The roar of their engines as they lumber down the runway is unmistakable. What follows is a whistling echo and the faint smell of jet fuel as they disappear into the ever-present Northwest cloud cover.
Residents living within a 15- to 20-mile radius of Joint Base Lewis-McChord likely have gazed skyward, watching these behemoth aircraft soar into the distance while wondering what they are, where they are headed, and what they are carrying.
The primary aircraft that depart from JBLM on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis are from the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of C-17 Globemaster IIIs. The “C” in “C-17” aptly stands for cargo, with a capacity for 102 troops or paratroops; 36 litter (patients who must lie down) and 54 ambulatory patients and accompanying medical attendants; or 170,900 pounds of cargo on up to 18 pallets.
When pedestrians, homeowners, and drivers along Interstate 5 spot a C-17 departing, the crew of two pilots and one loadmaster aboard can be headed just about anywhere. Most commonly, these aircraft are participating in sorties, training missions to keep the aircrew in a constant state of readiness.
When not flying sorties, the C-17 can be called upon for rapid delivery of troops and cargo to main operating bases throughout the world. Moreover, spare seats on the aircraft can be filled by military members and their dependents traveling for leisure through the Air Force Air Mobility Command Space-Available (Space-A) program.
Most importantly, the aircraft is often called upon for the rapid delivery of critical personnel and supplies directly to forward bases in deployment areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The aircraft’s design allows it to operate in a myriad of locations, including airfields as short as 3,500 feet and only 90 feet wide. If airfield conditions are unfavorable, cargo can be deployed through airdrop.
The C-17 is operated by Air Mobility Command and can be found at other bases, such as Travis Air Force Base in California, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
The C-17 Globemaster III
Primary Function: Cargo and troop transport
Prime Contractor:Boeing Company
Power Plant: Four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines
Thrust: 40,440 pounds per engine
Wingspan: 169 feet 10 inches (to winglet tips)
Length: 174 feet
Height: 55 feet 1 inch
Cargo Compartment: length, 88 feet; width, 18 feet; height, 12 feet 4 inches
Speed: 450 knots at 28,000 feet (Mach .74)
Service Ceiling: 45,000 feet at cruising speed
Range: Global with in-flight refueling
Crew: Two pilots and one loadmaster
Maximum Peacetime Takeoff Weight: 585,000 pounds
Inventory: Active duty, 187; Air National Guard, 12; Air Force Reserve, 14