The Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas) C-17 Globemaster III is a large American airlifter manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The C-17 is operated by the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Canadian Forces, while NATO and Qatar have placed orders for the airlifter.
The C-17 Globemaster III is used for rapid strategic airlift of troops and cargo to main operating bases or forward bases anywhere in the world. It has the ability to rapidly deploy a combat unit to a potential battle area and sustain it with on-going supplies. The C-17 is also capable of performing tactical airlift, medical evacuation and airdrop missions. The aircraft carries on the name of two previous United States cargo aircraft, the C-74 Globemaster and the C-124 Globemaster II.
By the early 1980s, the USAF found itself with a large fleet of aging C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft. Some of the C-141s had major structural problems due to heavy use. Compounding matters, USAF historically never possessed sufficient strategic airlift capabilities to fulfill its airlift requirements. In response, McDonnell Douglas elected to develop a new aircraft using the YC-15 as the basis. McDonnell Douglas was awarded a contract to build its proposed aircraft, by then designated the C-17A Globemaster III, on August 28, 1981. The new aircraft differed in having swept wings, increased size, and more powerful engines. This would allow it to perform all work performed by the C-141, but to also fulfill some of the duties of the C-5 Galaxy, freeing the C-5 fleet for larger outsize cargo.
Development continued until December 1985 when a full-scale production contract was signed for 210 aircraft. Development problems and limited funding caused delays in the late 1980s. Questions were also raised about more cost-effective alternatives during this time. In April 1990, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney reduced the order from 210 to 120 aircraft. The C-17's maiden flight was on September 15, 1991 from the McDonnell Douglas west coast plant in Long Beach, California, about a year behind schedule. This aircraft (T-1) and five more production models (P1-P5) participated in extensive flight testing and evaluation at Edwards AFB. In late 1993, the DoD gave the contractor two years to solve production and cost overrun problems or face termination of the contract after the delivery of the fortieth aircraft. By accepting the 1993 terms, McDonnell Douglas incurred a loss of nearly US$1.5 billion on the development phase of the program.
In April 1994, the C-17 program was still experiencing cost overruns, and did not meet weight, fuel burn, payload and range specifications. Airflow issues caused problems with parachutes and there were various other technical problems with mission software, landing gear, etc. A July 1994 GAO document revealed that to justify investing in the C-17 rather than in the C-5, Air Force and DoD studies from 1986 and 1991 had claimed that the C-17 could use 6,400 more runways (outside the US) than the C-5. It was later discovered that this study had only considered the runway dimensions, but not their strength or Load Classification Numbers (LCN). The C-5 has a lower LCN than the C-17, although the US Air Force places both in the same broad Load Classification Group (LCG). When considering runway dimensions and their load ratings, the C-17's worldwide runway advantage over the C-5 shrank from 6,400 to 911 airfields. However, the C-17's ability to use lower quality, austere airfields was not considered.
A January 1995 GAO report revealed that while the original C-17 budget was US$41.8 billion for 210 aircraft, the 120 aircraft already ordered at that point had already cost US$39.5 billion. In March 1994, the U.S. Army had decided it no longer needed the 60,000 lb (27,000 kg) Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES) delivery that the C-17 was supposed to provide, feeling that the 42,000 lb (19,000 kg) capability of the C-130 Hercules was sufficient. It was decided not to conduct C-17 LAPES training beyond the testing of a 42,000 lb (19,000 kg) LAPES delivery. There were still airflow problems making it impossible for the C-17 to meet its original airdrop requirements. A February 1997 GAO Report revealed that a C-17 with a full payload could not land on 3,000 feet (900 m) wet runways, for simulations suggested 5,000 ft (1,500 m) was required.
By the mid-1990s, most of the problems had been resolved. The first C-17 squadron was declared operational by the U.S. Air Force in January 1995. In 1996, DoD ordered another 80 aircraft for a total of 120. In 1997 McDonnell Douglas merged with its former competitor, Boeing. In 1998, the order was increased to 134 units and in August 2002 to 180.
In July 2006, C-17 production was planned to end in 2009 unless Boeing received additional orders in time to allow the production pipeline to remain in operation. At the time a large follow-on order would allow Boeing to begin C-17B production in 2010. The proposed C-17B would be capable of landing on sandy beaches and other areas off-limits to the C-17A.
