Flying the C-17: Interview with RAF Globemaster III pilot

A C-17 of 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton is enroute to a flypast over Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Birthday. It’s not known if she’s more of an A400M gal or not.

Weighing nine times more than a fully loaded Lancaster bomber, the C-17 is an absolute behemoth of an aircraft. Andy Netherwood flew the Globemaster III for Britain’s Royal Air Force, he spoke to us about what it is like to fly the mighty ‘Moose’

Describe the C-17 in three words

Rugged. Powerful. Workhorse.

What is the main role of the RAF’s C-17s and are they effective?

Air transport. They are highly effective, able to carry large loads long distances and operate from small, austere airfields. They are also an excellent aircraft for aeromedical evacuation, offering medics a spacious and stable platform to care for patients while flying them direct to the UK from thousands of miles away. The RAF simply could not support global operations without it.

What is the best thing about the C-17?

“On final approach its huge blown lift flaps mean it flies ‘backside’ i.e. pitch controls speed and power glidepath.”

Its capacity, range and ability to operate from short runways on austere airfields.

…and the worst?

The avionics were excellent for the 1990s, and the extra situational awareness was a revelation after the C130K, but they’re a bit clunky by modern standards. It’s also quite thirsty

Complete this sentence: “The C-17 is better than the C-130J because…

Complete this sentence, “The C-17 is better than the A400M because…

The C-17 can carry more, further & faster than either the A400M or C-130J, but the fact is that each aircraft brings a different set of capabilities required for a varied set of tasks

What was the weirdest or most notable thing you carried?

Marine One.

Trump: Globemaster Marine One at Palm Beach International Airport

Do transport aircraft have similar relationships with their aircraft as fighter pilots do?

It’s different I think. Crews never get their ‘own’ aircraft and the nature of air transport flying is that is optimised to keep the aircraft flying is so you are often picking an aircraft up from one crew and then handing it on to another. The other difference is that we are always operating as part of a crew, it’s never just you and the aircraft as it is with say a Typhoon or F-35. One of the best things about a transport aircraft though is that wherever you are in the world, it is a little piece of ‘home’. That familiarity, and the fact that it is often getting you and your passengers out of some pretty unpleasant places mean the crews feel an affection towards them.

What was your most notable mission or exercise and why?

This is a tough one as there are many that were notable, memorable or poignant for different reasons. The ‘Op Pabbay’ repatriation flights were extremely moving and each has stayed with me, as have the aeromedical evacuation flights bringing broken young men back from war. Some missions were notable because of enemy action, being attacked by rockets on the ground or, one occasion, having my aircraft hit by enemy fire. Some were notable because of the high-profile nature of the cargo, such as flying Marine One to Rome when the Pope died, or a passenger such as flying Prince Harry home from Afghanistan. I was fortunate enough to fly on the C-17s ‘million-hour mission’ as part of a mixed crew representing all the C-17 users at that time: the USAF, Air National Guard with me representing the RAF; that was pretty notable, operating with a fantastic bunch of people.

What are your feelings about refuelling?

Not something the RAF does with its C-17s, but widely employed by the USAF. I have to confess that despite being an instructor I never really enjoyed boom air refuelling. Probe & drogue is jousting – the sport of kings – but boom always felt like trying to balance on a basketball.

Tell me something I don’t know about the C-17

On final approach its huge blown lift flaps mean it flies ‘backside’ i.e. pitch controls speed and power glidepath

How does it handle when it is heavy?

Very well. The automatic flight control system means there aren’t any trim issues and the aircraft is pretty agile for its size.

What should I have asked you?

What comes after the C17. I don’t know the answer but it’s something we need to start thinking about.

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