In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, social media has been flooded with pictures and reports of hundreds of evacuees onboard a US C-17 Globemaster III plane.
The US Air Force’s updated record on the evacuation, in fact, states that this military cargo plane flew a record-breaking 823 people, including 183 children — the largest evacuation mission the C-17 has ever flown.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Ministry of Defense said it had evacuated close to 6,000 people from Kabul. US President Biden said around 18,000 people had been evacuated since July. The country’s pace of evacuations is picking up quickly as the August 31 deadline for the rescue missions approaches.
The US has also roped in commercial airlines to help airlift their citizens and Afghan allies and is considering extending the set deadline, even as it is on the constant vigil against threats to the operation from terrorist outfits such as ISIS.
Meanwhile, head of US Transportation Command General Stephen R. Lyons said during a press briefing that there are significant threats to the US airlift operation out of Afghanistan but the military is taking measures to mitigate them.
“The threat is significant as you know. I won’t get into details. We’re closely aligned to CENTCOM and other agencies on threat reporting and potential threat to airlift operations,” Lyons said.
“I would just say as we watch that, our crews are the best in the world. That machine, the C-17, is the best in the world, and I’m confident that we’re taking the right measures to mitigate the threat.”
A Heavy-Duty Cargo Plane
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster is an extremely powerful and flexible cargo aircraft. It is 53 meters long with a wingspan of 51.75 meters. The plane is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines, each producing 40,440 pounds of thrust.
The aircraft’s design, especially the positioning and force of the thrust reversers, provides them the capability to work well with short runways and austere airfields.
The C-17s are operated by a 3-person crew comprising a pilot, co-pilot, and loadmaster, thus reducing their workforce requirements. Additionally, they offer a cruise speed of 450 knots and have in-flight refueling capacity. They have a maximum payload capacity of 77,519 kgs to boot, too.
While the plane’s official maximum passenger capacity is 134 people only, it can be significantly increased using the “floor loading” method, which was used during this particular record-breaking evacuation mission as well.
The C-17 Globemaster is the optimum choice for the Afghan evacuation not only due to its huge capacity to carry people but also because it can operate quite flexibly at the jam-packed Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Nine C-17 Globemaster IIIs arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan recently delivering equipment and approximately 1000 troops. Seven flights departed, transporting approximately 600 passengers, 165 of which were American citizens. pic.twitter.com/JoRFHQg3ID
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) August 17, 2021
Moreover, the Contingency Response Wing is able to work up to 8 aircraft at a time at the HKIA to keep a stream of aircraft moving.
Since these planes are operated by the US and its allies, who are at the forefront of rescue operations at the moment, coordinating the planes and keeping them in sync with bureaucratic processing of those stranded at the airport is easier and is likely to provide optimum efficiency as well.
The Russian, European Challenge
By far the toughest competition to the C-17s is the Russian giant, the Antonov An-225 Mriya. By most metrics, this is the biggest and the heaviest aircraft ever built.
It is 84 meters long, with a wingspan of 88.4 meters — the longest of any plane currently flying. With 6 Ivchenko Progress Lotarev D-18T engines, the Mriya can offer a speed of 431.9 knots (800 km/h). It holds the record for the largest single-item payload (of 189979.9 kgs) ever carried.
However, the C-17s have the advantage in terms of speed, flexibility with smaller runways, and numbers as the Mriya is, quite literally, the only one of its kind, while a total of 279 C-17 Globemaster IIIs have been built.
The US and its allies’ current role in the evacuation operations also bolsters the efficiency of the planes. Meanwhile, if and when Russia will use the Mriya remains to be seen.
The other giants that come close in comparison to the C-17s and the Mriya are the Airbus A400Ms. Germany has used this plane to transport its special ops helicopters to Kabul.
The A400M planes have a maximum payload capacity of 33565.8 kgs and have the capability to land virtually anywhere — whether it is an unpaved airstrip or an austere airfield. It also has an air-to-air refueling system in place. It can reach a speed of up to 480 knots and can fly at higher altitudes, avoiding bad weather and turbulence.
While the A400Ms serve as quick and reliable evacuation machines, the slightly slower C-17s still have them beat in terms of payload capacity, which is essential when the number of people waiting to be evacuated is as large as it is at the HKAI airport.
However, in such a compromising situation, the efforts of all aircraft, whether huge cargo planes or small, swift choppers, are essential to airlifting people and dropping them in countries such as the US, Canada, UK, Australia, the Balkan countries in Europe, Iran, Tajikistan, and India, who have all pledged to take in varying numbers of refugees from Afghanistan.
— Written by Shreya Mundhra/EurAsian Times Desk