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Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Tactical / Strategic Military Transport Aircraft

United States | 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; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
Flag of Image courtesy of the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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.

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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.

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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.

Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Tactical / Strategic Military Transport Aircraft.
4 x Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines developing 40,440 lb of thrust each.
518 mph
833 kph | 450 kts
Max Speed
45,000 ft
13,716 m | 9 miles
Service Ceiling
5,861 miles
9,432 km | 5,093 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Tactical / Strategic Military Transport Aircraft.
173.9 ft
53.00 m
O/A Length
169.8 ft
(51.75 m)
O/A Width
55.1 ft
(16.79 m)
O/A Height
278,003 lb
(126,100 kg)
Empty Weight
585,001 lb
(265,352 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Notable series variants as part of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III family line.
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.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 279 Units

Contractor(s): Boeing Company - USA
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 ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (518mph).

Graph Average of 563 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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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.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Tactical / Strategic Military Transport Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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