3, 1966 – December 24, 1968; June 23, 1978 – April 1, 1992
839th Air Division, December 1–31, 1974
834th Air Division, December 1–31, 1974; October 1, 1978 – April 1, 1992
2d Air Division, March 1, 1983 – February 1, 1987
Redesignated: Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS), 1967 – June 30, 1991
  • Special Airlift Mission (SAM), January 1, 1966 – June 30, 1991
  • Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS)
  • Aeromedical Transport Wing (AMTW)

Major Aircraft

for Major Aircraft prior to January 1, 1966

source for lineage, assignments, stations, components, aircraft[1][2]

Operational History

See: Military Air Transport Service for history of organization prior to 1 January 1966

On January 1, 1966 the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was redesignated as Military Airlift Command (MAC). Along with the long-range strategic transport mission of MATS, MAC also absorbed the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service, along with the Air Weather Service, the Special Airlift Mission (Presidential and VIP air travel) and Aerial Mapping missions, all of which had been part of MATS.[3]

Though the change was not immediate, plans were also made to discontinue the role of the United States Navy with MAC. Navy aircrews flew C-130s for MAC until 1968, when all MAC C-130s were transferred to Tactical Air Command, as part of the theater troop carrier mission with C-130 wings.[4]

Vietnam Era (1966–1975)

Brand new 63d MAW C-141As on the ramp at Norton AFB, 1967. Serial 66-0177 is in foreground. This aircraft will become the famous "Hanoi Taxi" which flew Bob Hope to USO shows in South Vietnam and in 1973, during the final days of the Vietnam War, repatriated American POWs from North Vietnam. Arizona Senator John McCain was one of the POWs who flew home on the Hanoi Taxi. 66-0177 was the last C-141 to be withdrawn from Air Force service after a career of almost 40 years, as the last of the fleet was retired in 2006. 66-0177 today is on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Established at the height of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, MAC provided long-range strategic airlift from the United States to Military Airlift Support Squadrons (MASS) located on Pacific Air Forces bases in the Pacific AOR These were:[5]

Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam (Det. 1, 616th MASS)
Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam (Det. 2, 616th MASS)
Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam (Det. 1, 617th MASS)

In addition, MAC operated MASS Squadrons on Non-CONUS bases in both Alaska and Hawaii:

By 1968 MAC military and contract transports were hauling 150,000 passengers and 45,000 tons of cargo monthly to and from Southeast Asia. At first MAC transports to Vietnam landed regularly only at Tan Son Nhut, necessitating considerable transshipment within Vietnam by the Common Service Airlift System. New airports opened at Da Nang and Cam Ranh in January 1966, and later at Pleiku AB, Bien Hoa AB, and Phu Cat AB, reducing the need for redistribution.[6]

Major unit movements by MAC aircraft from the United States usually required further airlifts to operating areas by in-country transports. Introduction of the C-5 Galaxy transport in the summer of 1970 created new problems of in-country distribution, since C-5 deliveries were massive and initially the planes could land only at Cam Ranh Bay. Eventually, however, C-5s could unload at Tan Son Nhut and elsewhere.[6] Primarily, MAC transports carried high value cargo such as aircraft and equipment parts, while MAC civilian contract flights transported passengers to and from the combat zone.[3][4]

In the winter of 1965 – 66 MAC conducted Operation "Blue Light," the deployment of elements of the 25th Infantry Division from Hickam AFB, Hawaii to Pleiku, South Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet Offensive. MAC transports airlifted additional troops from the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to South Vietnam, while at the same time supporting a buildup of forces in South Korea in response to the seizure of the United States Navy intelligence-gathering ship USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in January, 1968.[3]

Undoubtedly the most important development of MAC during the Vietnam War was the use of the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter as an airborne ambulance evacuating casualties out of South Vietnam to hospitals in Japan, the Philippines and the United States. Generally, patients requiring hospitalization for thirty days or more were moved to offshore hospitals; others were sometimes evacuated to keep an empty bed reserve of fifty percent in Vietnam. Military Airlift Command transports carried the more serious cases from Clark to the United States and in 1966 began making patient pickups in Vietnam.[3][6]

