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Military transport aircraft

C-17 Globemaster III military cargo aircraft.

Military transport aircraft or military cargo aircraft are typically fixed and rotary wing cargo aircraft which are used to deliver troops, weapons and other military equipment by a variety of methods to any area of military operations around the surface of the planet, usually outside of the commercial flight routes in uncontrolled airspace. Originally derived from bombers, military transport aircraft were used for delivering airborne forces during the Second World War and towing military gliders. Some military transport aircraft are tasked to performs multi-role duties such as aerial refueling and, tactical, operational and strategic airlifts onto unprepared runways, or those constructed by engineers.


  • Fixed-wing transport aircraft 1
    • Active fixed-wing transport aircraft 1.1
    • Active fixed-wing tanker aircraft 1.2
    • Commercial aircraft used in military role 1.3
  • Transport helicopters 2
  • See also 3

Fixed-wing transport aircraft

Fixed-wing transport aircraft are defined in terms of their range capability as strategic airlift or tactical airlift to reflect the needs of the land forces which they most often support. These roughly correspond to the commercial flight length distinctions:
Short-haul flight: <3 hours
Medium-haul flight: 3 to 6 hours
Long-haul flight: >6 hours

A more specialised role of a cargo aircraft is that of transporting fuel in support of other aircraft with more limited flight endurance such as fighters or helicopters. Smaller cargo aircraft, known as "utility", are often used to transport military communications equipment as temporary or permanent platforms, and in the command role by providing airborne command post or as an air ambulance.

Active fixed-wing transport aircraft

RAF TriStar refuelling US Navy F/A-18s.
The C-5 Galaxy.
The Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle "Mystic" being loaded into an An-124, California.
Antonov An-225 with Buran at Le Bourget 1989.
Il-76 and Tu-95 over Moscow on Victory Day Parade.
Manufacturer Model first flight max Payload (t) Cruise (km/h) max range (km) MTOW
Airbus A330 MRTT 2007 45 860 14,800 223
Airbus A400M 2009 37 780 9,300 141
Alenia C-27J Spartan 2008 11.5 583 5,926 31.8
Antonov An-12 1957 20 670 5,700 61
Antonov An-22 Antei 1965 80 740 5,000 250
Antonov An-26 1969 5.5 440 2,550 24
Antonov An-32 1976 6.7 480 2,500 26.9
Antonov An-70 1994 47 729 6,600 145
Antonov An-72 1977 7.5 600 4,800 33
Antonov An-124 Ruslan 1982 150 800-850 5,410 405
Antonov An-225 Mriya 1988 250 800 15,400 600
AVIC Y-8 1974 20 550 5,616 61
AVIC Y-9 2008 25 650 7,800 77
AVIC Y-20 2013 66 700 7,800 220
Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey 1989 6.8 396 1,627 27.4
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III 1991 77.5 830 10,390 265
Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker 1956 37.6 853 17,766 146
CASA C-212 Aviocar 1971 2.8 315 1,433 8
CASA/Indonesian Aerospace CN-235 1983 5 509 5,003 15.1
CASA C-295 1998 9.3 481 5,630 23.2
de Havilland Canada C-7 Caribou 1958 3.6 348 2,103 14.2
Douglas C-47 1943 3 360 2,600 10.5
Grumman C-1 Trader 1952 1.6 462 2,092 13.2
Grumman C-2 Greyhound 1964 4.5 465 2,400 24.7
Embraer KC-390 2014 23 900 6,200 72
Fairchild C-123 Provider 1949 11 367 1,666 27
Ilyushin Il-76 1971 47 900 4,400 210
Ilyushin Il-112 2011 5.9 550 5,000 20
Kawasaki C-1 1970 11.9 657 1,300 45
Kawasaki XC-2 2010 37.6 890 6,500 120
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy 1968 122 907 4,445 381
Lockheed C-130 Hercules 1954 20 540 3,800 70.3
Lockheed C-141 Starlifter 1963 28.4 912 9,880 147
McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender 1980 77 908 18,507 268
PZL Mielec M-28 Skytruck 1993 2.5 270 1,500 8
Short Brothers C-23 Sherpa 1982 3.2 296 1,239 3.2
Transport Allianz Transall C-160 1963 16 513 1,850 49.2
UAC and HAL UAC/HAL Multirole Transport Aircraft 2015 22 830 2,500 68

Active fixed-wing tanker aircraft

Commercial aircraft used in military role

Transport helicopters

Military transport helicopters are used in places where the use of conventional aircraft is impossible. For example the military transport helicopter is the primary transport asset of US Marines deploying from LHDs and LHA. The landing possibilities of helicopters are almost unlimited, and where landing is impossible, for example densely packed jungle, the ability of the helicopter to hover allows troops to deploy by abseiling and roping.

Transport helicopters are operated in assault, medium and heavy classes. Air assault helicopters are usually the smallest of the transport types, and designed to move an infantry squad or section and their equipment. Helicopters in the assault role are generally armed for self-protection both in transit and for suppression of the landing zone. This armament may be in the form of door gunners, or the modification of the helicopter with stub wings and pylons to carry missiles and rocket pods. For example the Sikorsky S-70, fitted with the ESSM (External Stores Support System), and the Hip E variant of the Mil Mi-8 can carry as much disposable armament as some dedicated attack helicopters. The assault helicopter can be thought of as the modern successor to the military glider. Finally, there is the generic term utility helicopter, which generally refers to medium-lift designs.

Not all militaries are able to operate a full range of transport helicopters, so the medium transport type is probably the most useful compromise and probably the most common specialist transport type. Medium transport helicopters are generally capable of moving up to a platoon of infantry and are capable of being able to transport towed artillery or light vehicles either internally or as under-slung roles. Unlike the assault helicopter they are usually not expected to land directly in a contested landing zone, but are used to reinforce and resupply landing zones taken by the initial assault wave. Examples include the unarmed versions of the Mil Mi-8, Super Puma, and CH-46 Sea Knight.

Heavy lift helicopters are the largest and most capable of the transport types, currently limited in service to the CH-53 Sea Stallion and related CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-47 Chinook, Mil Mi-26, and Aérospatiale Super Frelon. Capable of lifting up to 80 troops and moving small Armoured fighting vehicles (usually as slung loads but also internally), these helicopters operate in the tactical transport role in much the same way as small fixed wing turboprop air-lifters. The lower speed, range and increased fuel consumption of helicopters are more than compensated by their ability to operate virtually anywhere.

See also

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