Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Military Muscle : New Generation Cargo Jet Drops Off a 20-Ton Tank in Ongoing Test at Edwards


About 1,300 feet above the desert here, a high-tech military cargo jet opened its belly and hurled a 20-ton U.S. Army tank into the wild blue yonder.

If this were a summer blockbuster movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger might be clinging to the outside of this airborne tank.

But this was no movie stunt. And there was no crash in store for this armored vehicle, an unmanned Sheridan tank.

Moments after it rolled out of the C-17 cargo jet Wednesday, eight huge, green parachutes inflated. The tank, strapped to an aluminum platform, rocked precariously beneath the chutes, then leveled off and landed gently on the dry bed of Rogers Lake.


Air Force officials had invited newspaper and television reporters to this aerial drama, part of the ongoing testing associated with the costly new C-17 jets.

Col. Terry E. Tomeny, director of the C-17 test program, said he was pleased with the outcome--and the overall performance of the plane. Highly maneuverable and designed for quick takeoffs and landings, the computer-guided C-17 is expected to take the place of older, less flexible military cargo planes in coming years.

“This is the most versatile airlifter in the world today,” Tomeny said.

The tank drop was one demonstration of the craft’s capabilities, he said. In a real-life battle zone, a C-17 could drop tanks, personnel vehicles and other heavy materiel. Troops could quickly unstrap them and put them into action.


In addition, each plane can carry up to 102 soldiers, as well as military and medical relief supplies.

Tomeny said crews at Edwards began testing the jets in September, 1991, and should complete the evaluation by the end of this year. The Air Force has released the first eight C-17s for limited use by pilots at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.

Heavy equipment drops by the C-17, such as the tank test, are still being reviewed at Edwards.

The cargo jets, manufactured in Long Beach by McDonnell Douglas, carry a price tag in excess of $300 million each, which has drawn criticism from some members of Congress.


Jim Ramsey, a McDonnell Douglas spokesman, said Congress has approved funding for 26 C-17s, and Pentagon officials are seeking approval for at least 14 more.


After the first 40 jets, McDonnell Douglas hopes to reduce the price to about $225 million, Ramsay said.

Some congressional critics have questioned whether the C-17 will live up to all of the claims made by its Air Force boosters. During Wednesday’s demonstration at Edwards, Air Force officials praised the C-17’s performance and said nothing about its cost.