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C-17 fleet hits milestone; reaches 4 million flight hours

Kevin Torres, a section chief and avionics engineer in the C-17 Program Office, created a patch to commemorate the four million flight hour mark reached by the C-17 fleet in January of 2021. (Courtesy photo)

Kevin Torres, a section chief and avionics engineer in the C-17 Program Office, created a patch to commemorate the four million flight hour mark reached by the C-17 fleet in January of 2021. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- After almost 30 years of flight and thousands of combat and humanitarian missions around the world, Airmen and various stakeholders celebrated the C-17 Globemaster III fleet hitting four million flight hours on January 15, 2021 during a flight flown out of the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston with a crew comprised of active-duty, guard and reserve Airmen.  

“This is a significant milestone for the program,” said Col. Scott Ekstrom, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center C-17 System Program Manager, responsible for the modernization and sustainment of the C-17 fleet. “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.”

Nicknamed the “Moose” due to the bellowing sound it makes while refueling on the ground, the C-17 is a flexible aircraft capable of performing tactical airlift and airdrop missions and rapid delivery of troops, and cargo anywhere in the world.

In preparation for the milestone, the C-17 Program Office held a contest to design and select an unofficial patch to recognize the aircraft and honor the people responsible for its success. Kevin Torres, a section chief and avionics engineer in the office submitted the winning patch design.

“There are some significant features on the patch,” said Torres. “Along the top are nine stars that represent the U.S. and eight foreign coalition partners that fly C-17s. In the center of the patch, is the illustration of the front view of the aircraft, and the two years on the sides; 1991 and 2021, representing the year of the first flight and four million hour flight respectively.”

 “We need C-17s every day,” added Torres. “This platform has been meeting a need during this pandemic like no other platform; delivering medical supplies and equipment and transporting patients infected with Coronavirus.”

Comprised of 275 U.S. and allied aircraft, the fleet is expected to fly 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,” said Ekstrom. “We are seeing that the aircraft can fly longer than its initial design, but not without updates and modernization.”

Some of the on-going modernization efforts include replacing the pilot’s Heads-Up Display and upgrading the radio and satellite communications capabilities on the aircraft.

Due to its versatility, the C-17 continues to add more mission capabilities supporting customers from across the DoD community.  

The U.S. Air Force has a strong partnership with the eight foreign partners who operate 53 C-17 aircraft.  Through the C-17 program office, the USAF and partners sustain and support C-17 fleet operations around the globe through a single, symbiotic “Virtual Fleet” arrangement.  The Virtual Fleet not only makes the C-17 affordable for all partners but also increases each country’s aircraft availability. 

The C-17 provides all operators with strategic airlift capability enabling them to provide support that was not possible previously.  A recent example is the relief response following the Beirut explosion in August 2020 from multiple countries utilizing the C-17 to provide immediate humanitarian aid.  With the C-17’s capability to fly long distances and get in and out of austere airfields, multiple partners responded with humanitarian relief within hours.    

“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,” stated Ekstrom.

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