Military Transport Aircraft

With the global nature of warfare today airlift is fundamental for delivering food, ammunition, vehicles and equipment into conflict zones. On this page you’ll find everything you need to know about the airforces’ transport aircraft and rotorcraft large and small.

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An in-depth look at Canada's changing air force

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Why Russia's airlift and helicopter fleets are struggling

The severing of co-operation between Russia and Ukraine, following the former’s 2014 annexation of Crimea is having serious repercussions on Russian airlifters and military helicopters

The larger transport aircraft emerged in the 1930s and World War II drove their development as the United States fought two wars, in Europe and in the Pacific, and the United Kingdom fought in Europe, North Africa and the Far East. The United States Army and the RAF operated the Douglas C-47 Dakota transport for troops and cargo during World War II; the US Airforce did not exist until September 1947.

Like many of the military transport aircraft used at the time, the C-47 was a version of a civilian airliner. Even today this is true, the Airbus A330 airliner has a military multirole, refuelling, tanker and transport version that is used by a number of airforces including the RAF, the French Armee de l’air and the Republic of Korea Airforce.

The Cold War saw the fixed wing transport anfmd its helicopter equivalent developed to meet the global reach of the superpowers’ confrontation. In the 1950s and 1960s, the RAF flew the Blackburn Beverley C. Mk 1 which at the time was the RAF’s largest aircraft, with a wingspan of 162 feet and powered by four 2,850-hp Bristol Centaurus turboprops.

In the Vietnam war, the helicopter became a major transport asset and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, also known as the Huey, was the primary troop carrier in the field. Historically the Russians have built the largest transport helicopters. Their Mil Mi-26 is the world’s largest transport helicopter, it can carry 20 metric tonnes of cargo or vehicles and entered service in the early 1980s; a few years after the start of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan.

Stay up to date with the latest Military Transport Aircraft News

In this section you will be able to read the latest transport aircraft news, whether it is about the in-development Russian Ilyushin IL-112V light troop transport, or the Airbus A400M Grizzly, currently used by the French military. The modern-day transport fixed wing aircraft began in the 1950s when the United States Airforce (USAF) bought the Lockheed Martin C-130, which does not need a paved runway. It can transport troops, provide medical evacuation and vehicle transport, and updated versions are operating today with a large number of militaries.

The USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster entered service in the 1990s for cargo transport with a 77 metric tonne payload capacity more than triple the C-130, but it is the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy that is the largest transport aircraft in the USAF fleet. Entering into service in the 1970s, the Galaxy carries helicopters and ground vehicles. Its current version is the Super Galaxy, C-5M, with a maximum payload of 127 metric tonnes. The last of the 52 C-5s upgraded to this latest type were delivered to the USAF in 2018. Russia’s heaviest transport aircraft, the Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan, entered service in the 1980s, has a 120 metric tonne capacity and still operates today. China began operating its heavy lift aircraft, the Xian Y-20 Kunpeng in 2016.

In the 21st Century the Boeing Bell V-22 Osprey tiltrotor entered service with the US Marine Corps (USMC) as a troop carrier with a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability. Smaller aircraft for troop deployment includes the US special forces’ Boeing MH-6 Little Bird helicopter, used for delivering troops into the heart of combat zones. The USMC will be the first to receive the US military’s most capable transport helicopter, which enters service in the next few years, the Sikorsky C-53K King Stallion. It is the successor to the Super Stallion and can carry 12 metric tonnes.

From heavy lift VTOL to tiltrotors and new and old fixed wing strategic long-range transports, all the latest news about these logistics machines can be found on this page.

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