Giant US aerospace group Boeing is looking at whether the South African Air Force (SAAF) could be a customer for its C-17 Globemaster III large military transport plane.
"We're investigating if there are any opportunities for the C-17 in the future with South Africa," Boeing representative for business development: mobility programmes (defence, space and security) Michael Marshall told Engineering News Online at Africa Aerospace and Defence 2012 on Friday.
"We know there's a dire shortage of airlift on the continent and we know that the SAAF is looking at different options to modernize its airlift fleet."
The C-17 has a maximum payload of 82 t of cargo, can fly intercontinental ranges (at full load, it has a range of some 2 400 nautical miles), yet it can land on semi-prepared airstrips just under 1 000 m in length.
On the ground, the aircraft can turn around in limited spaces and can even reverse.
"The aircraft is available now, and a worldwide support infrastructure is already in place," highlighted Marshall. "It has just a three-person crew: pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster and doesn't need any support equipment [when deployed]."
The first C-17 was delivered in 1992. Since then, Boeing has handed over 218 aircraft to the US Air Force (out of 224 ordered) and 28 to other air forces around the world. These are the UK Royal Air Force (originally four, later increased to eight), the Royal Australian Air Force (five), the Royal Canadian Air Force (four), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (three), the Qatar Emiri Air Force (two, plus options on two more), and the United Arab Emirates Air Force (six). In addition, the Indian Air Force has ten C-17s on order, for delivery in 2013 and 2014. These aircraft have together accumulated more than 2.3-million flying hours.
Marshall pointed out that there are 325 airstrips in Africa that can be used by a fully-laden C-17, with the aircraft able to land on the softest of these for a thousand times before any deterioration of the airstrip surface occurs. At a reduced weight (about 355 000 lbs), the aircraft can access 683 airfields in Africa, again allowing a thousand landings on the softer airstrips before any runway problems develop.
"The C-17 is value for money. You get great capability and need fewer aircraft. That reduces lifetime costs," affirmed Marshall. "Boeing can also provide financial options to fund the aircraft and spread the cost."