Boeing C-17 Globemaster

A C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft prepares for take-off at Yakima Training Center, Washington. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Thoman Johnson)

The C-17 Globemaster III is a large military transport aircraft built for the United States Air Force by McDonnell Douglas, a predecessor to Boeing. It performed its maiden flight in 1991 and in 2015, the last C-17 was completed and flown.

This aircraft is capable of ferrying troops and all types of military cargo to bases around the globe, giving its operators a strategic benefit in military operations. By the U.S. Air Force’s own words, it’s the “most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force.” Alongside the U.S., other countries that operate the C-17 include India, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the Heavy Airlift Wing from 12 participating European nations.

This picture is not Photoshopped but a real C-17 painted in the popular Qatar Airways livery. It isn’t actually operated by Qatar Airways but by the Qatar Emiri Air Force, both of which are controlled by the state of Qatar.

The Boeing C-17 was developed when the U.S. Air Force sought a replacement for its aging fleet of C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft in the 1980s. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, then still separate companies, submitted designs alongside another competitor, Lockheed. In 1981, the Air Force chose McDonnell Douglas to build its proposal, designated the C-17. But, the maiden flight didn’t take place until a decade later due to development problems and limited funding.

In 1990, former Vice President Dick Cheney, then U.S. Secretary of Defense, reduced the order size of the C-17 from 210 to 120 aircraft. It formally entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 1995, and two years later, McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing and continued to manufacture it for nearly two decades.

The first foreign user of the C-17 was the British Royal Air Force (RAF), which leased some from Boeing in 2001. The Royal Australian Air Force was the second, taking its first delivery in 2006. Canada got its own in the following year. Other countries soon followed, including Qatar, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait successively. Boeing delivered the last unit to Qatar in 2016.

A USAF C-17 deploys flares as part of an operational readiness exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas A. Priest)

The C-17 offers two main benefits for its operators; reliability and maintainability. Thanks to the large aft ramp and door system, operators can load virtually all types of cargo onto it, including battle tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, trailers, and helicopters. When used to transport troops, it can accommodate up to 102 paratroopers with their standard equipment.

You can find C-17s around the globe performing major logistical operations for their operators, delivering cargo, troops, and humanitarian aid, or providing medical evacuation for injured personnel. The plane’s design characteristics give it the capability to operate in and out of short runways and small, harsh airfields despite lifting heavy payloads. It can land on runways as short as 3,500 feet and only 90 feet wide.

This aircraft is operated by a crew of three (pilot, co-pilot, and loadmaster), decreasing manpower requirements and long-term operating costs. Its maximum payload capacity is 170,900 pounds (77,519 kilograms) and it has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles (4,445 km).

Fast Facts about the C-17

  • Ceiling – 45,000 feet
  • Thrust – 40,440 pounds (x4 engines)
  • Top speed – 950 km/h
  • Cruise speed – 830km/h
  • Number built -279