Eyebrows were raised earlier this month, when a US Department of Defense contract announcement outlined plans to award Boeing $500 million "for the C-17 transition to post production". Was this, they wondered, the beginning of the end for the McDonnell Douglas-designed Globemaster III?
Speaking to Flight Daily News on the eve of the Farnborough air show at the Royal International Air Tattoo on 7 July, Boeing C-17 programme manager Bob Ciesla did not come across as a man in charge of a doomed programme.
"It's not un-normal to fence in money for shutdown activities to buy critical items," he says, referring to the DoD plan to "provide for orderly transfer of C-17 production assets", with activities to conclude by July 2022. However, such funds have been used in some cases to fund further acquisitions, he notes.
Current orders will sustain Boeing's Long Beach final assembly line in California until the third quarter of 2014, at a recently reduced production rate of 10 aircraft per year. But Ciesla believes firmly that more successes lie ahead.
"We think there are many opportunities for years to come to extend the line out," he says, pointing to fresh demand coming from international customers. "There is good potential to get more sales in the Middle East and Asia."
Australia and the UK have both ordered one additional aircraft for their C-17 fleets this year, while India has signed a deal for 10 to be delivered at a rate of five each in 2013 and 2014. And, he reveals, an undisclosed new buyer has also recently inked a contract to acquire two C-17s, which will be delivered this year.
In all, six of the 10 C-17s to be handed over this year will go to export operators, along with four of the US Air Force's remaining seven examples from a commitment for 224 transports. This is the first year that the manufacturer is operating at the new rate, after a reduction from a previous 15 deliveries per annum.
"Our foresight from reducing the rate and the international perspective allows us a good feeling," Ciesla says. "The C-17 really stands on its own in terms of capability and that's why customers buy this airplane."