Cargo haulers of the sky at the Air Mobility Command Museum

C-5 Galaxy at the Air Mobility Command Museum

A C-5 Galaxy at the Air Mobility Command Museum. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I love cargo aircraft. Sure, fighters are faster and bombers are more powerful, but there’s just something so cool about colossal cargo carriers. These boxy, ugly and lumbering function-over-form airborne trucks have a unique beauty all their own.

They’re also quite rare, at least at air museums. Their lack of “star power” to sell admission tickets, plus their enormous size, make them a lose-lose proposition for most museums. But not for this one. The Air Mobility Command Museum celebrates these vital aircraft, from World War II-era C-47s to the modern C-5 Galaxy. 

On my recent cross-country road trip, I made a special journey to the middle of Delaware to check it out. I mean, of course I did. They’ve got a C-5, which is longer than the Wright brothers’ first powered flight.

C is for cargo

For the first few decades of aviation, planes were too fragile and underpowered to haul much more than a pilot or two, and a gun or three. But when flying boats began delivering mail and more to remote places, cargo aircraft came into their own.

They were, of course, a crucial part of the Allied war-effort in WWII, notably in the invasion of Normandy. Thousands of C-47s carried paratroopers and towed gliders across the English Channel for Operation Overlord. 

Only a few years later, C-47s and C-54s carried coal, food and other goods from all over Europe and into Berlin for 15 months in 1948 and 1949 during the Berlin Airlift.

A KC-97 at the Air Mobility Command Museum

A KC-97 tanker

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The Air Mobility Command was established in 1992, absorbing parts of the Strategic Air Command and Military Airlift Command. It’s the Air Force division in charge of getting what’s needed to where it needs to go. The museum, adjacent to Dover Air Force Base, has many of these aircraft. From C-47s to C-141s, C-130s to C-5s, there are decades of cargo aircraft history spread across the apron.

The star of the show is definitely the C-5. It’s the only one on display in the world. The first C-5 flew in 1968, and it’s one of the largest aircraft of any kind in regular use anywhere. It’s longer than an Airbus A380 and can carry more than 120,000 pounds of cargo. You can even go inside, though, sadly, not all the way up to the flight deck.

Coolest cargo

I love museums with unique aircraft, especially big, unique aircraft. While that alone would have made the Air Mobility Command Museum cool, the fact that you can go inside so many of the planes makes it really special. As COVID restrictions lift, even more of them will be fully accessible. 

While Dover, Delaware isn’t exactly high on most people’s must-visit list, it’s only 2 hours from Washington, DC, and an hour and a half from Philadelphia. 

Best of all, it’s free. If you’re not headed to Delaware, check out the gallery above for a look inside and out of these huge, impressive aircraft.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and his travel video series on YouTube. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.

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