The modern battlefield requires the commander to put or move around his forces quickly in the battlefield. The mechanized nature of warfare requires airlifting capabilities and in many cases they have proven to be the only lifeline in battle.
1. C-130 Hercules
The four-engine turboprop aircraft is one of the few planes to remain in continuous production for more than 50 years with more than 2,300 aircrafts produced. Introduced into service in 1957, it has proved to be versatile and adaptable in various special roles. It can carry 20 tons of cargo within a range of 3,800 km and land in roughly levelled airstrips.
2. Douglas C-47
Simply known as ‘Dakota’, more than 10,000 of them were produced since 1935. It was used in special roles such as dropping agents in Occupied France, flying ‘The Hump’ from India to China and the airborne invasions in Normandy and Holland. It was also used extensively in the ‘Berlin Airlift’.
The German workhorse was the equivalent of the Allied C-47 during the war. Its tri-motor engines and corrugated metal skin, gave it some durability. But it lacked the capacity. It hauled supplies troops in all the campaigns including the invasion of Crete. It was the primary carrier for the airborne troops.
4. Ilyushin IL-76
Introduced in 1974, it was supposed to become the mainstay of the Soviet airlifting capability. It could operate in harsh climates and from rough airstrips. It was the Soviet Hercules. It had a maximum payload of 47 tons with a range of 4,400 km. around 900 of them were built. It has been used as an AWAC platform with the designation of A-50 Shmel.
5. C-5 Galaxy
It is the prime US Strategic airlifter with a maximum payload of 120 tons over long distances. Introduced in 1970, over 130 were built. A $2billion overhaul was carried out in the 80’s to increase its capabilities. It has a larger cargo compartment than the Starlifter and is capable of carrying bulky cargoes such as three CH-46 helicopters. But it is plagued with high maintenance and fuel requirements.
6. C-17 Globemaster
The latest airlifter in the USAF was introduced in 1991. It can carry a payload of more than 75 tons for 4,400 km. it has crew of two Pilots and one Loadmaster. It was designed as the successor to the retired C-141 Starlifter. It has STOL capability as same as the Hercules and is suited for both Tactical/Strategic deployments.
7. C-141 Starlifter
The Starlifter was world’s first pure jet-powered airlifter. Introduced in 1965 and retired in 2006, 285 of these airlifters were built. It could carry a payload of nearly 20 tons for more than 10,000 km. A configured version could also carry an entire Minuteman ballistic missile in its container. It served with the USAF and its NATO allies.
The military version of An-10, was produced from 1957-73 and more than 1,200 were built. It is very similar to the C-130 Hercules in many aspects. Along with Il-76, it formed the backbone of the Soviet Airlift Command throughout the Cold War. It is still in wide use with many commercial users.
It was the largest airplane in production until the advent of An-225. Introduced in 1986, about 50 of these aircrafts were produced until the fall of the Soviet Union halted production. It can carry up to a massive 150 tons of cargo. It also set the world record in 1987 by flying 20,151 km (10,881 miles) without refuelling without any cargo. It’s large and wide-body allows it to carry bulky cargoes such as outsize aircraft components.
It is the world’s largest turboprop driven plane, powered by four contra-rotating turboprops. It could carry up to 80 tons of cargo within a range of 5,000 km or carry four BMD-1 Armoured vehicles rather one in the An-12 it was to replace. But it was never produced in large numbers.