The Globemaster: Multi-Mission Ready

During the sudden evacuation of the United States from Afghanistan in 2021, the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III gained international fame. Nonstop flights of these cargo planes were going out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, with one flight evacuating over 800 people. Nicknamed the Moose, the Globemaster III is notably the third in a line of cargo planes bearing the Globemaster name and has proven itself an extremely capable aircraft.

C-17 Globemaster III
A C-17 Globemaster III rests on the active runway of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo)


The first aircraft to be named Globemaster was the Douglas C-74. Research and development of the C-74 began in early 1942 at Douglas Aircrafts Santa Monica division and was designed as a transpacific heavy-lift aircraft. Given the heavy-lift requirements of the military, the engineers focused on building a large plane with enough power and lift to accommodate light tanks, 105mm howitzers, towing vehicles, bulldozers, and jeeps.

Douglas C-74 Globemaster
Douglas C-74 Globemaster over Long Beach, CA. October, 1945

Fruits of Labour

Per the military’s specifications, Douglas came up with the Model 415 design. On June 25, 1942, they signed a $50 million contract with the military for 50 aircraft. The Model 415 boasted a capacity of 125 troops or up to 48,150 pounds of cargo. This outshined the C-54 Skymaster quadjet’s capacity of 50 troops or up to 32,500 pounds of cargo.

The C-74 would eventually not see its first flight until September 5, 1945. The delay was due to the development and production modification issues that resulted from building such a revolutionary aircraft at the time. Production stopped after Victory over Japan Day (15 Aug 1945) and the contract was cancelled with only 14 jets produced.

Operational Use

It was after the Second World War, in 1947, that the Globemaster was declared operational. It mainly flew humanitarian missions including flood relief in Florida and hurricane recovery for other southeastern US states. A single Globemaster also participated in the infamous Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. The C-74 landed in the British sector of Berlin carrying 20 tons of flour and over the following six weeks, the C-74 flew another 24 missions into the city.

U. S. Air Force C-74 Globemaster plane
A U. S. Air Force C-74 Globemaster plane touched down at Gatow airfield located in southwestern Berlin, Germany 1948

It delivered a staggering 1,234,000 pounds of supplies which made up a big portion of the total aid delivered. The plane’s crew also set several aerial records including flying a total of 20 hours during a 24-hour period. After Soviet protests on its usage, the Globemaster was reassigned to carry C-54 engines and parts to Europe from the mainland USA.

Nonetheless, with so few C-74s built and the introduction of its replacement in 1950, the Air Force retired it in 1959. Those that were sold to the civilian market flew for another decade.

Douglas C-74
Douglas C-74 Photo: Bill Larkins

A Successor

Douglas actually converted the fifth C-74 that it built into a prototype for its successor aircraft: the C-124 Globemaster II. This new aircraft used the same wing as the original Globemaster but sported an even larger fuselage. The C-124’s design was heavily influenced by the lessons learned during the Berlin Airlift.

It featured two large clamshell doors and a hydraulic ramp in its nose as well as a cargo elevator under the aft fuselage to make loading and unloading more efficient. The C-124 also exhibited an increased capacity of 200 troops or up to 74,000 pounds of cargo.

U.S. Air Force Douglas C-124A Globemaster II
A U.S. Air Force Douglas C-124A Globemaster II (s/n 49-241)

Operational Use

Thanks to its immense load capacity, the C-124 became the Air Force’s primary heavy lifter during the Korean and later Vietnam wars. During its tenure, it was the only aircraft to sustain the weight of assembled heavy equipment like tanks and bulldozers.

Moreover, it supported supply operations for Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica and transported PGM-17 Thor ballistic missiles across the Atlantic. The C-124 was eventually transitioned to the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard following the introduction of Lockheed’s C-5A Galaxy in 1970.

The last Globemaster II was retired in 1974. Nevertheless, McDonnell Douglas revived the Globemaster name for the C-17 in 1995. The company would later merge with Boeing in 1997 and carry on the legacy of the Globemaster to this day.

U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III T-1 flies over Owens Valley, California