On August 18, 2006 Boeing announced it was telling suppliers to stop work on parts for uncommitted C-17s. This move is the first step in shutting down production if no new plane orders were received from the US Government. However, just one month later on September 21, a House and Senate conference committee approved a US$447 billion defense bill for 2007, that includes US$2.1 billion for 10 additional C-17s. The additional purchase follows intense lobbying by Boeing, as well as by California state leaders (where the plane is manufactured), and Missouri leaders, where Boeing's defense business is based. However, this extends the life of the program for only one additional year, to 2010.
A total of 190 C-17s are contracted for delivery to the USAF as of October 2007. Boeing has purchased parts for 30 new C-17s at its own expense in hopes that Congress will approve the funds requested. Fifteen C-17s are earmarked in a FY2008 War Supplemental that passed the House on 10 June 2008 and the Senate on June 27, 2008. President Bush signed the measure into law in 30 June 2008. These funds will extend production from August 2009 to August 2010 and the total number of C-17s on contract will be 205, once a contract is awarded.
In recent years the size and weight of U.S. mechanized firepower and equipment have grown, which has significantly increased air mobility requirements, particularly in the area of large or heavy outsize cargo. The C-17 can airlift such cargo fairly close to a potential battle area.
The C-17 is powered by four fully reversible, F117-PW-100 turbofan engines (the Department of Defense designation for the commercial Pratt and Whitney PW2040, currently used on the Boeing 757). Each engine is rated at 40,400 lbf (180 kN) of thrust. The thrust reversers direct the flow of air upward and forward. This reduces the probability of foreign object damage and provides reverse thrust capable of backing the aircraft. Additionally, the C-17's thrust reversers can be used in flight at idle-reverse for added drag in maximum-rate descents.
The aircraft requires a crew of three (pilot, copilot, and loadmaster) for cargo operations. Cargo is loaded through a large aft door that accommodates both rolling stock (trucks, armored vehicles, trailers, etc.) and palletized cargo. The cargo floor has rollers (used for palletized cargo) that can be flipped to provide a flat floor suitable for rolling stock. One of the larger pieces of rolling stock that this aircraft can carry is the 70-ton M1 Abrams tank.
Maximum payload capacity of the C-17 is 170,900 lb (77,500 kg), and its maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 lb (265,350 kg). With a payload of 160,000 lb (72,600 kg) and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 ft (8,500 m), the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles (4,400 km) on the first 71 units, and 2,800 nautical miles (5,200 km) on all subsequent units -- which are extended-range models using the sealed center wing bay as a fuel tank. These units are informally referred to by Boeing as the C-17 ER. The C-17 cruise speed is approximately 450 knots (833 km/h) (0.76 Mach). The C-17 is designed to airdrop 102 paratroopers and their equipment.
The C-17 is designed to operate from runways as short as 3,500 ft (1,064 m) and as narrow as 90 ft (27 m). In addition, the C-17 can operate out of unpaved, unimproved runways (although there is the increased probability of damage to the aircraft). The thrust reversers can be used to back the aircraft and reverse direction on narrow taxiways using a three-point (or in some cases, multi-point) turn maneuver.
The first production model was delivered to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina on July 14, 1993. The first squadron of C-17s, the 17th Airlift Squadron, was declared operationally ready on January 17, 1995. The C-17 has broken 22 records for oversized payloads. The C-17 was awarded US aviation's most prestigious award, the Collier Trophy in 1994.
The Air Force originally programmed to buy a total of 120 C-17s, with the last one being scheduled for delivery in November 2004. The fiscal 2000 budget funded another 14 aircraft, primarily for Air Mobility Command support of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Basing of the original 120 C-17s was with the 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Airlift Wing at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Washington (first aircraft arrived in July 1999), the Air Education and Training Command's (AETC) 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, and the Air Mobility Command-gained 172d Airlift Wing of the Mississippi Air National Guard at Jackson-Evers International Airport/ANGB, Mississippi.
Basing of the additional 13 aircraft went to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and Travis Air Force Base, California. An additional 60 units were ordered in May 2002.
