C-17 Cargo Capabilities


I assume that you are referring to a comment made on our C-17 Globemaster III data sheet in which it is mentioned that the cargo plane is capable of transporting the US Army M1 Abrams main battle tank. I'm not sure what information you are basing your conclusions on, but this vehicle is well within the transport capabilities of the C-17. Our data suggests that the maximum payload limit of the aircraft is about 169,000 lb (76,660 kg), which is somewhat less than the 187,400 lb (85,000 kg) figure that you have cited. Regardless, the M1 only weighs about 140,000 lb (63,500 kg) even when fully loaded with crew, fuel, and armament. Even so, the tank is almost surely transported in an empty condition which would weigh considerably less than that figure.

So weight is clearly not an issue, but what of the tank's physical dimensions? The Abrams is 32.3 ft (9.8 m) in length (including the gun), 11.9 ft (3.7 m) in width, and 9.5 ft (2.9 m) tall. This sized vehicle can easily fit within the cargo bay of the C-17, which is 88 ft (26.82 m) long, 18 ft (5.48 m) wide, and 12.33 ft (3.76 m) high. Therefore, your conclusion is obviously mistaken. To further emphasize the point, just take a look at the below photo illustrating an Abrams being loaded aboard a C-17.

M1 tank being loaded onto a C-17
M1 tank being loaded onto a C-17

Not only is it possible for the C-17 to transport the M1, but since there is space and weight to spare, at least one additional ground vehicle or other equipment can also be carried as part of the same loadout. Furthermore, the aircraft can carry up to three M2 or M3 Bradley armored vehicles, which is more than the two light vehicles you mention. Each Bradley weighs 50,000 lb (22,680 kg) loaded with a length of 21.3 ft (6.5 m), width of 11.8 ft (3.6 m), and is 9.8 ft (3.0 m) in height.

The C-17 is a phenomenally flexible and capable heavy lift aircraft, probably better suited to its mission than virtually any other cargo plane ever built. Much of the credit for its superb design should go to Air Force operators who were consulted by McDonnell Douglas during the design phase. Their input resulted in numerous improvements to make the C-17 far more user friendly than earlier transport planes had been.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 16 March 2003


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