C17 Vs C5A

When it comes to military aircraft, few are as iconic and important as the C17 and C5A. Both are used extensively by the US Air Force, and both have had a significant impact on global logistics and transportation. But while they may seem similar at first glance, there are significant differences between the two planes that are worth exploring.

Design and Performance

One of the most noticeable differences between the C17 and C5A is in their design. The C17 is a relatively new aircraft, having only been introduced in the 1990s. Its design is focused on modern, efficient transport, with a focus on flexibility and versatility. With a wingspan of 169 feet and a length of 174 feet, it is capable of carrying up to 102 troops, 36 stretchers for medical evacuation, or a variety of cargo, including vehicles, pallets, and containers.

By contrast, the C5A has been in service since the 1960s, and its design reflects its origins in a different era. It is significantly larger than the C17, with a wingspan of 222 feet and a length of 247 feet. Its payload capacity is also much greater, at over 270,000 pounds (compared to the C17’s maximum payload of around 170,000 pounds). This makes the C5A ideal for transporting heavy, oversized equipment such as tanks, helicopters, and other military vehicles.

In terms of performance, the C17 is faster and more agile than the C5A. It can reach speeds of up to 590 mph, compared to the C5A’s maximum speed of around 518 mph. It also has a much shorter takeoff and landing distance, thanks to its advanced thrust reversers and other modern technologies. This makes it useful for operations in remote locations, where shorter runways may be the only option.

However, the C5A has its own advantages. Its range of over 5,000 miles means it can fly non-stop from the United States to destinations across the globe, without needing to refuel. This makes it a critical asset for long-range missions, such as those involving aircraft and personnel deployments, where time is of the essence.

Maintenance and Efficiency

Another important factor to consider when comparing the C17 and C5A is their maintenance requirements and efficiency. Both planes require regular maintenance to ensure their safety and reliability, but the processes involved are quite different.

The C17 is designed with maintenance in mind, with features like easy-access panels and streamlined systems that make repairs and servicing easier and faster. It also uses modern technologies like computer-based maintenance monitoring, which can identify potential issues well before they become serious problems.

By contrast, the C5A is an older aircraft with more complex systems and components. This can make maintenance more challenging and time-consuming, especially when dealing with older parts that may be difficult to source. However, the Air Force has invested heavily in upgrading and modernizing the C5A fleet over the years, which has helped to improve its reliability and reduce maintenance requirements.

In terms of efficiency, the C17 is generally considered to be more fuel-efficient than the C5A. Its modern engines and advanced airframe technologies make it more environmentally friendly, while also reducing operating costs over the long term. However, the C5A’s larger cargo capacity means it can transport more materials in a single mission, which can help to reduce the overall number of flights needed for a particular operation.


Q: Which aircraft is better, the C17 or C5A?

A: It depends on the mission. The C17 is generally considered to be more versatile and adaptable to a wide range of situations, while the C5A is better suited for transporting heavy, oversized cargo over long distances.

Q: How many C17s and C5As are in the US Air Force fleet?

A: As of 2021, the US Air Force has approximately 275 C17s and 52 C5As in its inventory.

Q: How much does a C17 or C5A cost to operate?

A: The exact cost varies based on a number of factors, including fuel prices, maintenance requirements, and mission-specific needs. However, estimates suggest that the C17 costs around $7,000 per hour to operate, while the C5A costs around $16,000 per hour.

Q: Can the C17 or C5A carry tanks and other heavy military equipment?

A: Yes, both aircraft are capable of transporting heavy military equipment, although the C5A has a higher payload capacity and is better suited for moving large tanks and other vehicles.


Both the C17 and C5A are important assets in the US Air Force’s arsenal, and each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The C17 is a more modern, versatile aircraft with a focus on agility and flexibility, while the C5A is larger and more suited for long-range operations and heavy cargo transport. Ultimately, the choice of which plane to use depends on the specific mission objectives and requirements, and both aircraft will continue to play a critical role in global logistics and transportation for years to come.