An US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Ramstein Airbase, Germany (Deutschland). This aircraft with registration number 21100 serves with the 437th Air Wing / 315th AW, Air Mobility Command at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, USA. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Final countdown on C-17 production line

An US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Ramstein Airbase, Germany (Deutschland). This aircraft with registration number 21100 serves with the 437th Air Wing / 315th AW, Air Mobility Command at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, USA. (Image © Marcel Burger)
An US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Ramstein Airbase, Germany (Deutschland). This aircraft with registration number 21100 serves with the 437th Air Wing / 315th AW, Air Mobility Command at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, USA. (Image © Marcel Burger)

After more than 20 years the end is in sight for the C-17 production line at the Boeing factory in Long Beach, California. But the aircraft manufacturer hopes for more.

The Globemaster III, as the aircraft is called, has come a long way. The aircraft was initially developed during the Cold War and designed to quickly put heavy M1 Abrams main battle tanks into the battlefield, with secundary other very important gear. The deployment of one C-17 could, depending on its load, change the course of a battle. But such a strategic asset needs to be reliable and many childhood problems threatened the entire project all together.

The US Air Force first ordered only 40 C-17s, but when Boeing overcame initial problems and the USAF had to retire its aging C-141 Starlifters, the American armed forces quickly saw what was lacking. True, there was the giant C-5 Galaxy and hundreds of C-130s, but with only 40 C-17 too little in between. Like the C-130s the Globemasters are able to insert their load directly into the battlefield, needing only short air strips and having no problem with unpaved runways.

The C-17 Globemaster III typically has a crew of two pilots plus one loadmaster. It can carry 158 fully-equiped troops or 158 paratroopers. Alternatively it can airlift and insert one M1 Abrams tank or three Stryker armoured personnel carriers or six smaller armoured vehicles or several trucks and cars. The Globemaster can cruise up to 450 knots, has a range of 4,482 km (2,785 miles) to be extended by in-flight refueling, needs loaded a take-off strip of 2,316 meters (7,600 ft) and would normally land on anything from 1,060 meters (3,500 ft) or longer.

Decades after its first flight and the first 1991 production aircraft 223 Boeing C-17A Globemasters III fly with the US Air Force and its subsidiaries, with the last delivered to the USAF on September 12. Moreover, the aircraft has been sold to the Royal Air Force (8 C-17A-ER), the Royal Australian Air Force (6 C-17A-ER), the Royal Canadian Air Force (4 C-17A-ER as CC-177), the NATO/EU Heavy Lift Wing (3 C-17A at Papa in Hungary), Qatar Emiri Air Force (4 C-17A), United Arab Emirates Air Force (6 C-17A) and the Indian Air Force (10 C-17A).

The way it looks now, the final seven C-17s for the Indian Air Force will be the last of the C-17s to leave the nest at Long Beach. Unless a new client stands up.

Update 12 September: the final USAF C-17 was delivered to Charleston AFB today, as reported here.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger