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Meet the C-17, the 'workhorse' of the Air Force

The ample airlifter has supported missions both martial and humanitarian. Now Boeing has delivered its last one to the Air Force as it gets ready to power down its C-17 assembly lines.

Jon Skillings Director of copy editing
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is director of copy editing at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing tech publications back when the web was just getting under way. He writes occasionally, on topics from GPS to James Bond.
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  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
2 min read
Boeing C-17 Globemaster
The final Boeing C-17 Globemaster III for the US Air Force takes off from a Boeing facility in Long Beach, Calif., on September 12, 2013. Boeing

Fighter jets have the sizzle. Bombers bring the oomph. But cargo aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster can always take pride in doing a good day's work.

The C-17 likely has many years of service ahead of it, but the US Air Force won't be getting any new ones any more. Manufacturer Boeing earlier this month delivered its final C-17 to the Air Force, bring the total over the last 20 years to 223. It has also delivered 34 additional Globemasters to other customers in the UK, India, and elsewhere.

The big cargo carrier has seen duty both in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and in humanitarian efforts including Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005 and post-Fukushima cleanup in 2011.

"C-17s are the workhorse for the U.S. Air Force in wartime and in peace," said Chris Chadwick, Boeing Military Aircraft president, in a statement marking the final delivery.

One last C-17 for the Air Force (pictures)

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And these are big aircraft: 174 feet long and 55 feet high, with a wingspan of just under 170 feet and a maximum gross takeoff weight of 585,000 pounds. (The max payload capacity is a brawny 170,900 pounds). Even so, the C-17 Globemaster III can operate from "small, austere airfields" with runways as short as 3,500 feet, according to the Air Force.

The maiden flight of the C-17 was September 15, 1991, almost exactly 22 years to the day ahead of the first flight of the 223rd C-17 on September 12 of this year. The Air Force first took delivery of a production model in June 1993.

While Boeing has completed its contractual obligations to the Air Force, it still has a smattering of C-17 aircraft to build, an additional 22 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.

A loadmaster (center) greets troops boarding a C-17 Globemaster III in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in July 2013. Photo by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez