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Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Tactical / Strategic Military Transport Aircraft [ 1995 ]

The mammoth Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifter was introduced in 1995 and still sees considerable service with American forces - and a few others - worldwide.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/24/2023 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The C-17 Globemaster III is the primary long-haul transport for the United States and has been adopted, in limited numbers, by several other air powers of the world. It provides heavy-hauling, long-range capability in moving both man and machine to active theaters as needed. Onboard systems and a generally excellent overall design allow the aircraft to be fielded across many different operating environments to serve in the tactical or strategic transport role. The United States Air Force (USAF) originally signed on to order 120 of the type but this total eventually grew to 223 units. Other American forces to make use of the mammoth aircraft include Air Mobility Command, Air Material Command, Air Force Reserve Command, Air National Guard, Air Education and Training Command and Pacific Air Command.

NOTE: The "Globemaster" name is a long-running designator for large American military transports which began with the Douglas C-74 Globemaster (1945). This was then followed by the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II (1950). Naturally, the C-17 Globemaster III is the third in the series though a wholly unrelated development at its core.

The C-17 has been an active participant in American military operations since its adoption. As such, it has seen service in the more recent Afghanistan and Iraq war zones. One aircraft was hit by an insurgent's shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile on December 10th, 2003 when attempting to leave Baghdad but was able to return safely and be repaired. Tragically, four C-17 crew killed in a July 28th, 2010 crash at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska during a trial run for "Arctic Thunder Air Show 2010". This incident marked the only "loss of life" crash of a C-17 on record. Other issues have been related to landing gear failures and pilot error.

The C-17 fought through an extended, costly and sometimes troubled development period prior to becoming a USAF staple workhorse. It owes its existence to the USAF's C-X program (born from the cancelled "Advanced Medium STOL Transport program" or "AMST") for a new jet-powered heavy airlifter (both both tactical and strategic roles). In the original face-off, a Boeing YC-14 squared off against a McDonnell Douglas YC-15. The follow-up competition then included a modified Boeing YC-14 and a revised McDonnell Douglas YC-15. Lockheed entered a modified C-5 "Galaxy" as well as a modified C-141 "Starlifter". Eventually, the McDonnell Douglas design was selected ahead of all others in 1981 and this given the formal USAF designation of "C-17" - set to replace the aged and outgoing fleet of Lockheed C-141s already in service. Despite a full-scale contract being granted, this was cancelled in 1982. A low-profile development cycle was allowed to continue until, in 1985, the program gained further traction and quantitative production was signed in early 1988.

First flight of a C-17 prototype occurred on September 15th, 1991. Two years later, on June 14th, 1993, the first production-quality airframe arrived at Charleston Air Force Base (Joint Base Charleston) in South Carolina. The first operational C-17 squadron became 17th Airlift Squadron on January 17th, 1995. As of January 2014, the USAF reported 187 active C-17s with National Guard numbers totaling 12 and Air Force Reserves managing 14.

The general configuration of the C-17 is highly-conventional as heavy-lift transports go. It fields a stout, tubular fuselage (with forward-set flight deck) and tapers at the rear to which a "T-style" tail assembly is fitted (a crossing horizontal plane atop a single vertical fin). Wings are high-mounted to promote strong lift principles as well as provide the necessary clearance for ground movement when landed. Each wing is given a pair of underslung turbofan engines and the wings are swept along their leading edge with reduced sweep at the trailing edges. The main wing assemblies are mounted just ahead of midships.©MilitaryFactory.com
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.©MilitaryFactory.com
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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.

August 2019 - India has taken delivery of its final C-17 transport.


Service Year

United States national flag graphic
United States

In Active Service.


National flag of Australia National flag of Canada National flag of India National flag of Kuwait National flag of NATO National flag of Qatar National flag of the United Arab Emirates National flag of the United Kingdom National flag of the United States Australia; Canada; India; Kuwait; NATO; Qatar; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.

Houses, or can house (through specialized variants), radar equipment for searching, tracking, and engagement of enemy elements.
Survivability enhanced by way of onboard electronic or physical countermeasures enacted by the aircraft or pilot/crew.
Incorporates two or more engines, enhancing survivability and / or performance.
Mainplanes, or leading edges, features swept-back lines for enhanced high-speed performance and handling.
Inherent ability of airframe to take considerable damage.
Can reach and operate at higher altitudes than average aircraft of its time.
Capability to travel considerable distances through onboard fuel stores.
Capability to accept fuel from awaiting allied aircraft while in flight.
Ability to operate over ocean in addition to surviving the special rigors of the maritime environment.
Supports pressurization required at higher operating altitudes for crew survival.
Beyond a pilot, the aircraft takes advantage of additional crew specialized in specific functions aboard the aircraft.
Features partially- or wholly-enclosed crew workspaces.
Features retracting / retractable undercarriage to preserve aerodynamic efficiency.
Design incorporates feature(s) that facilitates loading / unloading of cargo / personnel from the aircraft.

173.9 ft
(53.00 m)
169.8 ft
(51.75 m)
55.1 ft
(16.79 m)
Empty Wgt
278,003 lb
(126,100 kg)
585,001 lb
(265,352 kg)
Wgt Diff
+306,998 lb
(+139,252 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production variant)
monoplane / shoulder-mounted / swept-back
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are mounted at the upper section of the fuselage, generally at the imaginary line intersecting the pilot's shoulders.
The planform features wing sweep back along the leading edges of the mainplane, promoting higher operating speeds.
(Structural descriptors pertain to the base Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production variant)
Installed: 4 x Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines developing 40,440 lb of thrust each.
Max Speed
518 mph
(833 kph | 450 kts)
45,000 ft
(13,716 m | 9 mi)
5,861 mi
(9,432 km | 17,468 nm)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)

Supported Types

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
C-17 - Base Series Designation.
C-17A - Initial transport model.
C-17A ER ("Extended Range") - Longer-ranged C-17A models with center-wing fuel tank.
C-17B - Proposed improved C-17 variant; higher-rated engines, double-slotted flaps; improved short-field performance; revised undercarriage.

General Assessment
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
Overall Rating
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry.
Rating is out of a possible 100 points.
Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (518mph).

Graph average of 563 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
Max Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected above are altitude, speed, and range.
Aviation Era Span
Pie graph section
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (279)
Compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian).

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Images Gallery

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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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Image of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.

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