Boeing is seeking US Army support for a new version of its short take-off and landing (STOL) C-17 airlifter, a month after the concept was publicly rebuffed by a senior US Air Force official.

The C-17B adds a centreline landing gear, more powerful engines and redesigned flaps that increase lift for short take-offs - similar in concept to the 1970s-era McDonnell Douglas YC-14 prototype.

Boeing is pitching the idea as a near-term and low-risk solution to transporting US Army Future Combat System (FCS) units to remote landing sites, perhaps lacking prepared runways.

With a $2.5 billion price tag for development, Boeing argues the C-17B is cheaper than either the army's planned vertical take-off and landing Joint Heavy Lift rotorcraft, or the air force's Advanced Joint Combat Air System concept for a short take-off and landing airlifter.

Fresh orders would also protect Boeing's endangered Long Beach, California C-17 production line for several years, with the company warning that it will begin shutting down during 2008 without a new contract.

 C-17 dirt
© US Air Force

But USAF officials have not been swayed by Boeing's case to launch the C-17B. "Right now, I don't really see it fitting in," Gen Arthur Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, said in September. The company says army support for the concept could add pressure on the USAF to give the go-ahead.

Source: Flight International