The C-17 Globemaster III has proven to be a workhorse in the U.S. Air Force’s airlift arsenal. Utilizing strategic airlift capabilities the aircraft is able to deliver troops and cargo to bases in contingency environments and forward operating bases in austere locations. The airframe’s versatile platform can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions and be configured to conduct aeromedical evacuations when required.
Operated by eight countries and NATO, the C-17 has delivered cargo in every worldwide operation since the 1990s.
In 1979, the Defense Department started the Cargo-Experimental program, as the Air Force was looking for a large air mobility platform with in-flight refueling capabilities for global reach missions. McDonnell Douglas won the contract in 1981 with its proposal to build the C-17.
NASA played a huge role in the development of the C-17 contributing research and technology that had been made available to the industry over four decades. The powered-lift, developed by researchers at the NASA Langley Research Center in the mid-1950s, gave the aircraft close to double the lift coefficient of a conventional transport airframe by positioning the engines and flaps in a way that directed the exhaust downward. The development of this technology gave the C-17 short take off and landing capabilities allowing it to takeoff and land on runways as short as 3,500 feet and 90 feet wide. The aircraft is also able to turn around on these narrow runways using a three point star turn and its reverse capability.
The supercritical wing, winglets, fly-by-wire system, engine performance enhancements and composite materials used throughout the aircraft were all developed in partnership with NASA.
The C-17 made its maiden flight Sept. 15, 1991. The first production model was delivered to Charleston Air Force Base, now known as Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, June 14, 1993, and the first C-17 squadron was declared operational Jan. 17, 1995.
The Air Force’s final C-17 was completed by Boeing in Sept. 2013, and delivered to JB Charleston, completing a 20-year run of production.
The C-17 fleet has been involved in many contingency operations, including Joint Endeavor, Operations Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, the humanitarian relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2011 floods in Pakistan. In 1998, eight C-17s completed the longest airdrop in mission history, flying more than 8,000 nautical miles from the U.S. to Central Asia, dropping troops and equipment after more than 19 hours in the air.
Currently, the global-force of C-17s is operated by the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and India.
Air Mobility Command: 21st Airlift Squadron, Travis AFB, California; 3rd Airlift Squadron, Dover AFB, Delaware; 62nd Airlift Wing, JB Lewis-McChord, Washington; 437th Airlift Wing, JB Charleston; and 305th Air Mobility Wing, JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Pacific Air Forces: 517th Airlift Squadron, JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and 535th Airlift Squadron, JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Air Education and Training Command: 58th Airlift Squadron, Altus AFB, Oklahoma.
Air Force Materiel Command operates two C-17s at Edwards AFB, California.
Air Force Reserve Command: 729th Airlift Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, California; 445th Airlift Wing, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio; 301st Airlift Squadron, Travis AFB; 446th Airlift Wing, JB Lewis-McChord; 315th Airlift Wing, JB Charleston; 732nd Airlift Squadron, JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst; and the 326th Airlift Squadron, Dover AFB.
Air National Guard: 172nd Airlift Wing, Jackson, Mississippi; 105th Airlift Wing, Stewart ANGB, New York; 249th Airlift Squadron, JB Elmendorf-Richardson; 204th Airlift Squadron, JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam; 155th Airlift Squadron, Memphis, Tennessee; and the 167th Airlift Squadron, Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Did You Know?
- A fully loaded C-17 can reverse up a slope while on the ground.
- C-17s have set 33 world records, including payload to altitude time-to-climb and the short takeoff and landing mark.
- In 2015 the worldwide C-17 fleet reached 3 million flying hours. The equivalent of flying around the Earth 55,555 times, 2,948 trips to the moon or a single C-17 flying nonstop for 342 years.
- The C-17 is sometimes referred to as “The Moose” due to its bulky appearance and the sound it makes while refueling.
Primary function: Cargo and troop transport
Contractor: Boeing Company
Power plant: four Pratt and Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines
Thrust: 40,440 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 169 feet, 10 inches (to winglet tips) (51.75 meters)
Length: 174 feet (53 meters)
Height: 55 feet, 1 inches (16.79 meters)
Cargo Compartment: length, 88 feet (26.82 meters); width, 18 feet (5.48 meters); height, 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 meters)
Speed: 450 knots at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters) (Mach 0.74)
Range: Global with in-flight refueling
Crew: Three (two pilots and one loadmaster)
Aeromedical Evacuation Crew: A basic crew of five (two flight nurses and three medical technicians) is added for aeromedical evacuation missions. Medical crew may be altered by needs of patients.
Load: 102 troops/paratroops; 36 litter and 54 ambulatory patients and attendants; more than 170,000 pounds (77,519 kilograms) of cargo (18 pallet positions)
Unit Cost: $202.3 million (fiscal 1998 constant dollars)
Date Deployed: June 1993
Inventory: Active Duty, 187; Air Force Reserve, 14; Air National Guard, 12