If you haven’t been to the cloister of a secluded island monastery in the past two weeks, you’ve certainly seen at least one image of it.
Probably two: one associated with the American fiasco in its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the other as a symbol of the hope of thousands of civilians trying to escape the return to power of the fundamentalist Islamic group Taliban in the now temperate Asian country. by terror of the Islamic State.
This is the Boeing C-17 Globemaster 3, the giant transport aircraft which is at the center of the American operation which has already evacuated more than 100,000 people from the Afghan capital since the night of the 14th, while the arrival of extremists was imminent. .
The next day, a Sunday, materialized the scene of despair which, at the same time, inspired the effort to alienate not only the West, but especially the Afghan civilians who fear the return of the brutal practices applied by the Taliban. in their reign of terror. from 1996 to 2001.
That day, a C-17 from the main US base in the Middle East, Al Udeid (Qatar), flew to Kabul. The runway was filled with people who had spent the night at the city’s airport, and as many as 823 of them piled into the hold of the plane.
It was the world record for carrying people on a single flight, including 183 children on their parents’ lap.
In normal configuration, the C-17 can safely carry around 140 people, seatbelts, around loads. On the weight side, it was easy: the plane can carry 77.5 tonnes of freight.
Monday (16), an image rivaling that of the Americans trying to catch the last helicopter in Saigon invaded by the Communists in 1975: Afghan civilians surrounding a C-17 taking off, desperate and clinging to the fuselage and landing gear .
As a result, at least two people were crushed by the closing of the doors or fell from the sky, in a horror scene that will remain in the management of Joe Biden.
Developed by the old McDonnell Douglas, bought by Boeing in 1997 and named after two other classic transport planes, the C-17 first flew in 1991.
Commissioned four years later, it is now the mainstay of US strategic lift aviation, operating in virtually every corner of the planet. They are 157 active in the Air Force, 47 with the National Guard in the United States and 18 in technical reserve.
Eight other countries are exploiting the model, some of which have used it in Kabul, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and India. It’s not the biggest freighter in the world or the United States: the American title goes to the revered C-5 Super Galaxy and its 127-ton compartment. There are 52 in the country’s inventory.
The world champion is the Antonov An-225, but he is an only child of the Soviet manufacturer who is now struggling to survive in Ukraine. It carries up to 360 tonnes.
Even its younger brother, the Antonov An-124 used by Russia, carries up to 188 tons. But they are only 12 to fly to Vladimir Putin, against 200 available to Joe Biden.
It is one of the measures of US military might, a power that spends four times as much in the sector as second in the ranking of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), China. Even if the Chinese acquisition cost is much lower, boosting your budget, the difference is obvious.
The only truly global power, the United States has 686 heavy and medium transport aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules (19 t payload). The Russians have 190 and the Chinese 113.
The C-17 can travel up to 8,000 km empty or 4,500 km with 70 t, piloted by two airmen and carrying a cargo operator.
It’s a 53m long, 51.7m wingspan and 16.8m high monster – for comparison, a Boeing 737-800 running in Brazil is 39.5m, 34.3m, respectively. and 12.5 m. .
It can carry helicopters, as in the case of the two C-17s which are in Brazil for a joint exercise with the Brazilian Air Force, or even an M-1A2 Abrams heavy tank.
During the evacuation of Westerners and Afghan collaborators from Kabul, other stars of military cargo transport also participated, including the very popular C-130, a four-engine propeller operated by 66 countries.
Also frequenting the infamous Kabul airstrip, the large European cargo ship Airbus A-400M (37 t cargo capacity), the Japanese medium Kawasaki C-2 (26 t, in the Brazilian category Embraer KC-390) and the Russian Iliuchin Il-76 (60 tons).
General-purpose aircraft derived from civilian models, such as the Airbus A330-MRTT (45 t), were also present, as were several commercial aircraft used by governments.
None, however, were used as much as the C-17. In the peak days of the operation, there were up to 25 flights with the model leaving the Afghan capital, in the operation which is now living its agony under the shadow of the terrorist attack which killed nearly 200 people on the farm (26).