The C-17 is now a proven performer, capable of taking off from runways as short as 7,600 feet and landing on runaways as short as 3,000 feet. They feature an in-flight refueling capability that allows for extended operational ranges - a requirement of strategic and tactical airlifters anywhere in the world, particularly when attempting to move a massive army. A single C-17 can haul as much as 160,000lbs of cargo (including whole armored vehicles) out to 2,760 miles. Indeed, a single C-17 can move up to three Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles in one lift and holds the capability to haul the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank -both vehicles represent primary components of the American Army and Marine Corps. A loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage (under the empennage) provides the needed access to the hold. Beyond its take-off and landing qualities, the C-17 is also cleared to airdrop up to 60,000lbs of palletized cargo at a time. In-cockpit equipment allows both pilots to operate their aircraft in low- or no-light periods for a highly useful "all-weather" capability. It further features twin Head-Up Displays (HUDs), four Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) and an all-modern digitally-minded instrument panel. When configured as a passenger transport, the C-17 can seat 102, making it an ideal infantry transport, MEDEVAC unit (36 litters) or humanitarian "people-mover". A dedicated loadmaster serves as the rest of the standard three-man crew. The undercarriage makes use of four three-wheeled main landing gear legs (held under the aircraft's center-mass) and a twin-wheeled nose leg. The nose leg is steerable for ground maneuvering. The undercarriage is specifically designed with a low profile to facilitate loading and unloading of the aircraft.
Dimensionally, the C-17 sports a wingspan of 170 feet with length of 174 feet and height of 55 feet. Controls are given a quadruple-redundancy as well as mechanical backup in emergencies. Power is served through 4 x Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines each delivering 40,440lbs of thrust. Performance numbers include a cruise speed of 515 miles per hour with a service ceiling up to 45,000 feet . Empty weight is 282,500lbs with a listed maximum take-off weight nearing 585,000lbs. With a 150,000lb payload, the C-17 can range out to 5,185 kilometers (2,800 nautical miles).
There is only one major (and official) C-17 variant and this remains the original "C-17A" airlifter model. C-17A "ER" is an unofficial marker used for C-17s granted "extended range" through implementation of a center-wing fuel tank. These appeared in 2001 and "winglets" at each wingtip have since been added for further fuel efficiency. The C-17B is a proposed, improved C-17A promoted by Boeing which would incorporate higher rated engines providing more power, use of double-slotted flaps at the wings, a revised undercarriage and improved runway performance.
The C-17 has seen use in military circles beyond American shores. The Royal Australian Air Force operates six C-17ER models through No. 36 Squadron. The Royal Canadian Air Force manages four C-17ER airframes (as the CC-177) through 429 Transport Squadron. The Indian Air Force is on the books for 10 total C-17s of which five were already on hand for No. 81 Squadron. Qatar has taken on delivery of four C-17As while the United Arab Emirates utilizes six such airframes. The United Kingdom has purchased eight C-17ER models and fields them through No. 99 Squadron. NATO operates three C-17s out of Papa Air Base, Hungary.
January 2014 - Boeing is slated to close down its Long Beach production plant serving C-17s sometime in 2014. The final C-17 (identifier of P-223) departed from the Boeing facility in September of 2013 through a ceremony honoring the product, its workers and its crews - set to make its way to Charleston, South Carolina. Peak production was reached between 2002 and 2009 when sixteen aircraft rolled out of the Boeing plant each year. It remains to be seen (though still a possibility) whether the lines remain open and more C-17s are ordered.
September 2015 - It was announced that the final C-17 had been completed at the Boeing Long Beach plant. This brings the total production count to 279 completed systems.
February 2017 - The C-17 is expected to remain in active service with the USAF until 2040.