• Review: C-17A Globemaster By Area 51 Sim

    Review: C-17A Globemaster By Area 51 Sim

    By Bill Stack
    October 1, 2011

    Screen shots by Area 51

    The Boeing C-17A Globemaster is a heavy transport and cargo aircraft used by the United States Air Force and other militaries around the world. This a high-wing, 4-engine, T-tailed aircraft can carry large equipment, supplies and troops directly to small airfields in harsh terrain anywhere in the world day or night, according to the Boeing web site. It has delivered cargo in every worldwide operation since the 1990s. Boeing, which took over the project when it acquired McDonnell Douglas, calls it the "world's most advanced."

    The following description is quoted directly from the Boeing web site:

    "The C-17's ability to fly long distances and land in remote airfields in rough, land-locked regions make it a premier transporter for military, humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. It can:
    • Take off from a 7,600-ft. airfield, carry a payload of 160,000 pounds, fly 2,400 nautical miles, refuel while in flight and land in 3,000 ft. or less on a small unpaved or paved airfield in day or night.

    • Carry a cargo of wheeled U.S. Army vehicles in two side-by-side rows, including the U.S. Army's main battle tank, the M-1. Three Bradley infantry-fighting vehicles comprise one load.

    • Drop a single 60,000-lb. payload, with sequential load drops of 110,000 lb.

    • Back up a two-percent slope.

    • Seat 54 on the sidewall and 48 in the centerline."

    On 28 July 2010, a C-17 Globemaster crashed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, resulting in the loss of all four crew members aboard, according to Wikipedia and other sources. An investigation found that the crash resulted from pilot error after an extreme bank at low-altitude caused an unrecoverable stall. It remains the only fatal crash of this aircraft type.

    On 30 January 2009, a C-17 Globemaster crashed on landing at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after pilots failed to lower the landing gear, an Air Mobility Command investigation concluded, according to Air Force Times. "Rumors that crew members hadn't lowered the landing gear have circulated since the Jan. 30 crash after photographs from inside the plane's cockpit showed the landing gear controls in the up position." (That makes me feel a little better about my occasional gear-up landings! Maybe I'll simulate that at Bagram and see what happens.)

    Area 51 emphasizes these features of its C-17 Globemaster:

    • Built for FSX and FS2004 engines
    • Very high detail exterior and interior
    • Parachute effect
    • Sound set
    • Files for custom texturing

    The same product contains the FS2004 and FSX versions. Users choose which version they want during installation. I reviewed the FSX version.

    U.S. Air Force Royal Air Force Qatar Air Force
    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Visual Features

    Overall dimensions, details, and liveries appear realistic compared with real-world photos I found on the Internet. But each aircraft's exteriors have visible glitches that diminish the appearances of these otherwise well-done liveries. Colors and textures seem to be incorrect in some areas, such as near the main wheels and near the cockpits. Bright colors appear in some places on each aircraft's nighttime exteriors. These problems were also reported by buyers who reviewed the product on the Flight Sim Pilot Shop.

    When the main exit door was open, I could see the cargo bay inside, but I found no other way to view this bay.


    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    C-17A CLOSE UP

    Screen shots by Bill Stack


    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The C-17A's Cockpit

    The cockpit appears substantially realistic compared with real-world photos I found. With several models of this aircraft produced for various air forces around the world over the last 18 years, there are likely to be differences among their cockpits and panels. Therefore, differences are possible between Area 51's rendition and various real-world photos.

    Left Seat View Center View Right Seat View
    Left Seat View Right Seat View Center View
    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The C-17A's Instruments & Controls

    Most instruments in Area 51's C-17A are common among jet aircraft, such as the primary flight display, the engine instrument display, and the navigation display. A unique instrument is the Heads Up Display, one of which is attached atop the main instrument panel in front of each pilot seat. Controls at the bottom of this apparatus turn the device on and off and adjust its brightness with mouse clicks.

    Popup windows contain the GPS, Autopilot, "MFDR" (Engines), "MFDL" (Primary Flight and Navigation Displays), Radios, Fuel, Overhead, Anti Ice, and FMC (Flight Management Computer).

    Many switches, buttons, and levers work with mouse clicks. I was able to turn on only the upper FMCs because none of the buttons on the lower units responded to mouse clicks.

    Instructions for using these instrument panels are presented in a manual available for downloading from the Area 51 web site. Flight simmers who are familiar with jet aircraft instruments will be able to figure them out.

    Center Console Center Console
    Overhead Panel Heads Up Display

    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    The C-17A's Performance Specifications

    Complete performance specifications for the C-17A Globemaster are not readily available from reliable sources. No data are provided by Area 51. Most data on the Internet are repeated from one site to another. I obtained some data from my flight tests. Some data such as stall speed and landing speeds are not precise because they vary with factors such as weight and weather.