1972 Easter Offensive

On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched an all-out invasion of South Vietnam, which came to be known as the Easter Offensive. The Vietnamization policy of the United States had resulted in the vast majority of US ground combat forces been withdrawn from South Vietnam with PACAF's tactical air units also being reduced. Military Airlift Command's C-141 force, accustomed to operating in and out of Vietnam from offshore were utilized for movement of large amounts of men and materiel to oppose the invasion. Beginning on April 21 MAC C-141s began shuttling passengers and cargo between Tan Son Nhut AB and the other main in-country bases, principally Da Nang AB, Bien Hoa AB, and Pleiku AB. Planes and crews were based for one or more nights at Tan Son Nhut and performed two or more days of in-country work before departing for offshore destinations. This C-141 effort permitted the VNAF and PACAF C-130s to concentrate on drops, unit hauls, and deliveries to forward locations. The rapid American response to the invasion allowed the South Vietnamese forces to defeat the invaders.[4][6]

Operation Homecoming
Hanoi Taxi after 2002 repainting to revert to 1970s livery. Note the stretched fuselage indicating its modification to the C-141B configuration. Other C-141s with the standard AF 2006 livery can be seen in the background
Recently released United States POWs from North Vietnamese prison camps being flown on-board the "Hanoi Taxi" from Hanoi, North Vietnam to Clark Air Base, Philippines, March 1973.

Most Americans welcomed the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that resulted in a cease-fire in Vietnam. Although the cease-fire was short of full victory, it seemed enough that the killing had ended and that several hundred Americans imprisoned in North Vietnam would soon be free. The Air Force airlifters generally shared these feelings and were proud of their roles in attaining what appeared to be peace with honor.[4][6]

By the terms of the Paris Peace Accords, the cease-fire was to become effective in Vietnam the morning of January 28, 1973, Saigon time. American prisoners in North Vietnam were to be released and the last 23,700 American troops withdrawn from Vietnam within sixty days. Planning for Operation Homecoming, the return of the Americans held by the communists, was given to the Military Airlift Command. C-141s of the 63d Military Airlift Wing, stationed at Norton AFB, California were given the coveted responsibility for bringing out the men. On February 11, two C-130s of the TAC 374th Tactical Airlift Wing flew from Ching Chuan Kang Air Base(CC), Taiwan to Clark AB as primary and spare ships for the movement of the support team to Hanoi the next day. A second C-130 left Tan Son Nhut AB carrying members of the international commission to Hanoi oversee the repatriations. This C-130 arrived at Gia Lam Airport about one hour before the C-130 from CCK arrived.[6]

On the ground at Gia Lam the C-130 crew met the airport manager, and went indoors for tea offered by the North Vietnamese. The first of three C-141s flown in from Clark landed soon after and repatriation began. As the first returnee moved from the release desk, one of the C-130 flight engineers quickly moved to clear the way, leading the former prisoner by the arm. Taking the cue, the other C-130 crewmen in the same way escorted each man to the waiting C-141. Over and over, returnees expressed their deepest appreciation at having been greeted by a 'brother-in-arms' and, in those first few moments of freedom, welcomed home by their own kind. A total of 116 Americans were released at Gia Lam that day and all were flown to Clark by the C-141s. Further releases of Americans in Hanoi followed the pattern of the first day. Releases took place on February 18 and on seven dates in March, ending with the final repatriation of the last sixty-seven men on March 29, 1973.[6]

Fall of South Vietnam

With the impending fall of Saigon and the evacuation of American nationals from South Vietnam in April 1975, the Air Force started evacuation flights out of Ton Son Nhut AB. Operation Babylift, the airlift of some two thousand mixed-blood orphans and children of American servicemen and Vietnamese women, most of them destined for homes in the United States, was initiated. Unfortunately, the Babylift missions were marred by the crash of a MAC C-5A after takeoff on April 4, killing 155 persons, most of them children.[4][6] In addition, Operation New Life (April 1975 – September 1975) was the U.S. military evacuation of about 110,000 Southeast Asian refugees displaced by the Vietnam War out of South Vietnam.

