Boeing aims to give strategic transport new capability to match Lockheed Martin rival's tactical abilities

Boeing is exploring a radical transformation of the C-17A Globemaster III into an outsize tactical airlifter that can match the soft field and short take-off and landing ability of the Lockheed Martin C-130.

An internal study begun six months ago is evaluating the feasibility of a future C-17A Plus variant to be introduced after 2012. It would feature a 7-15% more powerful engine, revamped landing gear and redesigned powered-lift flaps.

Ron Marcotte, Boeing C-17 business development manager, says the potential upgrade has been briefed to the senior leadership of the US Air Force. The goal is to design a C-17 that can take off and land with a full payload in under 610m (2,000ft), he says. The C-17 then could match the C-130’s accessibility advantage, but far surpass the small airlifter with a 5,550km (3,000nm) range.

“I’m excited about it, but frankly [the Boeing study team] needs to prove that they can do it,” Marcotte adds.

Lockheed says it is sceptical of the feasibility of Boeing’s plans. The company also argues the C-17’s maximum take-off weight and jet powerplants make the aircraft ill-suited to the tactical airlift role.

Pratt & Whitney is participating in the Boeing studies of uprating the power of the C-17A’s 40,400lb-thrust (178kN) F117 turbofans. A 7% power boost is thought by P&W engineers to be enough to reach the programme’s goals.

However, maintenance concerns could drive the study to recommend a 15% power increase, which would be de-rated to a 7% improvement to reduce wear and tear on the engine.

Marcotte is not ready to elaborate on the technologies needed to improve the powered-lift flaps, but he notes that Boeing understands much more about composite materials today that can make such high-lift devices more efficient.

Boeing’s study into the potential variant comes as the USAF nears a decisive period for the shape of the future airlift fleet.

Ongoing studies are likely to recommend increasing the C-17 production order from 180 to 222 or 240 aircraft. Boeing would seek to introduce the new variant after 2012, which would allow it to enter service after the 222nd C-17 is delivered.

Source: Flight International