America’s airmen have long held unofficial nicknames for the aircraft they love — and for the aircraft they hate. Some are more well-known than others. For example, everyone knows the A-10 Thunderbolt II as the “Warthog” because when it first entered service, it wasn’t considered a very attractive airframe. Then there’s “BUFF” (Big, Ugly, Fat F*cker), the name somewhat-lovingly given to the B-52 Stratofortress.
But nicknames aren’t only doled out to combat aircraft. The C-5 Galaxy, the Air Force’s largest cargo mover has a nickname of its own, bestowed upon it by the men and women who maintain the USAF’s fleet: FRED, or “F*cking Ridiculous Economic/Environmental Disaster.”
The C-5 is an incredible aircraft. Aside from being able to carry an entire C-130 cargo aircraft, it can also carry up to 75 passengers, the pilots, a flight crew, and (probably) a partridge with an entire pear tree. And it can carry all that with its 12 internal wing tanks, capable of refueling in flight.
But it takes a lot of fuel to power this monster. That’s where the “Environmental Disaster” part comes in.
The other reason for its nickname is far less funny. It costs more than $100,000 per hour to fly the plane. And since it’s been around in its current form since 1995, they’re getting older and are starting to require more and more maintenance. Meanwhile, the much newer C-17 flies for around $24,000 an hour. It carries less cargo, but it carries that cargo more efficiently.
Developing the C-5 Galaxy cost $1 billion more than the United States expected. That’s the “Economic Disaster.” Still, when you have to get a lot of stuff to the fight, the C-5 is one impressive show to watch.
When it first launched, the C-5’s weight put so much strain on the wings that they tended to crack before the military got its money’s worth from them. When the C-5 program was upgraded, so were its wings. But it’s been a long time and the plane is beginning to wear down with age, some airmen say. One Reddit user was quoted as saying,
“Sometimes the hatches don’t seal properly when the plane is trying to pressurize. In cases where they can’t afford to land and fix it properly they’ll wrap some t-shirts around a rope and soak it with water. Then they’ll pack it into the gap in the hatch and the water will freeze, thus sealing the leak enough for the aircraft to pressurize.”
Mission tempo, lack of parts, and crew turnover is turning the Galaxy into a Hangar Queen.
But the C-5 has been an essential element in almost every U.S. venture since its inception. From conflicts in Vietnam (yes, Vietnam) to Afghanistan, the C-5 was there. And since the program just finished a massive overhaul, giving the planes new engines, skeleton upgrades, and avionics, FRED-Ex is likely to be in business for a long time to come.