Most of the American and some Vietnamese refugees departed openly aboard military or contract jet transports, but a few individuals formerly associated with intelligence activities came out semi-covertly through the Air America terminal. On two days, April 21 and 22, sixty-four hundred persons left Tan Son Nhut for Clark AB aboard thirty-three C-141s and forty-one C-130s. Operations were around-the-clock, the C-141s landing by day and the C-130s generally by night. Other C-141s and the contract carriers meanwhile moved those refugees already at Clark eastward to Guam and Wake Island. Nearly all aircrews reported tracer fire and airbursts with some bursts reaching to eighteen thousand feet. on April 26 and 27, twelve thousand persons left Tan Son Nhut for the Philippines aboard forty-six C-130 and twenty-eight C-141 flights. The intensifying enemy fire forced a painful decision to stop C-141 landings at Saigon at nightfall on the twenty-seventh.[6]

Special Air Mission

VC-135B Stratolifter for VIP transport parked on the flight line at Andrews AFB, Maryland

Inherited from MATS, MAC assumed the Special Air Mission (SAM) of providing global airlift, logistics, aerial port and communications for the President, Vice President, and senior government leaders as tasked by the White House and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The 89th Military Airlift Wing, stationed at Andrews AFB, Maryland carried out this mission on a worldwide basis.[4]

Operation Nickel Grass

The 1973 Arab-Israeli War drained Israel's military of munitions and other consumables. One of the most critical but least celebrated airlifts in history unfolded over a desperate 32 days in the fall of 1973. Operation Nickel Grass was the United States' effort to ship thousands of tons of materiel over vast distances into the midst of the most ferocious fighting the Middle East had ever witnessed. MAC C-141 and C-5 airlifters in harm's way, vulnerable to attack from fighters, as they carved a demanding track across the Mediterranean, and to missiles and sabotage, as they were off-loading in Israel.[7]

The airlift had been a key to the Israeli victory. It had not only brought about the timely resupply of the Israeli armed forces but also provided a series of deadly new weapons put to good use in the latter part of the war. These included the AGM-65 Maverick, the BGM-71 TOW anti-tank weapons and extensive new electronic countermeasures equipment that warded off successful attacks on Israeli fighters. Reflecting on the operation's vital contribution to the war effort, Reader's Digest would call it "The Airlift That Saved Israel."[7][8]

The airlift taught the Air Force many lessons, large and small. With refueling denied for MAC airlift flights bound for Israel by France and West Germany, Lajes Field in the Azores was a godsend-one that the US best not take for granted in a future emergency. The Air Force established an immediate requirement for aerial refueling to become standard practice in MAC so that its airlifters could operate without forward bases, if necessary.[7]

C-5A 69-009 of the 60th MAW, Travis AFB, California about 1973

The C-5 Galaxy proved to be the finest military airlift aircraft in history, not the expensive military mistake as it had been portrayed in the media. Since its introduction in 1970, the C-5A had been plagued by problems. The Air Force claimed to have rectified the problems, but the C-5A was still viewed by the press as an expensive failure. During Nickel Grass, C-5s carried 48% of the total cargo in only 145 of the 567 total missions. The C-5A also carried "outsize" cargo such as M60 Patton tanks, M109 howitzers, ground radar systems, mobile tractor units, CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters, and A-4 Skyhawk components; cargo that could not fit in smaller aircraft. This performance justified the C-5's existence, and allowed the Air Force to move forward with their proposed upgrade to the C-5B variant.[7]

Tactical Airlift

It was found during the Vietnam War that there was a large duplication of aerial port facilities and mission objectives between MAC, TAC and PACAF. A study group recommended the consolidation of all tactical airlift forces as a cost-saving measure under MAC. On December 1, 1974 all TAC C-130 Tactical Airlift Wings were reassigned to MAC. In 1975, PACAF and USAFE Tactical Airlift Wings were also reassigned to MAC, thus ending the theater troop carrier mission as it had existed since the beginning of World War II.[4]

Pope AFB C-130E 63-7890 of the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing, about 1976. still painted in Southeast Asia liverly.

