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An Inside Look at the Capabilities and Features of the C-17 Globemaster III Military Transport Aircraft

Author: Business InsiderTime: 2024-01-04 14:35:00

Table of Contents

Introduction to the C-17 Globemaster III - Key Capabilities and Specifications

The C-17 Globemaster III is an American military transport aircraft capable of carrying large cargo loads, transporting troops, and performing medical evacuations anywhere in the world. Armed with cutting-edge aviation electronics, each C-17 can cost up to $340 million.

With a payload capacity of 172,000 pounds, the C-17, nicknamed the Moose, can transport armored vehicles, pallets of supplies, or 102 paratroopers fully loaded with gear. Its rear loading ramp and door design allows for drive-on/drive-off capability for vehicles and equipment.

Key Capabilities and Specifications

The C-17 has an impressive range of over 2,400 nautical miles with a full payload and aerial refueling capability allows it to travel even farther. It can take off and land on small, austere airfields thanks to technologies like thrust redirecting wing flaps, winglets, and sturdy yet lightweight landing gear.

Common Missions and Uses

The C-17's versatility has made it an invaluable asset deployed around the world. Whether delivering relief supplies, transporting vehicles and equipment into areas without infrastructure, evacuating civilians from danger zones, or making airdrops of paratroopers, it can handle the toughest assignments.

Loading and Unloading Cargo

The C-17 can be loaded through its upward-opening rear ramp, allowing cargo to be driven directly into the hold, slid down rollers into place, and secured to the floor. Cargo pallets, vehicles, supplies, and even Army helicopters can all be transported. The crew chief and loadmasters oversee loading, weight distribution calculations, and restraint of the cargo loads.

For airdrops, the cargo area can also be depressurized in flight. The rear ramp lowers to drop paratroopers or pallets of cargo by gravity over specific drop zones, even in hostile territory.

Transporting Passengers

In a cargo configuration, the C-17 can carry up to 188 passengers seated on palletized seats that secure to the cargo hold floor. For medical evacuation flights, litters can be fastened to provide care during transport. If all seats are removed, over 200 passengers could be carried for emergency evacuation missions.

Seating Capacity and Configuration

Standard seating includes 54 seats along the side walls, with 27 on each side secured to the aircraft structure. More can sit on palletized seats that are installed and removed as needed based on the mission profile and passenger load.

Accommodations and Safety

Passengers have access to lavatory facilities in the rear and flight attendants can provide service during longer flights. All seats have shoulder harnesses for turbulence and there are multiple emergency exits if needed.

Cockpit and Avionics

The C-17 cockpit uses cutting edge digital avionics and instrumentation to provide pilots with the flight data needed to handle such a massive aircraft. There are technically seats for two pilots, an instructor, and an additional mission crewmember.

Unique features include a heads-up display that projects key information like airspeed in the pilot's forward field of view. Pilots handle the 22 flight control surfaces through a joystick rather than yoke, much like a modern fighter jet.

Takeoff, Flight and Landing

While producing an impressive 180,000 pounds of combined thrust, the C-17's four Pratt & Whitney engines are mounted high on the wings so the thrust can be redirected. Complex flaps and slats alter the airflow to generate greater lift. This allows the C-17 to take off and land on short or unpaved runways.

In flight, small winglets on the end of each wing also reduce drag and turbulence, improving fuel efficiency. Loadmasters and pilots carefully manage the positions of flaps, slats, spoilers and other control surfaces to direct the air as needed for takeoff, landing, and in-air maneuvers.

Thrust Redirecting Flaps and Slats

By tilting the engines to point downward and opening extensions on the leading and trailing edges of the wings, greater lift force can be created so less runway distance is needed. The complex high lift system changes the wing shape to harness more air pressure underneath.

Winglets for Improved Aerodynamics

The purpose of winglets is to reduce drag and wingtip air turbulence during cruising flight. Air flowing under the wings tries to curl up around the tips, creating eddies that bleed off energy. Winglets disrupt that.

Current and Future Use Around the Globe

Originally designed for U.S. Air Force duty, today over a dozen nations utilize the C-17 for military and humanitarian efforts. With 274 airframes delivered, the durable C-17 remains in high demand, operating around the clock missions across six populated continents and through some of the most extreme climates and conditions on Earth.

Boeing ended new production in 2015 but existing C-17 fleets are expected to remain active for decades to come thanks to the aircraft’s versatility, reliability, and effectiveness.


As a heavy lifter able to traverse the globe, land anywhere, and accomplish critical airlift and airdrop missions, the C-17 Globemaster III has become an invaluable air asset. Its ability to transport outsized cargo, giant vehicles, hundreds of troops, and life-saving supplies all over the world makes the C-17 a military and humanitarian workhorse that will continue serving for years to come.


Q: How much cargo can a C-17 carry?
A: A C-17 can carry up to 172,000 pounds of vehicles, pallets, or other cargo.

Q: How many paratroopers can it transport?
A: A C-17 is equipped to carry up to 102 paratroopers.

Q: What is the range of the C-17?
A: The C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles.

Q: How is cargo loaded and unloaded?
A: Cargo is loaded and unloaded through a large ramp at the rear of the aircraft. This ramp can also open mid-flight to perform airdrops.

Q: How many C-17s are currently in service?
A: There are approximately 274 C-17s currently in service globally, with 157 active in the US Air Force fleet.

Q: What countries fly the C-17?
A: The C-17 is flown by the US and allied countries including the UK, Australia, Canada, India, Qatar, and the UAE.

Q: Why does the C-17 have a stick rather than a yoke?
A: As one of very few large cargo jets with a stick rather than a yoke, the C-17 offers pilots better control and maneuverability.

Q: How does thrust redirecting help takeoff and landing?
A: By tilting flaps and slats, the C-17's powerful engines redirect thrust downwards rather than backwards to generate extra lift for takeoffs and landings.

Q: What are the benefits of the winglets?
A: The winglets improve aerodynamics, allowing the C-17 to take off and land on shorter runways.

Q: Will the C-17 eventually be replaced?
A: There are currently no plans to replace the C-17 Globemaster III as it continues to be a reliable military transport workhorse.