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Lockheed C-5 Galaxy Requires a Big Fire Engine on the Ground

Yancey technicians stand proudly with the world’s largest fire engine, which they assembled for Lockheed.

In the 1960s the United States Air Force saw the need to transform its military transport system. The military required a more flexible response to smaller conflicts around the world, and the ability to deploy tonnage and resupply more efficiently and effectively.

The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the world’s largest airplane, was designed to be the answer. The C-5 was described as a flying three-lane street, with ramps at the nose and tail for tanks, trucks, and even prefabricated bridges to be rolled on, transported across the world, and rolled off. It was four times larger than previous transport planes, and carried more than 50,000 gallons of fuel in its wings.

An airplane that size completely changed the paradigms of both in-air capabilities and on-the-ground support. One of the key safety issues was how to fight a fire, should a C-5 experience trouble in takeoff or landing. A fire that size would require a massive piece of equipment to contain.

Yancey Bros. Co. was contracted to deliver just that fire engine.

Mickey Lee remembers the challenge. In 1966, a Caterpillar 657 painted white and with the scraper removed arrived at the Yancey yard on a railroad flat car. “We put it together with the 657 on the front end, with a D346 engine with 550 horsepower, and on the back, a D343 straight six 400 horsepower turbocharged,” Mickey recalls. “So it had 950 horsepower. It had a rear transmission like a scraper and two turrets on top with an 11,000-gallon tank filled with water and a 1,000-gallon tank filled with foam.”

Both engines were engaged to propel the giant firefighting machine, nicknamed the “white elephant,” down the runway, and as it entered position, the 400 hp rear engine was flipped over and powered pumps for water and foam, which mixed together to make 120,000 gallons of foam. The turret guns discharged 200 gallons per minute at a distance of 200 feet.

In October 1970 firefighters used the fire engine, to put out a blaze that started in a fuel tank during maintenance of a C-5.

“They could put out some big fires with that thing,” Mickey says.

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