    C-17A Performance Specifications
    Item Value
    Empty Weight 282,500 lbs
    Useful Load 302,500 lbs
    Maximum Take-off Weight 585,000 lbs
    Range 2,420 NM1
    Ceiling 45,000 feet
    Endurance 1
    Take-Off Speed 64 KTS
    Best Rate of Climb Speed 89 KTS
    Cruising Speed 450 knots, Mach 0.762
    Maneuvering Speed NA
    Stall Speed NA
    Never-Exceed Speed NA
    Approach Speed 175 KIAS3
    1. Range and endurance global with aerial refueling
    2. At 28,000 feet
    3. Obtained from my flight tests
    "NA" means "Not Available"
    Source: Boeing, USAF

    The C-17A's Performance

    Without written guidance on flying this aircraft, we flight simmers are left on our own to figure out how to fly it. There are no checklists or reference data in the kneeboard. Although no manual is included with the package, a nine-page manual is available for downloading from the Area 51 web site. But that manual doesn't provide any specific performance data. There's no guidance on power levels or flaps deflections for take off, about rotation speed, liftoff speed, climb speed, cruising speed, approach speed, or about flaps deflection, gear down, and airspeeds for landing. Flight simmers with experience simulating the big jets can use educated guesses. Other simmers will simply be experimenting with trial and error.

    For my flight tests, I used Charleston Air Force Base (KCHS) in Charleston, South Carolina, because it is where the first production models were delivered in 1993 and because the USAF livery says "Charleston" on the tail. This airport's two runways are 7,010 feet and 9,011 feet. Its elevation is 45 feet above mean sea level. I used standard atmosphere (29.92 inches and 59 Fahrenheit) and the default fuel and payload weights (519,829 pounds gross, which is 88 percent of maximum).

    I set the flaps levers at about half. Then I throttled up to 100 percent N2. Above that, the digits turn red. It rotated at about 140 KIAS and lifted off at about 150 KIAS. Exact speeds are impossible to grab because the airspeed tape is moving up so quickly. The aircraft lifted off a hundred feet or so from the end of KCHS Runway 3 (7,010 ft). After gear retraction, it climbed comfortably at 15 degree pitch, about 2,000 feet per minute, and it gained airspeed to about 200 KIAS. Upon full flaps retraction, it increased airspeed to 240 KIAS at 15 degrees pitch.

    This C-17A handles straight and level flight and turns with the same effort as other heavy jet aircraft in FSX. Like the Boeing 747, it's slow to react to any controls &#8212 up, down, left, right.

    Landings are typical. With full flaps, the C-17A approached at 175 KIAS and touched down at 150 KIAS. I expected a stall at such a low speed for such a large aircraft, but none happened. With spoilers, full flaps, and reverse thrusters, the aircraft stopped within KCHS's 7,010-foot runway. It taxis as expected of such a large aircraft.

    The Boeing web site says the aircraft can back up a two-percent grade. I found no grades in FSX for testing this, but Area 51's C-17A does back up (on the ground, of course) when the reverse thrusters are engaged.

    Overall, Area 51's C-17A handles much like the default heavy aircraft in FSX during all flight phases. For this reason, we could use the data from the FSX Boeing 747 as reliable substitutes. It handles more easily with autopilot, but manual flight isn't difficult. All my observations are based on default weight and standard atmosphere. Different characteristics are likely with different weights and weather conditions.

    Not being a C-17 pilot, and never having flown a C-17, I cannot say how closely Area 51's rendition resembles the real-world aircraft's performance.


    As usual, flight controls such as flaps, ailerons, rudder, and reverse thrusters are animated. Additionally, the main exit left of the cockpit, the cargo doors on both sides, and the loading ramp at the tail open and close. The manual explains the method for opening and closing these doors. The product description refers to "Parachute Effect," but I never found what that is. Nothing is said in the manual, nobody parachuted out of the aircraft during flight, and no parachute deployed upon landing.


    Pilot Access Door

    Cargo Doors and Loading Ramp
    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Technical Matters

    Area 51's C-17A is for FS2004 and FSX with the same package containing both versions. Users select the version they want during installation. I reviewed the FSX version. This product worked without difficulty on my Windows 7 system.

    In the Aircraft Selection menu, the C-17A is listed in the manufacturer category under "Area 51."

    Sixty-three sound files are contained in the FSX Sound folder. They seem unique to this aircraft, but I cannot determine whether they are unique or copied from other aircraft.

    Removing the product can be done with the uninstall program included with the product.

    The nine-page manual available for free downloading from the Area 51 Simulations web site provides background about the aircraft and instructions on using the instrument panels and other features. Because it is not included with the product sold at the Pilot Shop, I do not report its contents in detail.

    I received no responses from Area 51 to my questions about this product.

    Readers with technical questions not answered in this review should ask the developer, who is in the best position to answer such questions. Using the links below, go to the Pilot Shop page where the product is listed and described, then click on "Manufacturer Tech Support" in the right column.


    MSFS Version

    FS2004 & FSX

    Instant download from the Pilot Shop


    Installation program


    License key required


    Copyright acknowledgment required


    Frame Rates


    Manual included


    Uninstall program included



    $29.95 US

    More Information

    Information about the real-world Boeing C-17A Globemaster is available from:

    The Developer

    Area 51 Simulations has developed several other military aircraft for flight simulation. It was founded in 2009 by a group of freelance flight sim developers according to its web site. "Our goal is to bring you very high detailed products at acceptable prices. We have 2 offices in Turkey and China/Hong Kong. Our designers can use 3D Studio Max™, Vue™, Poser ™, City Engine™ and Virtools™." Three of its other products are the Lockheed C-5M Galaxy, the Boeing MH-47G Chinook, and the Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady.

    Bill Stack
    [email protected]

    Learn more about the Boeing C-17A Globemaster by Area 51 Simulations.

    Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His web site is www.topskills.com