A C-17 Globemaster III from the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing parks on the flightline at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 11, 2015. US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht.
As a mil spouse with, in my not-so-humble opinion, a pretty rad husband, I regularly hear about workdays at the range and in the woods. Most of all, I like hearing him talk about the endless nights he’s spent on military aircraft. Like a small child enthralled by freight trains and dump trucks, I listen intently, with eyes wide, as dear hubby tells me about his high-flying adventures — about what it’s like to fly on a CH-47 helicopter, and a CV-22 tiltrotor, and of course, America’s fixed-wing continent-hopper, the C-17 Globemaster.
Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I have long felt as if I’ve boarded a C-17 and strung up a hammock right beside my husband’s on a 10-plus-hour flight over the ocean. That is until recently, when I actually flew on a Globemaster for the first time myself.
Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and the 60th Air Mobility Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California, load MRAP all-terrain vehicles onto a C-17 on Aug. 11, 2014. US Air Force photo by Maj. Brandon Lingle.
Climbing into the cavernous belly of a C-17 was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. The matte-gray giant is 174 feet long — nearly half the length of a football field, including the entire end zone. Its wingspan measures only four feet less. In its cargo hold, a C-17 can carry one 69-ton M1 Abrams tank, with more than 15 tons to spare, or up to three Black Hawk helicopters so long as their rotor blades are folded. In addition to the vehicles and equipment, the Globemaster can transport more than 100 paratroopers and drop them on target from its side doors or yawning back ramp.
While the Globemaster’s size boggles the mind, the airplane’s utility wowed me even more. The ceiling looks as if Boeing had forgotten to install a plane’s equivalent of drywall. Pipes, insulation, and wires snaked across the walls, fully exposed so mechanics can quickly make repairs. Replacement parts hung beside working parts, ready to be swapped in. From plastic-wrapped luggage to a pair of Ski-Doos, loadmasters secured all cargo with tow straps to the centerline of the aircraft’s modular floor.
At the flight line on Stratton Air National Guard Base, the C-17 was boarded by service members from the 109th Airlift Wing, who filed into the aircraft in two rows, one on either side of the cargo mountain. Then the soldiers folded out what resembled slingback beach chairs from the cabin walls. Any unused chairs remained flat against the walls and out of the way. With a groan, the Globemaster lumbered down the runway and took off, bound for Barren Land Arctic Survival Training in Greenland.
Coffee or Die video editor Ryan Fitting, left, and the author deplane a C-17 in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, May 2023. Photo courtesy of Maj. Nathan King.
While I continued to stare up at the steampunk ceiling, mouth probably agape, the airmen got comfortable on the C-17 like it was just another day at the office. They pulled out iPads, books or e-readers, and noise-canceling headphones to muffle the din of the jet engines. The logistical might of the American military no longer seemed to impress them — or at least not nearly as much as it impressed me.
Flying on a C-17 is kind of like visiting the Grand Canyon. You can tell your friends about it, and even show them pictures, but they won’t get it unless they actually experience it themselves. Or if you live by the canyon, it all starts to seem rather ordinary.
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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