The C-17A Globemaster III is a high-wing four-engine heavy transport aircraft. The aircraft is operated by the Royal Australian Air Force and based at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, Australia.

The C-17A operates as part of Operation Southern Discovery, which brings together the Department of Defence and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water in support of the Australian Antarctic Program.


  • Range: 10,390 km – can be refuelled in-flight, extending its range further.
  • Length: 53 m
  • Height: 16.8 m
  • Wing span: 51.75 m
  • Max Speed: Mach 0.74 (829 km/h)


The introduction of C-17A heavy-lift flights in 2016 filled a niche in the Australian Antarctic Program’s operational and logistical needs. These flights allow delivery of high-priority, outsize cargo that doesn’t fit in the Airbus A319 and needs quick turnaround times not possible by sea.

Heavy lift flights can carry up to 77 tonnes of cargo, accommodating loads such as helicopters, machinery and other vehicles, food and equipment. They can also transport expeditioners to and from Antarctica.

The C-17A is fitted with a ramp that allows it to airdrop cargo in-flight. This capability allows delivery of essential supplies and equipment to Antarctica year-round, especially outside the typical summer operating period between October and March. Access by air and sea is otherwise not possible due to darkness, sea ice extent and extreme temperature.

The airdrop capability can also support science projects operating in the deep field, where resupply is difficult and time-consuming. Pre-positioning equipment and supplies before the shipping season starts means that projects can start as soon as the first summer expeditioners arrive.

In 2017, an air-to-air refuel was proved to further extended Australia’s ability to deliver equipment and supplies for station and science projects.