Losses and Aviation Safety

A skinny person can find some space inside the wheel well of a C-17 cargo aircraft but would die within minutes from takeoff. Here’s why.

There is actually some, very narrow space between the inner wheel and the front bogey of the C-17 where a skinny person could find some space to squeeze in, clinging to the tires…

The departure of a US Air Force (USAF) C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft with a mob surrounding it as it taxied at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16, 2021 has been featured in several video that have been seen around the world.

On that day as the Taliban claimed control of Kabul, the aircraft landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport to deliver a load of equipment to support the evacuation of both American and Afghan civilians from the country.

Hundreds of Afghan civilians who had breached the perimeter of the airport surrounded the aircraft (C-17, tail number 2-1109, deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord) before its aircrew could even offload the cargo.

“Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible,” the Air Force said.

Once it returned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the C-17.

But is there any chance at all for someone inside the wheel well of a C-17 to survive when the wheel is closed?

‘There is actually some, very narrow space between the inner wheel and the front bogey [of the C-17] where a skinny person could find some space to squeeze in, clinging to the tires,’ says Thomas Kolb, Flight Instructor, on Quora.

‘However, it would be nearly impossible to move in position quickly enough as the gear retracts, because the mechanism twists each bogey 90 degrees sideways during retraction, closing previously open spaces. Basically you would need to be very familiar with the construction, or be extremely lucky in order to avoid becoming maimed to death by the wheels, the actuators or the scissor links.

‘Below is a video showing the retraction of the main gears as filmed from the inside. As you see, it is a rather complex motion and there is no room between the wheels and the inner bulkhead to hide.

‘The gear well is not pressurized, which means that the lack of sufficient breathing oxygen at cruising altitudes will make any person residing inside to become unconscious in just a couple of minutes.’

Kolb concludes;

‘This is however not immediately deadly. The biggest problem would be that since the gear well is not heated or even insulated, it will soon be chilled down to the outside air temperature, which at cruising altitude is about minus 50–60˚C. A person without sufficient thermal protection will quickly end up with severe hypothermia, which will lead to death in as little as 20-30 minutes.’

Photo: C-17 landing gear via Yac17_6b/Flickr

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-17A Globemaster III 60th Air Mobility Wing / 349th Air Mobility Wing, 21st Airlift Squadron, 06-6160 – Travis AFB, CA
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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