C-17 Globemaster III

After two decades, the US Air Force has reached the saturation point with its big C-17 Globemaster aircraft.

C-17 builder Boeing earlier this month delivered its 223rd and final Globemaster to the Air Force -- that's it in the photo above, rolling out onto the flight line at the aerospace giant's facility in Long Beach, Calif. Still, the fleet of capacious cargo carriers likely has many years ahead of it in continuing to support missions both martial and humanitarian.

And while Boeing has completed its contractual obligations to the Air Force, it isn't quite done building C-17 aircraft. It still has 22 more Globemasters to put together for other customers around the world. But then that's it (save, of course, for years of support and modernization yet to come). Boeing said this week that it will finally cease C-17 production in 2015.

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Photo by: U.S. Air Force / Caption by:

Lieutenant Colonel is my copilot

The Air Force brought out the brass for the September 12 first flight of that final C-17 Globemaster III, a cross-country transit from Long Beach to Charleston, S.C. Here in the copilot's seat is Lt. Col. Doug Soho, the 437th Operations Group chief of standards and evaluations. Just out of sight to the left is the pilot's seat, which held a succession of starred occupants: Lt. Gen. James Jackson, Air Force Reserve commander, performed the take-off; Gen. Paul Selva, Air Mobility Command commander, took control midflight; and Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, Air National Guard director, landed the aircraft.

Last week's flight came almost 22 years to the day after the maiden flight of the C-17 (September 15, 1991), and the Air Force first took delivery of a production model in June 1993. To date, Boeing has delivered a grand total of 257 C-17 aircraft, including 34 to the UK, Australia, India, Qatar, and others.

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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Dennis Sloan / Caption by:

Takeoff from Aviano

The C-17 Globemaster is a big aircraft: 174 feet long and 55 feet high, with a wingspan of just under 170 feet. But despite its heft, the Air Force says that its design allows it to operate even in and out of "small, austere airfields," with runways as short as 3,500 feet. The C-17 seen here is taking off from Aviano Air Base in Italy.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mitch Fuqua / Caption by:

View from on high

Over the years, C-17 airlifters have been involved in ferrying troops and gear to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in delivering supplies and equipment on humanitarian missions including those following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Since 1991, the C-17 has amassed more than 2.6 million cumulative flight hours.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sean M. Worrell / Caption by:

Cockpit controls

Here's another look at the cockpit of a C-17. The aircraft has a range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles without aerial refueling; with in-flight refueling, its range is global. It has a cruising speed of 450 knots.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz / Caption by:

In the belly of the beast

The cargo compartment of the C-17 measures 88 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 12 feet, 4 inches high. These troops were on their way to deployment in Afghanistan in April 2011, having departed the transit center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stacy Moless / Caption by:

Boarding the C-17

A loadmaster (center) greets troops boarding a C-17 Globemaster III in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on July 25, 2013.

"Today we uploaded 137 passengers. First we put 53 on our sidewall seats and then the rest filled up the center line seats that we have installed on the aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Dequan Barthell, a loadmaster evaluator with the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Detachment 1. "Once we have the passengers on board, we normally have two to four baggage pallets to upload. So we have to reconfigure the ramp to upload the pallets and then we're on our way."

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Photo by: Photo by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez / Caption by:

Loadmaster evaluator

Barthell counts passengers prior to departure from Kandahar to the transit center at Manas.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force/Photo by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez / Caption by:

C-17 engine start

A loadmaster observes the engine start of a C-17 at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, on the lookout for any emergency situations.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force/Photo by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez / Caption by:

Medevac

One role for the C-17 is that of aeromedical evacuation, with a standard medical crew of five. The aircraft can accommodate 36 litter and 54 ambulatory patients and attendants. The wounded troops here are getting a checkout by the medevac crew before departing Germany en route to getting advanced-level care back in the United States.
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Photo by: Defense Department photo/Donna Miles / Caption by:

Roller kingdom

Rollers in the floor of the cargo compartment make it easier for ground crews to move heavy pallets of equipment in and out of the aircraft. How much can those airmen cram into the C-17? The big airlifter has a maximum payload capacity of 170,900 pounds.

The C-17, according to the Air Force, can carry just about any air-transportable equipment the Army brings its way.

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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards / Caption by:

Cargo chains

It wouldn't do for cargo to start moving around while the plane is in flight. That's what these chains are for. That utility truck being lashed down was headed to New York in November 2012 for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Greg C. Biondo / Caption by:

Truck, exiting

A refueling truck heads for the exit ramp in the tail of a C-17.
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Photo by: U.S. Army photo/Army Staff Sgt. Tierney P. Wilson / Caption by:

Boat, parachuting

Not all cargo waits till a C-17 reaches the ground. Here, a boat on a pallet gets airdropped over ocean waters somewhere near Guam.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen / Caption by:

Parachute jump

All those soldiers who can fit into the cargo area? They could, if need be, all be paratroopers.
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force photo /Airman 1st Class George Goslin / Caption by:
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