.The C-17 Globemaster III is the latest addition to the RAF’s inventory of transport aircraft. It is capable of rapid, strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases anywhere in the world, or directly to more temporary forward operating bases owing to its short field capability. The design of the aircraft allows it to carry out high-angle, steep approaches at relatively slow speeds, thus allowing it to operate into small, austere airfields onto runways as short as 3,500 feet long and only 90 feet wide. The aircraft can operate into and out of problematic sites such as those surrounded by inhospitable terrain or made difficult by adverse weather conditions. The fully-integrated, electronic flight-deck and the advanced cargo-handling systems allow a basic crew of only two pilots and one air loadmaster to operate the aircraft. On the ground, the aircraft can be turned in a very small radius and its four Pratt & Whitney engines are fully reversible, giving it the ability to manoeuvre into and out of restricted parking or freight-offload areas at undeveloped strips. This enables the C-17 to deliver cargo to small airfields with limited parking space in a shorter time, so increasing throughput where time on the ground is kept to a minimum. The C-17 can transport 45,360kgs of freight over 4,500 nautical miles whilst flying at heights in excess of 30,000 feet.
Cargo is loaded on to the C-17 through a large rear door that can accommodate military vehicles and palletised cargo. It can carry almost all of the Army’s air-transportable, outsized combat equipment, from three Warrior armoured vehicles or 13 Land Rovers, to a Chinook helicopter or three Apache-sized helicopters. It carries all its own role-equipment and can fit centre-line seating, which increases the seating capacity from 54 side-wall seats to 102 seats. The aircraft can also be configured in the aeromedical evacuation role to carry a full stretcher fit. The C-17 needs little or no ground support equipment and if none is available it can perform a combat off-load where pallets are dropped from the aircraft ramp on to the taxiway or hardstanding.
The C-17 gives the RAF a longrange strategic heavy-lift transport aircraft that offers the ability to project and sustain an effective force close to a potential area of operations for combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions worldwide. The aircraft is a declared part of the UK’s Joint Rapid Reaction Force and the RAF is currently the only European force which can offer ‘outsize airlift’ assets from within its own inventory. In 2004 the MoD announced the intention to buy the current fleet of aircraft at the conclusion of the current lease arrangement in 2008 and to purchase two additional aircraft.
In Nov 2000, 99 Squadron was reformed to operate the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The first of the squadron’s four initial C-17s was delivered to the RAF on May 17 2001, arriving at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire on May 23. One of the first high profile missions of the squadron was the deployment of Lynx helicopters and support equipment to Macedonia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force. This deployment was codenamed Operation Bessemer.
Since then, the squadron has been actively involved in support of other operations such as Op TELIC (Iraq), and currently Op HERRICK (Afghanistan). The first mission flown into Iraq by 99 Squadron was on May 21 2003; the destination was Tallil airbase. Subsequent missions were flown into Basrah International airport. With its highly capable fleet of C17s, 99 Squadron has been involved in a variety of other roles including Specialist Aeromedical Evacuation (34 missions in 2009), Repatriations and Humanitarian Relief (2004 Asian Tsunami, 2010 Chilean earthquake, 2010 Pakistan floods).
The C-17 has become an essential component of the UK Strategic Airlift requirement and the original 4 leased aircraft were bought by the Ministry of Defence in 2008 along with an additional 2 identical platforms. The fleet will be complimented by a seventh aircraft in Dec 2010