The C-17 is such a new airplane, that there is not much history to write about it. It is the newest cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force in the U.S. In 1979, the Air Force realized that they might have to soon replace the aging C-130 Hercules. They came up with several prototypes, none of which that were able to out-perform the C-130 and still meet the stringent demands of the Air Force. They decided to build the C-17 anyway, partly because it could carry the M-1 tank, one of the demands of the Army, and the first one made its' maiden flight in 1991. After more testing and a few modifications, the final product was decided on and the first C-17 was delivered in 1993. Since they are still building C-17's, they predict that there will be 120 of them by 2005.
The C-17 could not out-perform the C-130, but it was just a versatile, and could carry more. They can land or take-off from a runway as short as 3,000 ft. and as narrow as 90 ft. It can also land very easily on unprepared strips. They also have 3-point turning system and can go in reverse up a 2% grade. Another interesting feature is a system in which engine exhaust in blown straight downward while they are descending. This allows very slow and very steep descents and landings. So really, there are not many places that this plane cannot land.
Although the C-17 is not as large as the C-5, it can still carry quite a bit. They can carry up to 18 pallets at a time. They can also carry military vehicles, troops, or paratroopers. Occasionally, they carry-out airdrop missions when required. It can carry all of the Army's air-transportable equipment. Originally, the C-130 could carry most of the Army's equipment. But as technology evolved, equipment got larger. The C-17 can carry up to 170,900 pounds of cargo and is filling the void that has come from the phasing-out of the C-141.
Since the C-17 is so new, it has many "systems" that no other cargo planes have. Such things as fly-by-wire systems contributed by NASA and a missile detection system which also deploys flares. Another interesting thing are the winglets on the end of the wings. These are large, vertical slats at the ends of the wings that change the airflow over the wings. They recuce drag and produce forward thrust. All C-17's also have supercritical wings which produce weaker shock waves than conventional wings. This produces less drag, therefore increasing range, cruising speed, and fuel efficiency.
Overall, the C-17 is also a very reliable and strong plane. For every hour of flying time, each plane requires only 20 man-hours of maintenance work. C-17's also have a 92% mission completion success probability. C-17's also hold 20 world-class airlift records. The most impressive of which was a C-17 taking off in less than 1,400 ft., flying to altitude, then landing under 1,400 ft. And since the C-17 has a crew of just 3 people, that reduces the risk of massive loss of life if something were to happen. Because the C-17 is so new, it will be around for a long time to come.
Primary Function: Cargo and troop transport
Prime Contractor: Boeing Company
Power Plant: Four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines
Thrust: 40,440 pounds, each engine
Wingspan: 169 feet 10 inches (to winglet tips) (51.76 meters)
Length: 174 feet (53 meters)
Height: 55 feet 1 inch (16.79 meters)
Cargo Compartment: length, 88 feet (26.82 meters); width, 18 feet (5.48 meters); height, 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 meters)
Speed: 450 knots at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters) (Mach .74)
Service Ceiling: 45,000 feet at cruising speed (13,716 meters)
Range: Global with in-flight refueling
Crew: Three (two pilots and one loadmaster)
Maximum Peacetime Takeoff Weight: 585,000 pounds (265,352 kilograms)
Load: 102 troops/paratroops; 48 litter and 54 ambulatory patients and attendants; 170,900 pounds (77,519 kilograms) of cargo (18 pallet positions)
Unit Cost: $180 million (FY96 constant dollars)
Date Deployed: June 1993