As explained by one defense official, the C-17 (call sign Reach 871) was not aimed to take on such a large load, but panicked Afghans who had been cleared to evacuate pulled themselves onto the Globemaster III’s half-open ramp.
“The crew made the decision to go,” instead of trying to force those refugees off the aircraft. “Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination,” the defense official explained.
An audio from the crew estimating they were carrying 800 passengers was posted online but an anonymous defense official said the true number was about 640 people.
Reach 871 was one of several flights that were able to take off with hundreds of people aboard, and according to the official some of the others may have had an even larger load than 640.
670 people fleeing a typhoon in the Philippines were evacuated in 2013, by a C-17. Like that evacuation, the Afghans flown from Kabul to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, sat on the floor of the cargo plane’s capacious hold. As explained by a source familiar with the Globemaster III’s operating manuals, the procedure is called “floor loading” and sees the passengers hanging onto cargo straps run from wall to wall serving as makeshift seatbelts.
The C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment area. The aircraft can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions and can transport litters and ambulatory patients during aeromedical evacuations.
The C-17 measures 174 feet long (53 meters) with a wingspan of 169 feet, 10 inches (51.75 meters). Maximum payload capacity of the C-17 is 170,900 pounds (77,519 kilograms), and its maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 pounds (265,352 kilograms). With a payload of 164,900 pounds (74,797 kilograms) and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 feet (8,534 meters), the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles. Its cruise speed is approximately 450 knots (.74 Mach).
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Teddy Techer
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