C-17 Globemaster Vs C-5 Galaxy: The Ultimate Comparison In 2023


In the world of military transport aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy are two of the most recognizable names. Both airplanes have played a crucial role in the United States Air Force’s (USAF) global reach and strategic mobility capabilities. However, their differences and similarities are often misunderstood. In this article, we will compare and contrast the C-17 and C-5, two heavy-lift cargo planes that have helped shape the modern military logistics landscape.

Design and Development

The C-17 Globemaster III is a high-wing, four-engine, T-tailed military transport aircraft that was designed and built by Boeing. Its development began in the 1980s as a replacement for the aging C-141 Starlifter. The C-17 can carry up to 102 paratroopers or 170,900 pounds of cargo and has a range of over 4,000 nautical miles. The C-5 Galaxy, on the other hand, was designed and built by Lockheed Martin in the late 1960s. It is the largest military transport aircraft in the USAF inventory and can carry up to 73 pallets of cargo or 36 C-130 Hercules aircraft. The C-5 has a range of over 5,500 nautical miles.


The C-17 and C-5 are both capable of operating from rough, unimproved runways, making them ideal for military operations in austere environments. However, the C-17 has a shorter takeoff and landing distance than the C-5, making it more versatile in confined spaces. The C-17 can take off in 3,500 feet and land in 3,000 feet, while the C-5 requires 8,300 feet for takeoff and 4,900 feet for landing. In terms of speed, the C-17 has a maximum speed of Mach 0.77, while the C-5 has a maximum speed of Mach 0.79. However, the C-17’s cruising speed is faster than the C-5’s, which gives it an edge in time-sensitive missions.

Cargo Capacity

The C-5 Galaxy has a larger cargo hold than the C-17 Globemaster, with a volume of 31,000 cubic feet compared to the C-17’s 18,000 cubic feet. This makes the C-5 ideal for carrying oversized cargo, such as vehicles and heavy machinery. The C-5 can also carry more weight, with a maximum payload of 270,000 pounds compared to the C-17’s 170,900 pounds.

Cockpit and Avionics

The C-17 and C-5 both have advanced cockpit and avionics systems that allow for safe and efficient operation. However, the C-17 has a more modern cockpit with digital displays and a fly-by-wire control system, which provides a smoother and more precise flying experience. The C-5 has an older cockpit design, with analog gauges and a hydraulic control system.

Maintenance and Support

Maintenance and support for the C-17 and C-5 are both conducted by the USAF’s logistics and maintenance teams. However, the C-17’s design allows for easier and quicker maintenance, with a higher mission-capable rate than the C-5. Additionally, the C-17’s parts are more readily available due to its more recent production history.

Operational History

The C-17 and C-5 have both played crucial roles in military operations around the world. The C-17 has been used extensively in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in humanitarian missions such as earthquake relief in Haiti. The C-5 has been used in a variety of missions, including the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cost and Production

The C-17 and C-5 are both expensive aircraft to produce and maintain. The C-17 has a unit cost of around $218 million, while the C-5 has a unit cost of around $100 million. However, the C-17’s production line was closed in 2015, while the C-5 continues to be produced and upgraded.


In conclusion, both the C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy are exceptional military transport aircraft that have helped shape the modern military logistics landscape. While the C-5 has a larger cargo capacity and longer range, the C-17 is more versatile in terms of takeoff and landing distance and cockpit design. Ultimately, the choice between the two aircraft depends on the specific mission requirements and operational needs of the USAF.

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