It is 20 years today since the first C-17 Globemaster III arrived at RAF Brize Norton.

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.

Today, 99 Squadron is one of only eight C-17 operators outside the US, and the UK is the only nation in Europe to operate an independent fleet of C-17s. 

Oxford Mail:

C-17 loaded with freight and personnel to support Operation Ruman, humanitarian support of hurricane Irma. Picture MOD Crown Copyright

Providing support to Operation Herrick in Afghanistan was initially the 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. 

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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.

It is a long-range, heavy-lift strategic transport aircraft, which can deliver enormous, outsized loads rapidly into challenging locations that are not normally accessible to an aircraft of its size.

 “ZZ171” or “UK one” was flown by 99 Squadron from Boeing’s Long Beach facility across the Atlantic to its new home on May 17 2001. 

Four C-17s were initially leased by the UK but they quickly provided huge value to defence and the fleet soon doubled with eight permanent aircraft being bought.

ZZ178 was delivered to the RAF by Boeing on May 18 2012, just over a decade after the first aircraft.

Since it entered service with the RAF, the C-17 has maintained the airbridge between the UK and its operations overseas.

Over the past two decades 99 Squadron have flown 150 thousand hours and travelled a distance equal to 2,000 laps around the globe, carrying everyone 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 20 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.

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“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." 

Oxford Mail:

Wing Commander Kevin Latchman, Officer Commanding 99 Sqn. Picture MOD Crown Copyright

Malcolm Brecht, a former RAF pilot and now director of C-17 International, Program Integration and Field Services, at Boeing, said: “There was just a year and a day between the decision to procure the C-17 and its delivery to the UK.” 

Mr Brecht took delivery of the first RAF C-17 from Long Beach, California, and supported its introduction into service as the first Officer Commanding 99 Squadron. 

He said: “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.”