ADF’s C-17 joins Diggers in Afghanistan

It’s longer than an Olympic pool and could help save Australian lives in one of the world’s most dangerous places.

The C-17 heavy air lift aircraft has joined the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan, marking the biggest technological advancement since troops were deployed to the war-stricken nation in 2001.

The 51-metre-long aircraft can carry four times the cargo of existing C-130 Hercules aircraft, yet travel at up to 800km/h.

With a 50-metre wingspan, it is slightly smaller than a civilian double-decker Airbus A380 aeroplane.

But compared with the existing fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft, which date back to the 1950s, it’s a heavier duty machine.

Where the C-130 can carry one armoured vehicle, the Boeing C-17 is able to transport five of the Bushmasters.

The new kid in the fleet made its first ever landing and take-off in a war zone this week as it delivered vital supplies to a remote air strip at Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan.

This also was the first time the aircraft had been deployed to Afghanistan since Australia took delivery of them in 2006.

Captain Gary Martin, the air component commander of the joint Australian task force in the Middle East, said fewer trips would help save lives on the frontline.

“It’s a dangerous environment. In the line of work, we only have to visit the place once rather than make two, three, four flights,” Captain Martin told AAP from an undisclosed location in the Middle East.

“We’re reducing the risk to Australian men and women and the ADF.

“We’re offered a larger capacity to handle difficult types of loads, to get the right equipment there at the right time.”

The defence force’s No.36 squadron has four C-17s, based at the Amberley RAAF base southwest of Brisbane.

By comparison, the air force has two dozen C-130s