The 23rd May 2021 marked 20 years since the first C-17A Globemaster III arrived in Oxfordshire. “ZZ171” or “UK one” was flown by 99 Squadron from Boeing’s Long Beach facility across the Atlantic to its new home at RAF Brize Norton.
Initially, four C-17s were leased by the UK, but after quickly providing huge value to defence, the 99 Sqn fleet soon doubled to the outright purchase of eight permanent aircraft, with ZZ178 being delivered to the RAF by Boeing on 18th May 2012, just over a decade since the first aircraft.
The C-17 is a long-range, heavy-lift strategic transport aircraft, which can deliver enormous, outsized loads rapidly into austere locations around the world, normally not accessible to an aircraft of its size. Today, 99 Squadron is one of only eight C-17 operators outside the USA, and the UK is the only nation in Europe to operate an independent fleet of C-17s. The C-17 is the most powerful aircraft in the RAF, capable of delivering strategic effect anywhere in the world in a matter of hours.
Since it entered service with the RAF, the C-17 has been vital in maintaining the airbridge between the UK and Operations overseas. Providing support to Operation Herrick in Afghanistan was the initial core of 99 Squadron’s activity but it has since been instrumental in providing support to Operation Telic during Gulf War II, Operation Shader and the battle against Daesh, as well as supplying numerous anti-terror Operations in Africa. Despite these huge commitments, the C-17 has also delivered humanitarian aid around the world during countless natural disasters, such as providing support to the British Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017 or the aeromedical evacuation of critically ill British nationals during the Ebola crisis and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, to name just a few.
Over the past two decades 99 Squadron have flown 150 thousand hours and travelled the distance equal to two thousand laps around the globe, carrying people from soldiers to celebrities and cargo from animals, submarines and helicopters to medicine, food and shelter.
Wing Commander Kevin Latchman, Officer Commanding 99 Squadron, said:
"It’s difficult to put into words the value the C-17 has provided over the last twenty years both to the UK and defence, but also to the countless number of people it has provided support to in times of crisis, all over the world. Having first flown the C-17 as a junior Flight Lieutenant over a decade ago, it’s been a true honour to return to the fleet to command 99 Squadron. Flying the C-17 is just as rewarding and exhilarating today as it was when I first qualified as a Co-Pilot in 2007."
Wing Commander Kevin Latchman
Officer Commanding 99 Squadron
“There was just a year and a day between the decision to procure the C-17 and its delivery to the UK”, said Malcolm Brecht, a former RAF pilot and now Director, C-17 International, Program Integration and Field Services at Boeing. Malcolm took delivery of the first RAF C-17 from Long Beach, California, on 17 May 2001, and supported its introduction into service as the first Officer Commanding 99 Squadron.
He went on to say:
“During that year, my RAF colleagues and I were based in the US and trained on every aspect, nut and bolt of the aircraft. Collecting the first of the RAF’s C-17s and flying it across the Atlantic with only five flight hours on the clock demonstrated the well-established trust and partnership that already existed between the RAF and Boeing, and which continues today.”
Director, C-17 International
Program Integration and
Field Services at Boeing