Everything you wanted to know about a Globemaster

Thousands of Cantabrians jumped at the chance to wander through the colossal United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III before its annual missions to Antarctica begin on Monday.

The 53-metre long air craft can carry about 80,000kg worth of cargo or up to 189 passengers on its voyages to the Ice and yesterday it opened its doors to the public.

Lieutenant Colonel and C-17 commander Brent Keenan, 41, said the seasonal flights to Antarctica were ''some of the most challenging'' the US Air Force conducted because of the extreme weather conditions and lack of visibility.

Keenan has been flying the frosty five hour trip since 2006 and said despite the C-17 being the biggest aircraft to make the flight, it was ''nimble considering its size''.

''When you are flying it, you don't really realise how big it is,'' he said.

The plane is set up with winch systems and chain restraints to secure extremely heavy cargo such as helicopters.

It has also been designed to perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions.

Fuel, food, medicine and emergency supplies can be pushed off the ramp at the back of the plane and air force personnel can jump from the ''troop door'' while it is flying.

More than 50 per cent of the US Air Force personnel who support the C-17's in Christchurch were volunteers who had civilian jobs, Keenan said.

''The C-17 personnel get to travel all over the world and have been to six of the seven continents, but getting that seventh is a pretty unique thing to do.''

Of the 52 missions planned so far this season, Keenan said about 15 per cent would be cancelled due to harsh weather conditions.

The C-17 flew into Christchurch from Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base on Friday afternoon.

About 10 thousand people viewed the air craft yesterday as part of the first ever New Zealand IceFest event, a Christchurch City Council spokeswoman said.

In 1955, the United States made Christchurch a base for its Operation Deep Freeze scientific research missions.

Since then, American transport aircraft, such as the Super Constellation and the ski-equippped C-130 Hercules, have passed through the skies above Christchurch en-route to Antarctica.

The C-17 will start taking Scott Base and McMurdo Station staff to Antarctica tomorrow.


Quick facts on the C-17 Globemaster III:

❏Length: 53 metres

❏Wingspan: 51.75 metres

❏Height: 16.79 metres

❏Maximum takeoff weight: 265,352 kilograms

❏First flight: September 15 1991

❏Cost: $202.3 million

Fairfax Media