Why the $340 million C-17 Globemaster III became the center of evacuation efforts

  • The U.S. Air Force considers the C-17 Globemaster the most flexible cargo aircraft in their fleet.
  • The C-17 is capable of taking off with 172,000 pounds (78,018kg) of various cargo and landing on short runways.
  • It was recently used in the emergency evacuation of Afghan refugees after the Taliban takeover.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: The C-17 Globemaster III is capable of airdropping 102 paratroopers and transporting massive cargo anywhere in the world. Armed with cutting-edge aviation electronics, the C-17 can cost up to $US340 ($AU467) million per plane. The C-17 has been used to safely transport COVID patients from hostile areas, provide aid to the Philippines after a hurricane in 2013, and assist in the evacuations out of Afghanistan in August 2021. Insider got an up-close look at the C-17, also known as the Moose.

You can load 172,000 pounds (78,018kg) of cargo on here, whether it has to do with vehicles or any type of palletized cargo. We can take people.

Narrator: That’s C-17 crew chief Staff Sgt. Joshua Estell. He helps oversee the 13 C-17s stationed at Travis Air Force Base. Cargo is loaded through these ramps at the back of the aircraft.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Nettles: So my role here as a C-17 loadmaster is to load these aircraft, and we want to ensure the weight and balance. We are the most busy as loadmasters on the ground.

Narrator: The rear door can also open mid-flight to perform an airdrop, where cargo is offloaded over a designated area.

Doing airdrop is a bit high-pressure. We’ll configure our aircraft in a specific manner so that we can actually ensure that it extracts from the aircraft, or at least as safe as we can possibly make it.

Narrator: When performing an airdrop, the plane flies to a low altitude and depressurizes. The loadmaster opens the door, releases the locks, and allows gravity to move the cargo out.

Joshua: The initial decompression is a very strong force. However, once the aircraft pressure equalizes to the altitude in which you’re at, there’s no more suction. It’s just going to be windy.

Narrator: For crew members, a harness will keep them safe.

We’re not going to have to hold onto something and everything being sucked out of an aircraft. That’s a very common misconception created in Hollywood.

Narrator: The C-17 is set up to have 188 seated passengers total.

Joshua: There’s 54 side-wall seats, 27 on each side. We can also load palletized seats, so if we need more people here.

Narrator: The C-17 is equipped to carry 102 paratroopers with their gear, but loadmasters can remove the palletized seating and fit many more people in an emergency. Above the cargo hold is the cockpit. The C-17 cockpit has four seats. One for the pilot, one for the copilot, and two rear seats for any additional crew onboard.

So we actually have two bunks equipped. So that way, if we have an extended day, the pilots can sleep, the loadmasters can sleep.

Narrator: Just behind the cockpit and through the sleeping area is an escape hatch.

That way, the pilots and everybody that’s up here can get out if we need to in case we land on water. Right here shows you the top of the jet.

Narrator: Flying the C-17 requires specialized training due to its many unique features. There’s a couple of things again that makes the C-17 unique, because a C-17 has a stick. Usually heavy aircraft have a yoke.

Narrator: The C-17 is one of the few large cargo aircraft with a heads-up display, or HUD.

A HUD takes a lot of the pertinent and valuable information we need as pilots and puts it right in front of our face. Our airspeed, our attitude, our altitude, how fast we’re climbing or descending is all right in front of my face in a very small square.

Narrator: Getting a plane as big and heavy as a fully-loaded C-17 to take off requires a lot of power. It starts with four Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, each capable of producing around 40,000 pounds (18,144kg) of thrust — power typically used to move the plane forward. During takeoff, the C-17 redirects that thrust downwards from its high-mounted wings to flow through these long external flaps, generating lift, or upward force. This design creates nearly twice as much lift as that of a conventional jet airliner. Pilots have to manage 22 different control surfaces to operate the C-17, using them to create more lift or to turn the massive vehicle.

Kelsey: So there’s actually ailerons on the wing, so one will rise while the other one stays down. So now you’re generating more lift on one wing versus the other, and that forces the wing to raise, which is how you get a turn.

Narrator: The final critical feature of the giant C-17 are actually these small winglets.

Kelsey: And those help focus more aerodynamic.

Narrator: Winglets make landing on short runways possible by preventing the airflow under the wing from rolling to the top, which helps reduce drag. In addition to the winglets, the C-17 uses the same thrust redirection in landings as it does in takeoffs. Pilots tilt the nose of the plane forward and add power to the engine, redirecting the thrust energy downwards. By gradually changing the angle of the wing flaps, they can slow down the speed of the aircraft and gradually lower the plane to the ground.

We don’t only conduct operations for the Air Force. If the Navy, the Marines, or the Army needs to go from one location to another, and they deem that a C-17 is what they would want to utilize, then they will contact us to move from one location to another.

Narrator: Today, the C-17 is flown by countries around the world, like the United Kingdom, Australia, and India. There are 274 C-17s across the globe, with 157 in the active use by the US Air Force. Boeing stopped production of the C-17 in 2015, but there is currently no plan to replace the plane.

As of right now, there’s no plans to decommission C-17. We are considered one of the workhorses of the military right now because how often we fly these jets, because how new they are and how reliable they are, and all the different capabilities that we have with the C-17.

This is my job. I’ve been in for 11 years now, and I was originally going to do four years and be done. I couldn’t get enough of it.