Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Does the world need a STOL C17?

Aviation Week is ruminating about the fate of the C17 production line. The Air Force has bought most, nearly all, the c17's it wants/can afford/can-get-funding-for. AFAIR that's 187 aircraft. It's a good plane, a lot better than the aging C5, but expensive. The RAF bought 4 or 5 and the Europeans bought a few more, but it's so expensive that only USAF can afford it. So, Boeing is looking at shutting down the lucrative C17 production line next summer. Once shut down, it's gone for good. So Boeing is doing everything it can to generate some more orders for the plane to keep the production line open and the money coming in.
Latest plan is to offer a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) version of the plane. More wheels to spread the weight so it doesn't sink in to dirt fields, more engine power, bigger flaps. Might work, but does anyone really want to fly something that big. heavy and expensive into a dirt field? And risk ground looping it? The world is covered with real airfields, the kind with 5000 foot paved runways. Better is to fly the big long range C17 into a real airfield, and swap the cargo over to a real STOL aircraft like the old reliable C130. Air cargo all goes onto pallets with rollers on the bottom. It only takes minutes for the loadmaster to undo the tiedowns and roll the palletized cargo out the rear ramp onto a loader/crawler vehicle. The loader rumbles across the ramp to a C-130 and in a few minutes the cargo is all inside the C130.
Actually, in real life, the long range C17 coming in from the States has a mixed cargo intended for everyone in theater. So they cargo comes of the C17 and into a warehouse. The C130, going upcountry to supply troops off some bean patch, gets a mixed load of stuff off the C17, locally purchased food and drink, ammo that came in by ship last month, and whatever.
In short, the C17 is a good long range transport that needs STOL capabilty like a snake needs shoes.
Boeing needs to keep hoping that the project to rebuild and re engine the aging C5's gets scrapped and the Air Force uses the extra money to buy more C17's. That would probably be a better use of tax payer funds. C5 was a disaster when it was new. McNamara and his whiz kids managed to screw up the design beyond recovery. We would be better retiring it and going with something newer.

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