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Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

The aircraft fleet of Strategic Airlift Capability Heavy Airlift Wing consists of three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets.


A SAC Boeing C-17 Globemaster III taking off at the HDF Pápa Air Base. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

​On this Page

What is a C-17?

Payload Options

Digital Environment


History and Development

SAC and the C-17

Technical Specifications

The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, manufactured in the United States, is a four-engine, T-tailed cargo aircraft with a rear-loading ramp. The three C-17 aircraft operated by the Strategic Airlift Capability Heavy Airlift Wing are based in the Hungarian Defence Forces Pápa Air Base. They bear the registrations SAC 01 – 03 and the national insignia of the SAC program host nation Hungary.

The C-17 is one of the most flexible military transport aircraft in service worldwide. Designed to fulfil a variety of airlift needs for military and humanitarian missions, the C-17 can carry cargo and personnel across long distances directly to small austere airfields anywhere in the world. With 72.6 tons (160,000 lbs.) of cargo the C-17 can take off from a 2,133 meter (7,000 ft.) airfield, fly unrefueled for a maximum distance of 4,400 kilometers (2,400 nautical miles) and land in 900 meters (3,000 ft.) on a small unpaved or paved airfield in day or night.

Thanks to its countermeasure systems it can also enter environments with an elevated air threat level. The aircraft can refuel while in flight from a tanker aircraft extending its range significantly.

LEARN MORE: News on SAC C-17 Operations


Wide Variety of Payloads

The C-17 can transport a variety of payloads such as palletized or oversize cargo, vehicles or personnel. Its cargo compartment has a loadable width of 5.50 meters and a maximum height of 4.50 meters (14.76 ft.) that enables cargo or vehicles to be placed in typically two rows up to a length of 20.78 meters (68.18 ft.).


The C-17 can transport a variety of vehicles and aircraft such as a maximum of two UH60 Blackhawk helicopters. Photo: USAREUR / Daniel Cole

The cargo ramp enables vehicles to drive directly into the aircraft from ground level and can then be used as extra cargo space when retracted. The full C-17 payload can consist of a maximum of eighteen 463L cargo pallets. Normal troop seating is accomplished with 54 fixed sidewall seats and / or 48 centerline cargo floor seats. For special configurations a maximum seating combination using sidewall seats and 9 seat pallets will support up to 188 passengers.


A full C-17 payload consists of eighteen 463L pallets. Photo: HAW / Juha Vehokari

The Strategic Airlift Capability C-17s can transport a wide variety of tracked or wheeled vehicles used by the SAC partner nations such as one M-1 main battle tank or infantry fighting vehicles including the Bradley, CV90 and Stryker. Three combat-ready Stryker infantry-fighting vehicles comprise one full load.The C-17 can also transport helicopters. A full C-17 load can comprise of two UH-60 Blackhawk utility military helicopters.

If a suitable area for landing is not available, the C-17 can also deliver its cargo by airdrop. The C-17 can drop 102 paratroopers plus 8 equipment bundles, a single 27.2 ton (60,000 lb.) payload or sequential load drops of 49.9 tons (110,000 lbs.) via aerial delivery.

LEARN MORE: SAC C-17s with various payloads in the SAC Image Gallery


Digital Aids Boost Crew Performance

The C-17 can be operated with a minimum crew of two pilots and one loadmaster. Depending on the demands of individual missions the crew can also be amended with other personnel such as the Flying Crew Chief (FCC), a specialist of the maintenance of the technical systems of the aircraft.


The systems of the C-17 such as the Head-Up Displays and the active matrix crystal displays provide the air crew with an easy access to relevant information about the aircraft systems and reduce its workload significantly. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

The C-17 offers its crew a modern work environment with systems that significantly reduce the workload of operating the complex aircraft. An essential part of them is the cockpit avionics suite that displays flight and systems information on four multi-function active matrix crystal displays and two Head-Up Displays (HUD) that show essential flight information. The aircraft avionics permit the pilots to execute airdrop to a precise ground location. Information on parachute ballistics, weather and various other parameters are fed directly into the navigation computer for guidance to an exact release point.


The C-17 is a capable platform for material and personnel delivery by airdrop to locations where landing is not possible. A Heavy Airlift Wing Loadmaster observes Container Delivery System (CDS) pallet exiting the rear cargo ramp of a SAC C-17 during an airdrop exercise event. During one airdrop a C-17 can deliver up to 40 CDS pallets by parachute. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

The aircraft is controlled through an electronic flight control system that converts pilot inputs to movements of the wing and tail control surfaces. It is backed up by a mechanical system in case of a technical failure.

When there is a need to operate in an environment with low level of light the crew can use Night Vision Goggles (NVG) that enable them to see in conditions approaching total darkness.

LEARN MORE: Heavy Airlift Wing, the Operational C-17 unit of SAC


Advanced Design

An important part of the versatility of the C-17 comes from its combination of efficient power plants and advanced aerodynamic design. The C-17 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 engines, each rated at 179.9 kN (40,400 lbs.) of thrust.

