C-17 Globemaster III: AMC's 'workhorse' meeting airlift needs across the globe

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
Ever since the first C-17 Globemaster III was delivered to the Air Force more than 17 years ago, the plane has become a centerpiece and "workhorse" of the Air Force's airlift force.

In 2010 alone, C-17s and the Airmen who fly and maintain them have supported humanitarian operations in Haiti and Pakistan, a surge of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and are part of a record-breaking year for airdrops in Afghanistan.

Why is it so successful?

Ask any aircrew member or maintainer who is a part of the C-17 mission and most likely he or she will tell you the plane is more than a cargo hauler. Because of its multiple roles, they say that is the key to the airframe's success.

For example, in October, a C-17 aircrew from the 535th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, supported an exercise to assist the U.S. Army with paratrooper training. Capt. Mark Fischer, a C-17 pilot and the aircraft commander for this mission, said the aircraft proved beyond a doubt it is an asset not just for the Air Force, but for joint operations as well.

"This exercise validated the C-17's role as a personnel airdrop vehicle for the Army," Captain Fischer said in an October U.S. Pacific Command news report, acknowledging how the C-17 is designed to airdrop 102 paratroopers and equipment.

"In total we dropped 2,349 jumpers in four days. We were out there with the C-130 (Hercules) dropping jumpers out the back every five to six minutes over the drop zone. On our own, we were able to drop almost 600 jumpers in multiple lifts in four hours without requiring fuel," Captain Fischer said.

Design, flexibility and capability also may have something to do with its success. The C-17 measures 174 feet long with a wingspan of 169 feet, 10 inches, its Air Force fact sheet shows. The aircraft is powered by four, fully reversible F117-PW-100 engines -- "fully reversible" meaning it is one of the few aircraft in the world that can "back up" from wherever it's parked on a flightline.

"Each engine is rated at 40,440 pounds of thrust," the C-17 fact sheet states. "The thrust reversers direct the flow of air upward and forward to avoid ingestion of dust and debris."

Additionally, the C-17 -- which operates with a crew of only three Airmen: a pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster -- has a maximum payload capacity of 170,900 pounds and its maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 pounds. With a payload of 169,000 pounds and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 feet, the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles. Its cruise speed is approximately 450 knots.

"The C-17 was designed for multi-role functions," said Maj. Steve Hahn, a C-17 instructor pilot from the Air Force Reserve Command's 301st Airlift Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in a July 2010 Air Force News report. "Its strategic and tactical abilities join the missions of the C-5 (Galaxy) and C-130 into one aircraft. It does everything, and not many aircraft can do that."

'Workhorse' capabilities

Air Mobility Command's mission is "to provide global air mobility...right effects, right place, right time." When looking at the C-17 Globemaster III, AMC officials say the airframe is a great example of how mobility Airmen meet global capabilities.

"The C-17 is AMC's workhorse that has strategic legs with tactical capability," states the Air Mobility Command "Core Capabilities" talking paper from November 2010. "The aircraft enables AMC's rapid, strategic mobility airlift."

The AMC talking paper also states the C-17 adds "flexibility and versatility" to a combatant commander's toolkit.

"It can deliver C-5 outsize loads into C-130-sized, austere airfields," the paper states. "It's capable of performing direct-delivery missions; going from the Continental United States to austere airfields around the world."

The C-17's flexibility also makes it integral to humanitarian and aeromedical evacuation operations. For example, during Operation Unified Response for Haiti in early 2010, C-17s and their crews were part of an effort that saw mobility Airmen deliver more than 13,600 short tons of cargo to that country following a devastating earthquake. They also supported transportation of more than 25,800 passengers and movement of more than 280 patients through AE efforts, facts show.

The C-17's capabilities also extend to performing airdrops. In supporting deployed airdrop operations for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, C-17s have been a part of a record year in 2010. Through Oct. 31, C-17s and other airlift aircraft have airdropped more than 45.6 million pounds of cargo to troops on the ground in austere locations.

As an airdrop platform, a C-17 can carry up to 40 Container Delivery System bundles for a combat airdrop mission. C-17s also have been used with the Joint Precision Airdrop System that guides airdrop bundles to their drop zones using the Global Positioning System technology, and with the Improved Container Delivery System that allows for improved precision by factoring in the altitude, wind speed, wind direction, terrain and other circumstances that might affect the drop.

Building a lasting legacy

The C-17 is the third airlifter to bear the Globemaster name -- following the tradition of the C-74 Globemaster and the C-124 Globemaster II. The first C-17 aircraft delivered to the Air Force arrived at its operational wing, the 437th Airlift Wing, at Charleston AFB, S.C., on June 14, 1993.

In AMC's chronological history publication from April 2001, "Poised for a New Millennium: The Global Reach of the Air Mobility Command," it shows the first C-17 operational mission occurred during Operation Vigilant Warrior between Oct. 14-15, 1994. The C-17 departed Langley AFB, Va., for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, with a load of vehicles, a rolling command post and supplies for the Army's 7th Transportation Division.

Furthermore, on Jan. 17, 1995, then-AMC Commander, Gen. Robert L. Rutherford, declared initial operating capability for the C-17 and it officially began flying operational missions. Since then, it's been a part of nearly every Air Force operation.

Among the operations the C-17 has supported since Vigilant Warrior include operations Joint Endeavor, Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Provide Comfort, Provide Hope, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

Air Mobility Command leaders regularly point out there is an AMC mission "every 90 seconds." As of Nov. 30, 2010, there are 204 C-17s in the Air Force inventory and it's quite possible it's a C-17 taking off on one of those missions every three minutes.

In its continuing legacy, from the Arctic to Antarctica, the C-17 most likely will continue to be the "workhorse" it has been for 17 years.

(Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen, 15th Wing Public Affairs, and Capt. Naomi Evangelista, 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)