Since the first C-17 combat-ready unit began operations in January 1995, the C-17 has become “the workhorse” of the air mobility fleet, rapidly delivering people, supplies, and equipment around the globe, Air Mobility Command spokeswoman Lt. Col. Kathryn Barnsley told the Daily Report on Sept. 11.
“It performs tremendously. It has such a wide range of mission capabilities,” said Robert Steele, the Air Force’s C-17 deputy program manager, in a Sept. 10 interview.
In the nearly two decades of service, the Air Force’s C-17 fleet has logged more than 2.6 million flight hours, according to Boeing. In addition to their combat support activities, C-17s have participated in relief efforts after every major natural disaster over that span, said Nan Bouchard, Boeing’s C-17 program manager. (See the company’s release.) C-17s also perform missions like transporting satellites to launch bases and hauling gear during Presidential trips.
Alone, in the period from Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 4, 2013, Air Force C-17s flew more than 550,000 missions—some two million flying hours—carrying nearly six million passengers and four million short tons of cargo, said AMC’s Barnsley. Since 2006, C-17s have air-dropped more than 84,000 bundles and 132 million pounds of cargo, she said.
Despite that bustling pace, the C-17 has had the highest mission-capable rate of any mobility platform year over year, said Steele. “We are at basically 84 percent plus . . . over the last six years,” he said.
The C-17 fleet averages about 10,000 flight hours per airframe, according to Air Force Materiel Command. The oldest production C-17, tail number 91192, had 19,772 flight hours as of last count. That aircraft arrived at then-Charleston AFB, S.C., in June 1993. It became part of the 17th Airlift Squadron, the first C-17 combat-ready unit.
Steele said the C-17’s design specifications call for 30 years of service life and 30,000 hours of equivalent flight time.
The airframes are holding up “very well,” despite the fact that the Air Forces uses them “extensively and in pretty difficult environments,” he said. “We have not seen any significant issues . . . just normal wear and tear,” he said.
While the Air Force is doing a number of studies and analyses on the airframes, there are no service life-extension initiatives underway right now, he said.
For now, the C-17 remains “the backbone” of Defense Department airlift capability and “the premier airlifter of the world,” Col. David Morgan, chief of the C-17 combined program office, told the Daily Report on Sept. 10. It is a “very dependable, very reliable airframe,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Timothy Zadalis, commander of the 618th Air and Space Operations Center at Scott AFB, Ill., said the Air Force would face “a much greater challenge” in providing global reach in support of national objectives without the C-17 fleet and its aircrews and maintainers. The center coordinates the activities of the Air Force’s strategic airlifters and tankers.
“The C-17 offers incredible versatility to satisfy airlift, airdrop, and aeromedical evacuation mission sets into a variety of operating environments, from well-established airfields to austere semi-prepared landing surfaces,” he told the Daily Report in a written statement. “The C-17, along with the team of mobility enterprise airmen around the world, allows us to answer the call, so others may prevail,” he said.