The wings of the C-17 follow a hypercritical design that includes an externally blown flap system. The system uses engine exhaust that is directed to the flaps to create an accelerated air flow that reduces landing speed and hence landing distance.


The C-17 is capable of using austere small airfields in its operations. Photo: HAW / Keith Grawert

The engines are equipped with thrust reversers, adjustable elements that direct the engine exhaust for different purposes.The thrust reversers direct thrust forward and up in a concentrated manner. After landing, reversers help to slow the aircraft. They also allow the C-17 to taxi backwards even at maximum gross weight up a 2 percent slope giving it maximum versatility on small austere airfields. The engine thrust reversers can also be deployed in flight to slow down the aircraft making it possible to carry out an approach to an airfield with a steep angle and at a slow speed thus avoiding threats at a lower flying altitude and enabling an accurate touchdown to a runway with limited space.

The engine thrust not only enables the C-17 to reach a cruise speed of over 0.74 Mach (906 km/h) but also allows the aircraft to fly very slowly.


History and Development

The basic design of the C-17 is derived from the YC-15, a four engine cargo jet experimental aircraft the McDonnell Douglas Corporation developed in the late 1970s as a proposal to meet the United States Air Force (USAF) requirement for the Advanced Medium STOL Transport project (AMST) that sought for a replacement for the lighter Lockheed C-130 tactical transport aircraft.


The C-17 can easily and quickly be reconfigured to serve different airlift mission requirements including transport of troops and passengers on different seat configurations. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

The AMST program was eventually cancelled but the YC-15 formed the basis for McDonnell Douglas's proposal for the USAF C-X program looking for a replacement for the larger Lockheed C-141 Starlifter cargo jet.

The C-17 won the C-X contest. It made its maiden flight in 1991 and proved to be a capable airlifter from the beginning. During flight-testing 33 world records were set – more than any other airlifter in history.

USAF declared the first C-17 squadron operational in January 1995. During its first years of service the aircraft quickly established an impressive track record. It supported successfully numerous military, peacekeeping, and humanitarian operations all around the world, first flying missions for USAF and later to an expanding community of international users. In 1997, McDonnell Douglas was merged with the Boeing Company and the C-17 was redesignated as the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

LEARN MORE: Boeing and the Strategic Airlift Capability

SAC and the C-17

The Strategic Airlift Capability decided to join the C-17 user community in 2008. The three SAC C-17 aircraft were built at the Boeing Long Beach Manufacturing Plant in California. SAC 01 made its first flight on July 1st 2009 and was delivered to its operator, the Heavy Airlift Wing on July 14th 2009. SAC 02 followed it in September and SAC 03 in October the same year.

Alongside the Strategic Airlift Capability, C-17 users in the order of fleet size operated by them include the United States Air Force, the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence, Qatar Emiri Air Force, Indian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Kuwait Air Force. In total, Boeing has delivered 260 C-17 aircraft that have amassed more than 2.6 million flight hours. At the core of the support to the C-17 weapon system is SAC`s membership in the C-17 Virtual Fleet.

One common technical configuration of the aircraft of all C-17 users allows parts and personnel to be exchanged between aircraft of individual countries and the Strategic Airlift Capability which creates one worldwide operating fleet of C-17's


Most of the SAC C-17 missions consist of delivery of cargo or personnel conventionally but also parachute assisted delivery of payloads such as this Static Line Jump of the paratroopers of the Norwegian Armed Forces is exercised regularly. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

LEARN MORE: SAC Milestones


C-17 Technical Specifications

Wing Span

51.74 m (169.8 ft.)
Length53.04 m (174 ft.)
Height at Tail

16.79 m (55.1 ft.)

Fuselage Diameter

6.86 m (22.5 ft.)

Operating Empty Weight128,140 kg (282,500 lbs.)
Maximum Take-off Weight265,352 kg (585,000 lbs.)

77,519 kg (170,900 lbs.) of cargo


With Full Payload: 4,480 km (2,420 nm)

With Paratroopers / 40,000 lbs. load: 10,390 km (5,610 nm)

Ferry (empty): 11,540 km (6,230 nm)


Power Plant

Four Pratt & Whitney PW2040s (military designation

F117-PW-100) with 40,440 pounds (179.9 kN) of thrust each


Cruise Speed906 km/h (Mach 0.74) @ sea level
Takeoff Field Length2,360 m (7,740 ft.) with max gross weight
Landing Field Length914.40 m (3000 ft.) with 160K lbs. of cargo


Payload Options


18 x 463L pallets

188 Passengers (9 seat pallets + sidewall seats)

102 Paratroopers + 8 Equipment Bundles

3 x Combat-ready Stryker Infantry Fighting Vehicles

1 x M-1 Main Battle Tank

2 x UH-60 Utility Helicopters


The range of a C-17 can be extended by using air to air refueling. A SAC C-17 is seen here approaching the refuel boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker tanker aircraft of the United States Air Force. Photo: USAFE / SrA Tabitha M. Lee

LEARN MORE: ​C-17 Globemaster @