Global C-17 fleet surpasses four million flight hours

Almost 30 years after the platform first graced the skies, the global fleet of Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift strategic transports surpassed the four million flight hour milestone on January 15.

The four millionth flight hour was passed by a C-17A assigned to the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 437th Airlift Wing, during a sortie from Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina. The flight was crewed by active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve airmen. The milestone comes as part of the Globemaster III’s ongoing participation in supporting airlift operations for combat and humanitarian missions across the world.

C-17A [USAF/Louis Briscese]
The global fleet of Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift strategic transports surpassed four million flight hours on January 15, 2021. USAF/Louis Briscese

Col Scott Ekstrom, C-17 System programme manager at the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said: “This is a significant milestone for the programme. It is truly a testament to the dedication and hard work that has gone into producing and keeping the C-17 fleet operational and effective over the years. It has been a team effort, everyone who has supported the C-17 fleet should take pride in this milestone.

“The C-17 was the global platform of choice to address the challenges of 2020. It is very fitting that the entire C-17 community can celebrate this major milestone at the start of 2021,” he added.

The USAF was not the only air arm to celebrate the passing of the C-17’s four millionth flight hour, as the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) No 99 Squadron took to social media to highlight the milestone. In a Twitter post, the unit highlighted that the RAF had contributed 140,000 hours (3.5%) of the global fleet’s total flight hour number.

C-17 four million flight hours patch [USAF]
In preparation for this major milestone, Kevin Torres - a section chief and avionics engineer with the C-17 Program Office - created a patch to mark the passing of the four millionth flight hour. The white stars above the C-17 represent the nine operators of the platform and the moose below the aircraft has been added to honour the Globemaster's unofficial nickname. USAF

In June 1993, the USAF accepted its first serial C-17A and today it maintains a fleet of 222 aircraft. Another 53 examples are in operational service with eight foreign nations, comprising Australia (8); Canada (5); India (11); Kuwait (2); NATO (3); Qatar (8); the United Arab Emirates (8) and the UK (8). According to the USAF, this global fleet is expected to still be flying beyond 2070.

“The C-17 is a robust, solid platform that can get in and out of airstrips with significant cargo better than any airlifter out there. We are seeing that the aircraft can fly longer than its initial design, but not without updates and modernisation,” Ekstrom concluded.