On 29 August 1981 McDonnell Douglas (since 1997 incorporated into Boeing) was selected to proceed with a design to fulfil the USAF's C-X requirement for a new heavy cargo transport. Although the aircraft reached initial operational capability only in January 1995, it is now revitalizing the USA's strategic airlift capability.
The winning design was designated C-17A, and lalter received the name GLobemaster III. Retaining the now-classic military transport aircraft configuration, the C-17 also incorporates advanced-technology features such as winglets, a supercritical wing section and high-performance turbofans with thrust reversers.
The C-17 can routinely operate from airfields previously denied to jet-powered transports. The cockpit is state-of-the-art, with four multi-function displays, and a head-up display for each pilot. Flight control is effected by a fly-by-wire system, and the pilots each have a control column rather than the conventional yoke.
After an earlier full-scale development schedule had been abandoned, the single prototype of the C-17A made its maiden flight on 15 September 1991. Deliveries to the 17th Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB, SOuth Carolina, began in June 1993. Continued opposition to the C-17 reduced procurement from 210 aircraft to 120 by 1991, and subsequently to an even lower minimum of 40 aircraft. The controlling and radical reduction of production costs and the manifest capabilities of the type then saw the previous total of 120 reinstated for delivery by 2005.
A further 15 have been added later for the support of the US Special Forces, and the prospect of another 45 standard airlifters for the USAF was under possible consideration. In addition, the Royal Air Force's No.99 started operating four leased C-17As in 2001.