Kabul airlift, visualized: In 16 days, massive planes moved enough evacuees to fill a small city by USA Today

Though it had no official name, the American air evacuation from Kabul, Afghanistan, was one of the largest such operations in history. Over the course of 16 flight days, U.S. forces alone ferried out an estimated 116,700 people, a few less than the entire population of Billings, Montana.

The airlift began at the end of July but shifted into high gear after the Taliban unexpectedly seized the capital on Aug. 14. As daily flights increased, service members found themselves working long hours under exhausting conditions, including threats of extremist attacks.

At its peak, more than 5,000 troops were part of the operation. Thirteen of them – 11 Marines, an Army soldier, and a Navy hospital corpsman – died in an ISIS-K suicide bombing on Aug. 26.

About 6,000 Americans were evacuated. The airlift relied heavily on C-17 Globemasters, massive cargo planes with a normal capacity of 336 people, though one C-17 reportedly flew from Kabul to Qatar with 823 aboard on Aug. 15. Passengers included 640 adults and 183 children.

We started by arranging those 116,700 U.S. military evacuees in groups of 500 aboard C-17s. That may be an underestimate, considering reports of the Globemaster with 823 aboard.

Then we showed how big this group was compared to an American football field. From there, it was easy to show the incredible scale of the effort.