The Five Most Popular Military Cargo Planes Today

For every soldier serving on the front lines of a battlefield there are an estimated 7 to 9 support people connecting them to communication lines and providing them with ammunition, food, support vehicles, and virtually everything they need to be effective in combat. But what is usually overlooked are the transport cargo planes that get all of that equipment to the area for delivery.

Several of these military cargo planes are beyond imagination in size, being able to fly tanks, Humvees, and even fighter jets to distant locations within hours. No doubt they burn a lot of fuel during their sometimes secretive missions, and while size is a huge factor in determining their popularity, there are other factors military experts like to see in a cargo plane. You may want to pause and think about the fact that the cargo they carry is usually more valuable than the plane itself. Here are 5 of the most popular operating today.

1. C-130

Built by Lockheed-Martin, it has been a longtime favorite for many reasons. Comprising almost 25 percent of the total number of all military cargo planes, its cost is actually moderate at $30 million per plane. Their number has increased by 10 percent over the last few years, up to 951 C-130’s currently operational. When it comes to the combination of cost and cargo space, nothing rivals the C-130. It design comes as close as you can get to being the perfect military cargo plane for large and medium sized militaries.

2. Beechcraft King Air

What makes this cargo plane interesting is you can forget about cargo space even though most people think it is a critical factor in determining popularity. This aircraft costs about $7.5 million, about 75 percent less than the C-130. Sometimes popularity is all about price, especially when governments have financially austere military budgets to work with. There are a number of variations used, but the main reason they are so popular is unlike the C-130, the King Air only needs a small runway to land on, making it ideal for use at smaller airports and remote areas.

3. C-17 Globemaster

Boeing is the manufacturer of this plane which costs 10 times more than the C-130 to make. Of all the transport cargo planes on this list, it is the only one that is jet powered. It is much bigger than the C-130 with a payload of more than 170,000 pounds, 4 times that of the C-130. Despite its size, its enhanced version can fly from New York to Los Angeles without refueling. Though manufacture of the plane was halted in 2015, it remains an integral part of the cargo transport of countries such as Australia and India.

4. Airbus CN-235

It’s obvious that Airbus would take its technology to the military side, and it has with its CN-235. Labeled as the lowest cost cargo transport plane available on the market, it has as many aircraft in operation globally as the Globemaster. Airbus is a European manufacturer and understands how critical the cost of military non-fighter aircraft is to governments. With a payload of just over 13,000 pounds, it is comparable to the C-130 in many ways.

5. Antonov An-26 Curl

You knew there had to be a Russian entry on this list, but it has earned its spot. Occupying 5 percent of the world’s market in cargo transport aircraft, production of the An-26 stopped more than 50 years ago. That is correct. An aircraft with that much staying power has a lot to be said for it. Another propeller powered plane, its original model was required to be able to handle the wide variety of climates across the Soviet Union, and it has performed remarkably.

Despite the enormous sizes of all these transport planes, the crew size required to safely operate the plane for most is only three. And while being categorized as cargo transport planes they are often repurposed to serve any number of military functions. For example, the C-17 can hold 102 paratroopers (and their equipment) and drop them into the needed strike zone effortlessly. This versatility is among the top reasons why these aircraft are so popular.

Most of the airplanes on this list have one endearing characteristic that makes them popular to the buyers, whether it is a government or a private company – they seem to last forever. Considering the Russian An-26 continues to fly 50 years later, and the C-130 is close to that number, popularity and cost seem to go hand-in-hand. The maintenance cost for all of these planes except the Globemaster is relatively low because of their propeller driven engines, which don’t require annual or semi-annual overhaul.


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