Boeing has started work on a mid-life upgrade for the Royal Air Force's first C-17 strategic transport, as the remainder of its seven-strong fleet continues to provide vital support for the UK's contribution to the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Introduced to service in May 2001, aircraft ZZ171 is the RAF's most used C-17, having amassed around 14,000 flight hours from a combined fleet total of over 65,600h.

The UK placed its seventh and last C-17 into operational use last month. Wg Cdr David Manning, officer commanding the RAF's 99 Sqn, says the differences between ZZ177 and the unit's first aircraft are primarily at the software level. The modernisation work is intended to bring the UK's early aircraft to Boeing's current production configuration.

Upgrade activities on the first aircraft are being performed at Boeing's San Antonio site in Texas, and should be completed in late September, the company says.

 RAF C-17 1 - Sunshine Band gallery AirSpace
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ZZ171 has logged around 14,000 flight hours since May 2001

Meanwhile, lead C-17 operator the US Air Force is finalising a plan to pull back some logistics support responsibilities from Boeing following the expiry of its current Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership deal on 30 September. Although the details of the replacement Globemaster Integrated Sustainment Project deal are still to be outlined, Boeing says its current arrangement with international operators including the UK will continue to support their fleets.

"The current Foreign Military Sales arrangement will continue," says Bob Rabbitt, the company's lead official at RAF Brize Norton.

Boeing last month announced that it has fully met its industrial participation requirements linked to the acquisition of the UK's first five C-17s, with this equating to it placing work worth more than $1 billion with local companies. Additional business is also to come via the last two aircraft in the 99 Sqn fleet.

Source: Flight International