CAHS 2009 Convention-5 The remarkable CC-177

The 2009 CAHS national convention’s final speaker reports he is always eager to talk at length about his new steed — that’s how impressive the new CC-177 transport is. “I’m always looking to talk about the airplane,” said Capt. Jeff Jackson, a crew commander and instructor with the Canadian Forces’ 429 (Transport) Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton. “It’s a fantastic airplane and I just love flying it.”

Tracing the history of the CC-177, Jackson said it goes back to the 1970s, when the U.S. Air Force wanted to this requirement for an Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST) a STOL replacement for the capable C-130 Hercules. Responding were Boeing, Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas. In time, the USAF refined its requirement to an aircraft that could replace three Lockheed products: the C-141 Starlifter, the C-130 Hercules and the C-5A Galaxy. Specifically, it had to be a jet aircraft of about the same size as the C-141, but with the C-5’s ability to carry ”outsize” cargo and the Hercules’ agility.

The design prepared by McDonnell Douglas (which was later acquired by Boeing) was chosen and a contract for the construction of the C-17 was signed in 1985. To speed development and control costs, “a lot of the stuff in this aircraft is from other aircraft that McDonnell Douglas built,” said Jackson. “The cockpit is from a DC-10.”

The C-17 is 10 feet wider and 20 feet longer than the C-141, though it can carry 100,000 lbs. more cargo than the latter. Its cargo bay is 12.25 feet high (even higher between the wing box and the aft and) and 18 feet wide, compared with 13.5 feet for the C-141, which means the CC-177 could handle two tractor-trailer units, side by side. “You could have a hockey game in the back — it’s that big!” said Jackson. The storage area on the C-17’s tail ramp, for example, can carry 40,000 lbs. — equivalent to an entire Herc load. And compared with the Herc, the C-17 can carry three times more, into a field of only 3,000 feet, thanks to its highly efficient wing.

In all, 180 C-17s have been delivered to or ordered for the USAF. Examples have also been acquired b the RAF, the RAAF and the Canadian Forces, which designates it as the CC-177. All C-17s, regardless of the service flying them, are identical.

Canada has purchased four of these versatile machines, with the first entering service in August 2007 and the last in May 2008. Because the USAF agreed to give up spaces on the production line, only 22 months elapsed between the time the program was announced until the last aircraft arrived. Canadian CC-177 crews train with the USAF, logging 40 simulator “rides” and three flights with experienced crews — one in daylight, one at night using night vision goggles and then a check ride. Because the Canadian Forces do not have a C-17 simulator, refresher courses must be done every three month by booking time on a U.S. Air National Guard base at Jackson, Mississippi, then sending crews on a long trip to it via commercial airlines.

In Canadian service, it supplements the CF's long-serving CC-150 Polaris transports and leased AN-124s. For cargo and personnel going into Afghanistan, these types carried personnel and supplies to supply bases, where their loads would be broken down and loaded onto trucks or CC-130 Hercules aircraft for movement into Kandahar. The CC-177, on the other hand, can fly directly from Canada in Kandahar. It is not normally used in that way, “”but we have the capability to do so,” said Jackson, who by last summer was a veteran of 160 flights into Iraq and Afghanistan. “We can be anywhere in the world in 24 hours.”

He said the CC-177 can be called a “stractical” transport because it efficiently combines the roles of tactical and strategic transport aircraft. “It can fly long distances around the world — for 13 hours — and still do your tactical approach and landing into Kandahar all in the same day. To me, it’s just an amazing aircraft. It’s just so much fun to fly. For the Canadian Forces, we’re just scratching the surface of what this aircraft can do.”

For example, it can carry 18 pallets (14 pallets “on the floor” and four pallets on the aircraft’s rear cargo ramp) or 36 litter patients. (Jackson once flew 25 injured Americans from Ramstein in Germany to San Antonio, Texas. And while tasked to help the USAF to evacuate American patients from the path of a hurricane in 2007, he had the frightening experience of having a passenger enter cardiac arrest. Air traffic control was highly co-operative that day, with the result that the aircraft was able to make an emergency landing. “The patient survived!” he reported. “It was pretty amazing.”) As a troop carrier, it can ferry 102 personnel in its standard configuration or 188 on palletized seats. “That’s four Herc loads,” said Jackson, who has hauled snowmobiles to the Canadian Rangers in the Arctic, trucks, boats, remote-control submarines, Sea King and Griffon helicopters and a P-40 fighter scheduled for restoration.

On the ground, the CC-177’s ability “to turn on a dime” means more aircraft can be handled on an airport apron. It’s estimated eight C-17s can fit themselves into the space that three AN-124s would need. The CC-177’s versatility is increased by its ability to let vehicles drive on or drive off, and its “combat offload” capability, which uses the rollers in the cargo compartment’s floors to rapidly offload cargo pallets. The aircraft can back up on the ground and because reverse thrust is directed upward at a 30 per cent angle, relatively little dirt, debris is kicked up.

The C-17/CC-177 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney PW100 engines. It has a high-lift wing, slats and externally blown flaps that hang down in the exhaust stream, ”so the exhaust from the engines is creating lift,” said Jackson, who joined the Canadian Forces in 1997 and was in the first class to graduate from the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program at 15 Wing Moose Jaw. “That’s what gives it its slow-flying capability and, with that slow-flying ability, the ability to get in and our of short-field runways carrying very heavy loads.” He added it could fly on only two engines, both on the same wing.

In Afghanistan, approaches and landings are typically done at night so as to conceal the aircraft from insurgents. The aircraft’s comparative quietness helps, as does its ability to descend very rapidly from 30,000 feet to 1,000 feet while covering only 30 kilometres.

The CC-177’s maximum payload is 164,500 lbs. and its fuel capacity is 245,000 lbs, giving it a range of about 6,000 miles. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 lbs. Empty, its weight is 282,000 lbs. Its cruising speed is Mach .76 — “a little slower than the airliners out there, but twice as fast as the Herc,” Jackson said. It is “completely fly-by-wire” and the pilots have fighter-style sticks instead of airliner-style control yokes. There are four flight control systems backing up each other; there are also four multifunction cockpit displays including global terrain-avoidance systems and four independent GPS devices. In all, there are more than 40 different computer systems aboard, “and they know everything,” said Jackson. “If a system malfunctions, it fixes itself and then informs the crew.”

On the capabilities of the heads-up display (HUD) system, Jackson said, “it’s amazing … once you get used to it, you don’t even need to look inside. It looks pretty daunting at first, but it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it.”

All this capability requires only two pilots and a single loadmaster, said Jackson, who added that its navigation systems are accurate to within 16 feet. “The ‘nav’ trade sought to get into the aircraft, but there’s basically nothing for them to do.” The CC-177 has defensive systems against IR-guided surface-to-air missiles. As for radar-blinding chaff, “you couldn’t carry enough to hide this airplane!” Jackson said. Because its engines can be reversed in the air, it can made a very rapid 30-degree descent, leveling out at 2,000 feet and landing.

Like American C-17s, the Canadian versions are capable of being refueled in mid-air, “but we don’t do it in the Canadian Forces — and the cost of it is very high. I’ve been told that whatever you pay for fuel on the ground, it’s nine times more expensive in the air.” That said, the aircraft is what Jackson calls “a pig on gas”, using 20,000 lbs. in the first hours of flight, and then 15,000 lbs. every hour thereafter.

For maintenance crews familiar with the venerable C-130, “it’s a monumental task for them to learn the systems because it’s a monumental change from the Herc,” he said.

“It’s a change of 40 years in technology. It’s a very smart aircraft. It lets you know what’s going on — and you just manage accordingly.”