As Airlift modernization unfolded in the early 1970s, requirements hinged on not only replacing worn aircraft but also transporting supplies faster and much closer to the frontlines than ever before. Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft requirements emerged with a basic need for a STOL transport aircraft capable of operating from 2,000 feet runway areas on rough terrain. Boeing and McDonald Douglas proposed, respectively, the YC-14 and YC-15 in 1972. In 1977 the program was suspended and the Air Force presented a new CX request for proposal in 1979. In September 1981 McDonald Douglas's design, designated as C-17 Globemaster III, was selected. In September 1991, with stronger engines, swept wings, and a larger cargo area than the original design, the C-17 made its first flight as the most advanced versatile airlifter ever made -- the USAF's premier transport.
During flight-testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the C-17 set 33 world records --more than any other airlifter in history -- including payload to altitude, time-to-climb, and short-takeoff-and-landing marks in which the C-17 took off in less than 1,400 feet, carried a payload of 44,000 pounds to altitude, and landed in less than 1,400 feet.
Since its first flight, the C-17 has exceeded 2 million fight-hours. It has played an integral role in global strategic airlift and significant delivery of humanitarian aid. C-17 support for relief efforts includes Pakistan, Haiti, Chile, China, Myanmar, and Thailand and is the primary airlifter for military operations around the world.
The C-17 Globemaster III won the Collier Trophy in 1994 and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for quality and performance in 1998.