In FY 2006, eight C-17s were delivered to March ARB, California. Although operationally-gained by the Air Mobility Command, these C-17s are the only aircraft strictly under direct control of the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
In 2007, Congress appropriated funds for 10 additional USAF C-17s, bringing the total planned fleet size (on order + delivered) to 190. Additional aircraft were subsequently assigned to Dover AFB, Delaware.
The C-17 was used to deliver military goods and humanitarian aid during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. On March 26, 2003, fifteen USAF C-17s participated in the biggest combat airdrop since the United States invasion of Panama in December, 1989: the night-time airdrop of 1,000 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade occurred over Bashur, Iraq. It opened the northern front to combat operations and constituted the largest formation airdrop carried out by the United States since World War II.
USAF C-17s have also been used to assist US Allies transport military equipment. This has included the transportation of Canadian armored vehicles to Afghanistan in 2003 and the redeployment of Australian forces in Australia and the Solomon Islands during the Australian-led military deployment to East Timor in 2006. In late September and early November 2006, USAF C-17s flew 15 Canadian Forces Leopard C2 tanks from Kyrgyzstan into Kandahar AF in support of the Afghanistan NATO mission.
There has been debate regarding follow-on orders for the C-17, with the Air Force requesting line shutdown, and members of Congress attempting to reinstate production. Furthermore, in FY2007, the Air Force requested $1.6 billion to deal with what it termed "excessive combat use" on operational airframes.
However, in testimony before a House of Representatives subcommittee on air and land forces, General Arthur Lichte, USAF, the commander of Air Mobility Command indicated extending production to another 15 aircraft, bringing the total to 205. Pending on the delivery of the results of two studies in 2009, Lichte opines that the Air Force may eventually have to keep the production line open for purchase of even more C-17s to satisfy airlift requirements.
The first C-17 was delivered to the RAF at Boeing's Long Beach facility on May 17, 2001 and flown to RAF Brize Norton by a crew from No. 99 Squadron which had previously trained with USAF crews to gain competence on the type. The RAF's fourth C-17 was delivered on August 24, 2001. The RAF aircraft were some of the first to take advantage of the new center wing fuel tank.
The RAF declared itself delighted with the C-17 and reports began to emerge that they wished to retain the aircraft regardless of the A400M's progress. Although the C-17 fleet was to be a fallback for the A400M, the UK announced on July 21, 2004 that they have elected to buy their four C-17s at the end of the lease, even though the A400M is moving towards production. They will also be placing a follow-on order for one aircraft, though there may be additional purchases later. While the A400M is described as a "strategic" airlifter, the C-17 gives the RAF true strategic capabilities that it would not wish to lose, for example a maximum payload of 169,500 lb (77,000 kg) compared to the Airbus' 82,000 lb (37,000 kg).
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on August 4, 2006 that they had ordered an additional C-17 and that the four aircraft on lease will be purchased at the end of the current contract in 2008. The fifth aircraft was delivered on February 22, 2008 and reported for duty on April 7, 2008 at Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire. Due to fears that the A400M may suffer further delays, the MoD is planning to acquire three more C-17s (for a total of eight) for delivery in 2009-2010, provided that the U.S. Air Force places a follow-on order extending through the same time period. On July 26 2007, Defence Secretary Des Browne announced that the MoD intends to order a sixth C-17 to boost operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. On December 3 2007, the MoD announced a contract with Boeing for a sixth C-17, which was handed over to the RAF on June 11, 2008.
In RAF service the C-17 has not been given an official designation (e.g. C-130J referred to as Hercules C4 or C5) due to its leased status, but is referred to simply as the C-17. Following the end of the lease period the four aircraft will assume an RAF designation, most likely "Globemaster C1".
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) began investigating options to acquire heavy lift transport aircraft for strategic transport in 2005. In late 2005 the then Minister for Defence Robert Hill stated that the Australian Defence Force was considering such aircraft due to the limited availability of strategic airlift aircraft from partner nations and air freight companies. The C-17 was considered to be favoured over the A400M as it was a "proven aircraft" and was already in production. One major requirement from the RAAF was the ability to airlift the Army's new M1 Abrams main battle tanks; another requirement was immediate delivery. Though unstated, commonality with the USAF and the United Kingdom's RAF was also considered advantageous. The aircraft for the RAAF were ordered directly from the USAF production run, and are identical to American C-17 even in paint scheme, the only difference being the national markings. This allowed delivery to commence within nine months of commitment to the program.