As a result, MAC became the controlling Major Command at Dyess, Little Rock and Pope AFB. The 433d TAW at Kelly AFB became a MAC tenant unit, and the 316th TAW at Langley AFB was inactivated in 1975 with the reassignment of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing from MacDill AFB. MAC also assumed command of Tactical Airlift Wings at Clark AB (374th TAW) in the Pacific and the 513th TAW at RAF Mildenhall and the 435th TAW at Rhein-Main AB in Europe. These MAC overseas wings became tenant units under PACAF and USAFE.[4][5]

C-141/C-5 Upgrade Programs

During the Vietnam War era, the C-141A was found to "bulk out" before it "massed out", meaning that it often had additional lift capacity that went wasted because the cargo hold was too full. To correct the perceived deficiencies of the original model and utilize the C-141 to the fullest of its capabilities, the entire fleet of 270 in-service C-141As were stretched, adding needed payload volume.[9]

These modified aircraft were designated C-141B. Additional 'plug' sections were added before and after the wings, lengthening the fuselage by 23 ft 4 in (7.11 m) and allowing the carriage of 103 litters for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads. Also added at this time was a boom receptacle for inflight refueling which gave the C-141 truly intercontinental range. The conversion program took place between 1977 and 1982, with first delivery taking place in December 1979. It was estimated that this stretching program was the equivalent of buying 90 new aircraft, in terms of increased capacity.[9]


During it's development phase, problems with the C-5 had been discovered, including structural problems that required the replacement of wing sections. During the early 1980s, the C-5A force was retrofitted with a new wing to strengthen the aircraft and allow it to carry additional cargo loads. Also, a shortage of airlift capability was addressed with the introduction of the C-5B, The first C-5B incorporating significant improvements such as strengthened wings and updated avionics was delivered to Altus Air Force Base in January 1986. C-5B production concluded with delivery of the last "B" model aircraft in April 1989.[10]

A third C-5 variant, the C-5C was developed for transporting large cargo. Two C-5As (68-0213 and 68-0216) were modified to have a larger internal cargo capacity to accommodate large payloads, such as satellites for use by NASA.[10]

Cold War Operations

The Rapid deployment force (RDF) of the early 1980s led to this prototype desert liverly shown on this Little Rock based C-130E 64-0557 assigned to the 314th TAW
A wounded soldier is treated by U.S. military personnel before being placed aboard a C-141B Starlifter aircraft for medical evacuation during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada
A C-5 Galaxy in 1990

After the Vietnam War ended, MAC returned to a training role, though it continued to operate the worldwide route structure to support United States interests around the world. With the tactical airlift mission now part of MAC, emphasis on tactical operations was increased. While C-130s were assigned an increased logistical role C-141 and C-5 crews were given training in tactical procedures as more emphasis was placed on deployment.

NATO Support

In addition to the forces in the Pacific, MAC operated air transshipment facilities on USAFE bases in the European and North African AORs. These were:[5]

Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, (Det. 1, 630th MASS)

Annual Exercise REFORGER deployments of United States Army forces to West Germany was intended to ensure that NATO had the ability to quickly deploy forces to West Germany in the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union. MAC C-5 and C-141 aircraft transported entire units of Army infantry, artillery and mechanized personnel yearly after some forces were withdrawn back to the United States. Reforger was conducted annually until just after the end of the Cold War.[4]

In addition, Operation Bright Star deployment airlifts to Egypt, beginning in 1981 were flown by MAC C-5 and C-141 aircraft. Bright Star was a series of biennial combined and joint training exercises by American and Egyptian forces. These deployments were designed to strengthen ties between the Egyptian and American militaries and demonstrate and enhance the ability of the Americans to reinforce their allies in the Middle East in the event of war.[4]

Operation Urgent Fury

In 1983 the United States invaded the tiny island of Grenada. Code-named Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion tasked MAC for planning a military combat operation using its tactical M/C-130 wings. Though the outcome of the conflict was assured, many problems occurred during the assault. There was confusion among the initial assault force of special operations MC-130s and conventional airlifter C-130s, confusion that resulted in a lightly armed force of US Army Ranger headquarters troops parachuting onto the airfield at Point Salines without their heavier weapons. Once the airfield was secured, C-141s began landing with 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers to reinforce the Rangers.[3][4]

