The iron angels of hope from Afghanistan | Daily News
USAF’s Operation Allies Refuge:

The iron angels of hope from Afghanistan

On the ground and in the air, the C-17 is a formidable machine-C-17 releasing flares
On the ground and in the air, the C-17 is a formidable machine-C-17 releasing flares

As the American troops made their exit from Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, the Taliban began to wield their influence. Thousands of frightened innocent civilians gathered at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Amidst the global COVID pandemic and fear of the Taliban, the eyes of the Afghan refugees were focused on one huge aircraft, parked on the apron of the airport.

The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III also fondly known as the “Moose” is a heavy transport aircraft of the US Air Force (USAF). Some of these Afghans may have already been familiar with the thundering roar created by this giant plane on takeoff at the Bagram Air Base during the last 20 years.

People pushed frantically in the hope of boarding these flights, hoping to escape the Taliban and find freedom. Global media aired the image of a young man falling to his death after one of these aircraft taxied into flight mode. Amidst this trepidation, a pregnant woman went into labour pains in midair, and the US Air Force pilots had to reduce altitude in order to make the woman more comfortable. Minutes after the Globemaster landed at the Ramstein Air Base, Germany, medical crews of the 83 Airlift Wing rushed to assist the pregnant woman and this innocent baby girl was born even as these events with international political ripple effects unfolded. The call sign of this aircraft was Reach 828 and the baby girl was named Reach after that call sign.

The US Air Force European Command (USEUCOM) found itself as the epicentre of delivering safe airlift, food and medicine to thousands of Afghan refugees. All the C-17 Globemaster Aircraft flew out of Ramstein Air Base Germany. As the flights departed, hundreds of US Air Force personnel swung into action on the base preparing to host these displaced people. Large tents had to be set up. Medical crews were placed on standby. Teams set up 557 large tents and 23,500 beds. Military chefs prepared almost 164,000 meals.

Previously it was estimated that 640 people can board a flight but one Globemaster crew surpassed this and carried 823 refugees in a wonderful manifestation of compassion. Almost 14,000 people were airlifted initially using 55 aircraft. At present, almost 115,000 people have been airlifted to safety in the biggest-ever peacetime airlift. While the C-17 carried the most number of people, other military aircraft such as Airbus A400M Atlas, Airbus A330MRRT, Lockheed Martin C-130 and even a few civilian airliners were involved in the mercy mission.

The C-17 is the most flexible aircraft to enter the airlift force of the United States Air Force. It is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and assortments of cargo to any forward base. The induction of this flying giant has augmented the worldwide air mobility requirements of the United States Air Force. Aviation enthusiasts have been dazzled by large aircraft for decades. The heavy transporters that serve the US military enjoy their own realm of glory. The USAF has an astonishing fleet of aircraft - both planes and helicopters.

Interestingly, the C-17 is the third airlifter to bear the Globemaster name. Prior to this aircraft, two other aircraft served the USAF; they are the C-74 and C-124 models. The present C-17 Squadron is known as the 21st Airlift Squadron (the Bee Liners). This squadron can trace its history as far back as March 1942. Years ago, the pilots had flown the B-17 Flying Fortress and the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport plane. At present, the C-17 Squadron has taken part in many operations, and in the recent past has been actively engaged in delivering relief items with regard to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The C-17 engaged in its maiden flight in September 1991, and the first production plane was delivered to the Charleston Air Force Base. The first squadron of the C-17 was the 17th Airlift Squadron operational by 1995. Unfortunately, the C-17 is no longer being produced, with the Indian Air Force grabbing the last one off the Boeing production line in 2015. Around 280 Globemasters were built by Boeing from 1991 until that year.

The C-17 Globemaster III was inducted at the Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in August 2006. In addition to the Globemaster, this base also has flying formations of the C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft and the KC-10 Extender aircraft. Aviation enthusiasts know that the KC-10 is a giant aerial refuelling tanker aircraft which can safely carry 356,000 pounds of fuel. The 60th Air Mobility Wing has approximately 7,060 active duty Air Force personnel, with a large number of reserve personnel.

In addition to flying out of the Travis Air Force Base, California, the Globemaster is also flown by pilots attached to the Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington and Joint Base Charleston, New Jersey. In addition, some Air National Guard bases also fly this aircraft. The C-17 is also operated by the Air Forces of the UK, Australia, Canada, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and NATO.

The C-17 Globemaster is a high wing, four-engine, T-tail military airlifter. It has the capacity to carry a massive payload of 169,000 pounds. The aircraft has an international range. Though it is so large the Globemaster can take off and land on small airfields, on runways measuring just 3,500 feet. In addition, the C-17 can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions. Over the past few decades, the size and weight of the US mechanised firepower have consistently evolved. In this backdrop, the formidable Globemaster can deliver its payload for combat, humanitarian or peacekeeping missions. According to an Air Force officer, reliability and maintainability are the enduring hallmarks of the C-17 system.

The Globemaster measures 174 feet in length (53 metres) with an incredible wingspan of 169 feet (51 metres) and a height of 55 feet. One might wonder how such a heavy plane becomes airborne. The aircraft is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines. The engine weighs 7,100 pounds and effortlessly unleashes 40,440 pounds of thrust that energises the Globemaster. Thrust reversers enable the planes to reverse whilst taxing. These advanced design characteristics enable the C-17 to easily fly in and out of short runways. The cruise speed is almost 450 knots at an aerial ceiling of 28,000 feet. The Globemaster has a service ceiling of 45,000 feet. Its wings display a supercritical airfoil design; the flaps are fixed vane and simple hinged. This creates less drag and high efficiency.

For cargo operations, the crew of this aircraft consists of three highly skilled Air Force personnel, a pilot, a co-pilot and the loadmaster. The modern fully integrated electronic “glass” cockpit enables the pilots to operate all systems. The advanced cargo systems are duly operated by an experienced loadmaster - the person who is responsible for loading this massive aircraft. The loadmaster is accountable for properly loading, securing and escorting all cargo and passengers. The aircraft loadmaster has to perform custom load calculations before every flight, as each mission is different. The cargo load must be distributed evenly. The cargo is loaded onto the aircraft by a large aft ramp and door system. The cargo compartment is 88 feet long.

The C-17 is capable of carrying and delivering many types of equipment used by the United States Army, including the highly formidable M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT). Designed by Chrysler Defence, the composite armoured Abrams tank is the main battle tank of the US Army and US Marine Corps, with a weight of 68 tonnes. This battle tank can be airlifted by the Globemaster aircraft which is testament to the power of this plane. The C-17 can airdrop a 60,000-pound payload in a single drop. Another unique feature of this aircraft is that its flat floor can be rolled to accommodate tracked military vehicles. The pilots of the Globemaster can turn the aircraft on any type of airfield using a special three-point star turn. It can also be refuelled in midair by tanker aircraft such as KC-135, KC 46 or the Airbus A400m to give an almost infinite range, though the plane can still fly around 5,000 Km with a medium-level payload.

For combat deployments, this versatile plane can deliver 134 soldiers with their accompanying equipment to any battlefield area. The aircrews also undertake aero-medical missions. During these flights that save lives, an additional crew of five medical technicians and nurses join the C-17.

Many desperate Afghan people have now found a new chapter in life, having endured so much loss and emotional trauma over the last few days. There is much more to be done in terms of their resettlement. And the US Air Force and other Air Forces around the world rose to the occasion and saved thousands of lives.

In the meantime, the C-17 will continue to fly well into the 2050s, giving a lifeline to people all over the world.

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