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Reflections on an epic milestone

McChord reservists reflect on one C-17 reaching 2 million flying hours

A McChord Field based active duty aircrew was part of a mission that delivered 70,000 pounds of fuel to a remote location in Afghanistan. During the mission, the C-17 surpassed the two million flight hours mark. /U.S. Air Force/Abner Guzman

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A C-17 Globemaster III recently surpassed 2 million flying hours during an airdrop mission over Afghanistan on Dec. 10.

The aircraft was part of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron operating out of Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

The milestone mission was a low-cost, low-altitude assignment to deliver 70,000 pounds of fuel to a remote location in Afghanistan. The aircraft, dubbed with the call sign "Moose 75," was from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Four crew members on the flight were deployed from McChord Field: Capt. Rick Kind, Capt. Patrick Murphy, Capt. Jordan Leicht and Senior Airman Carrie Symons, as well as two airmen from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and another from Charleston AFB.

Reaching 2 million flight hours equates to 1.13 billion nautical miles - the equivalent of a C-17 flying to the moon and back 2,360 times, according to Boeing officials.

The C-17 has a mission readiness rate of more than 85 percent. It is the world's only strategic airlift aircraft with tactical capabilities that allow it to fly between continents, land on short, austere runways, and airdrop supplies precisely where they are needed.

"There's tremendous satisfaction in knowing that in those 2 million hours, the C-17 fleet has saved countless lives around the world," Bob Ciesla, Boeing's C-17 program manager, said in a release. "Boeing congratulates the U.S. Air Force and our international C-17 customers on reaching this milestone. We're very proud that the C-17 continues to exceed expectations for performance and reliability."

Boeing has delivered 20 C-17s to international customers. The U.S. Air Force - including active duty, National Guard, and Air Force Reserve units - has taken delivery of 206 aircraft. Other customers include the U.K. Royal air force, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force, the United Arab Emirates air force, the Qatar Emiri air force, and the 12-member Strategic Airlift Capability initiative of NATO and Partnership for Peace nations. India is expected to be the next C-17 customer.

To get a better feel for just what this milestone signifies, The Northwest Airlifter sat down with three reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing at McChord. All three underwent the transition at McChord from the C-141 Starlifter to the C-17 back in the early 1990s. Senior Master Sgt. Derek Bryant, a veteran loadmaster with the 728th Airlift Squadron, Master Sgt. John Adams, a maintainer with 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and Maj. Gene Ballou, a pilot with the 97th Airlift Squadron, offered up their thoughts on a career serving with the C-17.

All of you have spent a lot of time connected to the C-17 in one way or another. Talk about what this milestone means.

Bryant: "First and foremost, it reflects well on our maintainers. I remember early on (in the transition) the little maintenance problems and glitches we had. We sometimes had to run an in-flight checklist of some of the systems. But the more you fly it, the more you figure it out."

Adams: "From a (maintenance) troubleshooting standpoint, everything has evolved. Instead of having to find an experienced maintainer (to troubleshoot C-141 problems) you now have a computer that younger airmen can use to tell you what's going wrong. It helps us prevent bigger problems from occurring, and takes away from major maintenance. We can do more preventative maintenance on the flightline instead of just reacting to a problem."

Ballou: "The bottom line is less time on the ground equals more time in the air."

How has the mission evolved as the Air Force has embraced all the great things the C-17 can do?

Ballou: "The (aircraft's) weapons systems are constantly evolving, and it just increases the capability of the aircraft. It's been a huge change from the C-141. We have to have higher qualifications because we're asked to perform more types of maneuvers. The missions we're asked to perform also depend more on working with loadmasters and building up that teamwork piece to it. It's constantly evolving."

Adams: "When (Boeing) designed the C-17, they put a lot of thought into it. Everything is accessible and easier to work on (versus the C-141). It takes less time to do things. It's also created an environment where maintenance, logistics and aerial port units that previously never communicated with each other now work together, do more with less people and keep the airplane in the air."      

Bryant: "(Loadmaster) training requirements have changed. Where we may have only been able to previously do a couple of local training flights a week as reservists, now we can do five locals a week. It's been a huge benefit. Our readiness as a reserve force is increased."

So the future of airlift looks bright?

Ballou: "(Senior Air Force leadership) had a vision for the C-17, and they got us through it. They had a vision for the airplane and with a lot of pain they made it work (he said with a laugh)."

Adams: "(The C-17) has proven itself over and over."

Bryant: "They had a vision and we brought it to life."

(Information from an Air Mobility Command report was used in this article.)

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