Operation Just Cause

During Christmas Week 1989, MAC transports dropped paratroopers onto key military points in Panama after a US serviceman was killed by Panamanian soldiers. Operation Just Cause, the United States invasion of Panama saw MAC C-141s being flown performing an Army combat parachute drop. The drop formation included C-130s as well as C-141s. The US forces quickly overwhelmed the Panamanian military and soon captured the Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, and brought him to the United States to stand trial.[3][4]

Special Operations
Lockheed C-130A-LM Hercules, AF Serial No. 54-1637 of the 7406th Operations Squadron. This aircraft was later converted to GC-130A. It is now at Goodfellow AFB as ground trainer.
MC-130E of the 7th Special Operations Squadron

Beginning in World War II, special operations utilizing transport aircraft were a part of the USAAF mission. Troop Carrier Command (TCC) C-47 squadrons worked with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Europe, Asia and other regions flying clandestine missions behind enemy lines.[11]

In the 1950s, the MATS Air Resupply And Communications Service (ARCS) controlled special operations forces during the Korean War and throughout the 1950s supporting both DoD as well as CIA activities. MATS worked closely with the USAF Special Air Warfare Center (later, USAF Special Operations Force) in the 1960s and early years of the Vietnam War. After 1964, Special Operations were assigned to Tactical Air Command's Ninth Air Force, and when the war in Vietnam ended, the special operations forces were cut back along with the rest of the military.[11]

The ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw Iranian rescue mission in April 1980 led to a resurgence of emphasis on long-range special operations teams whose mission would be primarily to conduct operations such as the rescue of hostages. A new special operations force was created under the Ninth Air Force, and based at Hurlburt Field, Florida, but the mission soon transferred to the Military Airlift Command where it became the Twenty-Third Air Force on February 10, 1983.[2][11]

Twenty-Third Air Force units both in Europe (Rhein-Main Air Base, RAF Mildenhall) and Japan (Yokota Air Base supported various clandestine missions throughout the 1980s, flying specially-equipped MC-130s. Finally, on May 22, 1990, Twenty-Third Air Force was redesignated Air Force Special Operations Command and elevated to the major command level.[2]

Gulf War

As a response to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, President Bush responded by dispatching American armed forces to Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom and the oilfields vital to the western industrial nations. The 82nd Airborne Division began moving by air from its base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to the Saudi desert. MAC's entire force of C-141s and C-5s was dedicated to the airlift, including Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard crews who were called to active duty.

MAC C-130s were deployed to Saudi Arabia to support the arriving ground forces as they arrived in-country by air and by ship. Fortunately, Iraq made no move against Saudi Arabia, and the United States and an international coalition was able to build up a massive military force that eventually drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait.[3]


With the end of the Cold War the Air Force reorganized its command structure. A lesson leaned from the 1990 Gulf War was that the division of forces as then existed in the USAF led to confusion in actual combat operations. The emphasis on rapid force deployment led the Air Force to reorganize its major commands, with MAC being inactivated on June 1, 1992. Most of the personnel and equipment formerly assigned to MAC was absorbed by the new Air Mobility Command (AMC), which was activated the same day.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129
  2. ^ a b c d Air Force Historical Research Agency website
  3. ^ a b c d e f g MATS, MAC and AMC
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Anything, anywhere, anytime: an illustrated history of the Military Airlift Command, 1941–1991, Headquarters Military Airlift Command (1991)
  5. ^ a b c Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799536
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: Tactical Airlift, Ray L. Bowers, 1983.; Department of the Air Force History office
  7. ^ a b c d Nickel Grass, by Walter J. Boyne. Air Force magazine, December 1998 Vol. 81, No. 12
  8. ^ Two O'clock War: The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift that Saved Israel. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1976.
  9. ^ a b C-141 Starlifter Narrative, Office of MAC History, Military Airlift Command, 1973
  10. ^ a b c Norton, Bill. Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, Specialty Press, 2003. ISBN 1-58007-061-2.
  11. ^ a b c Thigpen, Jerry L. (2001). The Praetorian STARShip: The untold story of the Combat Talon. Air University Press, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ASIN: B000116LSI

External links


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