Accelerated mission rates in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed the UK Royal Air Force's fleet of four Boeing C-17 transports through the 20,000 flying hour mark more than 14 months earlier than originally expected.

Figures from the RAF indicate the aircraft of Brize Norton-based 99 Squadron reached the milestone last month, well ahead of the April 2006 date originally expected. The service, which has a lease agreement based on 3,000 flight hours a year, achieved 10,000h on the type in mid-2003.

Overall, the combined delivered fleet of 133 C-17s (129 to the US Air Force and four to the RAF) has accumulated over 802,000 flying hours, and is expected to exceed 1 million hours early in 2006, says Boeing.

The UK's four aircraft were delivered between May and August 2001, and are due to be purchased off lease by the UK in 2008, along with a fifth aircraft that will be acquired directly from Boeing. The UK is also reportedly studying the acquisition of a further four aircraft, which could be produced within the current order delivery stream to the USAF.

Boeing is maintaining a delivery rate of around 16 C-17s a year and consistently handing aircraft over four months ahead of schedule to provide sufficient production capacity for export sales.

UK operations are currently being maintained by three C-17s, while the fourth is at the Boeing Aerospace Support Center, San Antonio, Texas where it is undergoing a modification programme. Although described by Boeing as a general modification programme involving several minor changes, the effort is also believed to include communications and self-defensive system upgrades.

The aircraft is believed to be the first of the UK fleet to receive Northrop Grumman's Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system also selected by the USAF and based on the AAQ-24(V) Nemesis design.


Source: Flight International