On March 2, 2006 the Australian Government announced the purchase of three aircraft and one option with an entry into service date of 2006. The Australian Government's 2006–07 budget included funding of A$2.2 billion to fund the purchase of three or four C-17s and related spare parts and training equipment. In July 2006 a fixed price contract was awarded to Boeing to deliver four C-17s for US$780m (AUD$1bn). Australia also signed a US$80.7m contract to join the global 'virtual fleet' C-17 sustainment program and the RAAF's C-17s will receive the same upgrades as the USAF's fleet.
The Royal Australian Air Force took delivery of its first C-17 in a ceremony at Boeing's plant at Long Beach, California on 29 November 2006. Several days later the aircraft flew from Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii to Defence Establishment Fairbairn, Canberra, arriving on December 4, 2006. The aircraft was formally accepted in a ceremony at Fairbairn shortly after arrival. The second aircraft was delivered to the RAAF on 11 May 2007 and the third was delivered on December 18, 2007. The fourth Australian C-17 was delivered on 19 January 2008. All the Australian C-17s are operated by No. 36 Squadron and are based at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland. The squadron is currently working towards reaching its full operational capability in mid 2011.
Australia's C-17s have supported ADF operations around the world. Tasks have included supporting Air Combat Group training deployments to the United States, transporting Royal Australian Navy Sea Hawk helicopters and making fortnightly missions to the Middle East to supply Australian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The C-17s have also carried humanitarian supplies to Papua New Guinea during Operation Papua New Guinea Assist in 2007 and supplies and South African Puma helicopters to Burma in 2008 following Cyclone Nargis.
Canada has had a long-standing need for strategic airlift for humanitarian and military operations around the world. The Canadian Forces (CF) had followed a pattern similar to the Luftwaffe in using rented Antonovs and Ilyushins for many of their needs, including deploying the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka in 2005. The CF was forced to rely entirely on leased An-124 Condors for a deployment to Haiti in 2003, as well as a combination of leased Condors, Ilyushins and USAF C-17s for moving heavy equipment into Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces Future Strategic Airlifter Project was initiated in 2002 to study various alternatives, including long-term leasing arrangements.
On July 5, 2006, the Canadian government issued a notice that it intended to negotiate directly with Boeing for the purchase of four airlifters. Then on February 1, 2007 Canada awarded a contract for four C-17s with delivery beginning in August 2007. Like Australia, Canada was granted airframes originally slated for the U.S. Air Force, to accelerate delivery.
On June 16, 2007, the first Canadian C-17 rolled off the assembly line at Long Beach, California and into the paint hangar for painting and addition of Canadian markings including the national logo and air force roundel. The first Canadian C-17 made its initial flight on July 23. It was turned over to Canada on August 8, and participated at the Abbotsford Airshow on August 11 prior to arriving at its new home base at 8 Wing, CFB Trenton, Ontario on August 12. Its first operational mission was delivery of disaster relief to Jamaica in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean. The second C-17 arrived at 8 Wing, CFB Trenton on October 18, 2007. The last of four aircraft was delivered in April 2008. The C-17 is officially designated CC-177 Globemaster III within the Canadian Forces. The aircraft are assigned to 429 Squadron based at CFB Trenton.
On May 9, 2008, a Foreign Military Sale Notice was posted at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notifying the US Congress of a possible sale of two C-17s and related equipment worth up to US$700 million. The sale is expected to be completed in June 2008.
To support the two NATO C-17s in the Heavy Airlift Wing to be based at Pápa Air Base in Hungary the United States Air Force will provide an additional aircraft for use by the wing.
Qatar has signed a deal for two C-17ERs for delivery in 2009.
In March 2007, Global Heavylift Holdings LLC expressed interest in the purchase of up to thirty new airframes. Another press release by Global Heavylift Holdings a few days later was a little more tame as to their financial backing.