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Lyles delivers newest C-17 to Air Force

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- A critical piece of the Air Force puzzle was put in place Aug. 1 as Air Force Materiel Command's top officer delivered the newest C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

Gen. Lester Lyles, AFMC commander, delivered the aircraft, the 42nd C-17 to be delivered to Charleston. "This aircraft is literally the workhorse for Operation Enduring Freedom and everything we're doing today in the war on terrorism." Lyles said. "It's the major strategic airlifter and one of the primary tactical airlifters in Afghanistan and the entire theater."

Air Force officials describe the C-17 as one of the most flexible aircraft in the Air Force's fleet. The ramp can be configured to transport more than 100 warfighters, about 35 litter and more than 50 ambulatory patients and attendants, or almost 171,000 pounds of cargo.

"Right now, with what we're doing since Sept. 11, this airplane is absolutely critical to our operation," said Maj. Scott Brown, C-17 aircraft commander.

One reason the C-17 is critical in the war on terrorism is its capable of landing on runways as short at 3,500 feet. Other cargo aircraft require significantly more room, Brown said.

"We bombed the Kandahar airport and only had 3,500 feet of usable runway afterward," said Lt. Col. Steve Shope, 15th Airlift Squadron commander at Charleston. "We delivered a minesweeper to Kandahar that we couldn't have gotten within 1,500 miles of otherwise. No other airplane could have put it in there."

On top of this, Shope said the C-17 can use a spiral approach to land, which minimizes the aircraft's vulnerability in enemy territory.

"We did one of these spiral approaches in Kandahar on a mission I was on during the day and we were on the ground in a matter of minutes," Shope said. "That's a very short period of time that somebody has to shoot at us. That's the capability of the airplane -- it's keeping our guys safe out there who are doing our mission for us."

The new aircraft also provides the crew with the technology to map terrain, track the location of nearly 100 aircraft in about a 100-square-mile area and use a reactive wind-shear warning system on the heads-up display. It can also store 60,000 more pounds of fuel than most of the earlier versions.

With the delivery of the 89th C-17, Air Force officials are looking forward to receiving many more. Current funding is available to produce 120 planes. Congress, however, just gave approval for 60 more, bringing the expected total to 180. Still, Air Force officials hope for additional C-17s, and with good reason.

"In that landlocked country of Afghanistan, where everything goes in by air, there's no way we could have done what we've been able to do without a program like this; it's really a tremendous success story," Lyles said. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)