Long Live the C-17

Though Air Mobility Command is already looking ahead to a stealthy penetrating tanker in the 2035 timeframe, a new airlifter to replace the C-17 will be longer in coming, AMC chief Gen. Carlton Everhart told reporters at ASC16. The C-17, he said, has a lot of life left in it, though fleet improvements will likely come in the form of a new head-up display, a new oxygen generating system and putting extended range fuel tanks on those C-17s that don’t already have them. Everhart said the C-17 “drinks a lot of gas” and may benefit from a re-engining at some point, and he expects there will be a service life extension program, but it will probably be done incrementally when the jets come in for depot maintenance. Applying “fleet dynamics”—swapping aircraft out of high-corrosion environments like the Pacific and making sure the fleet ages evenly by tail number—will buy as much as ten years of service life, Everhart said. The C-17 could be a “60-80-year airplane,” Everhart said. Asked about when a “C-X” might be in the offing, he suggested that something smaller and stealthy might come sooner.