May 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 1 
Cover Story

C-17 Globemaster III

One in a million

During a mission in late March, the C-17 fleet hit the major milestone of 1 million hours of flight. Here's a look at this historic mission.

By Gary Lesser

Bon voyage, indeedOn March 19, a C-17 Globemaster III transporting wounded soldiers out of Iraq had the distinction of flying the fleet's one millionth flight hour. Fueled by unusually high reliability rates and extraordinary demand, the C-17 achieved this milestone more than a year ahead of schedule—evidence of Boeing's ability to deliver the capabilities its customers need. In the words of Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the U.S. Air Force's chief of staff, the C-17 is "an amazing aircraft … worth its weight in gold," supporting the global war on terrorism and providing humanitarian relief around the world.

On its millionth-hour mission, the C-17 tangibly demonstrated Gen. Moseley's sentiments. This is the story of the men and women who flew the historic flight.
March 19, 5:02 p.m.
Ramstein Air Base, Germany

With the sun setting over southwest Germany, a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 soars gracefully into the sky, destined for a page in the history books. Nearly 15 years after its first flight, the C-17 worldwide fleet is set to reach a major milestone: 1 million flight hours.

"Being on the million-hour flight is an exciting and humbling experience," says Lt. Col. Jim Conway, aircraft commander from the Mississippi Air National Guard's 172nd Airlift Wing, whose crew is flying the mission. "It's really an honor."

The advanced airlifter flying the million-hour mission is en route to Iraq, where it will drop off cargo and pick up wounded soldiers. On board are an eight-person flight crew, seven members of an aeromedical evacuation team, a dozen news media members and their escorts, a handful of soldiers on their way to fight the global war on terrorism, and a civilian contractor soon to be driving a fuel truck on the dangerous highways of Iraq.

Long Beach's take on 1 million hours

Boeing Frontiers asked teammates on the C-17 program in Long Beach, Calif., what the million-hour milestone meant to them. Below are some of their responses.

On the fast track Jesse Jones
Aircraft mechanic

"This aircraft has truly been a workhorse for the Air Force. The fact that this aircraft made a million hours in the time it did definitely proves they've been using it. It's been a good kind of support for the military and they're getting their money's worth out of it. I really hope this program continues. I think it's a great aircraft and I think it would serve the military and the world well with all its capabilities."

On this flight to Iraq, the C-17 is a giant freight hauler in the sky, carrying 43,000 pounds of cargo to a supply depot. On the way back, it will become a flying hospital, capable of providing wounded soldiers the same state-of-the-art medical care and technology seen in modern intensive care units.

"These soldiers have been through so much, and I want to thank them because of what they're doing," says Capt. Kristen Zebrowski, a flight nurse with Ramstein's 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. "They're sacrificing so much, and they say 'thank you' to us. It almost brings you to tears."

At Ramstein's massive flight line, C-17s line up, waiting for their next mission. It's common to see as many as 10 C-17s at a time, the equivalent of an entire squadron. Aeromedical evacuation missions are flown almost daily from Iraq to Ramstein. In recent months, the Mississippi Guard C-17s have flown almost 80 percent of these "downrange" missions.

"Ramstein Air Base is the gateway to Europe and, thanks to the C-17, the gateway to the world," says Lt. Col. Andy Molnar, director of operations for the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron at Ramstein.

Molnar calls the C-17 a "promise keeper," saying it keeps America's promise to care for sick and wounded soldiers, airmen and marines. "We will spare no cost to make sure that we have returned these volunteer warriors home," he says. "And that's the real value of the C-17, as a promise keeper to fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands."

March 19, 11:53 p.m.
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

After flying five hours and crossing two time zones, it's nearly midnight when the C-17 touches down on a 14,000 foot runway at Al Asad Air Base in northern Iraq, about 120 miles west of Baghdad, not far from the Euphrates River.

About four hours into the flight, Master Sgt. Allen Randall, loadmaster on the million-hour mission, makes an announcement: Fasten your seat belts and prepare for descent into Iraq. With the airplane eerily darkened and the pilots using night-vision goggles, this is the most dangerous part of the mission. The airfield is protected by a security perimeter, but insurgents with shoulder-fired missiles can strike at any time.

On the fast track

Allie Tramble
Electrical team leader

"I love to work on the C-17 because what we do affects so many different people, so many families, so many lives. The C-17 can land safely, bring people back home safely, drop food and help people. It's like a humanitarian product to me. I love that. I love the people here. We have an awesome staff, from management to the hourly and salaried. Everyone is wonderful to work with."

To make itself less of a target, the C-17 makes an unconventional approach, zigzagging its way into Al Asad. Immediately after landing, the C-17's huge cargo ramp opens as the aircraft taxis into total darkness. The only illumination comes from runway lights and from the forklifts that unload 21 tons of cargo pallets, including barrels of oil, to support military operations in the region.

An hour and 20 minutes later, the C-17's four engines—with 40,000 pounds of thrust apiece—advance to takeoff power. Suddenly, the parking brake is released and the aircraft hurtles down the runway. The acceleration takes your breath away, enabling the C-17 to use only a fraction of the nearly three-mile-long runway.

The million-hour mission is once again airborne. The aircraft is now headed to Balad Air Base, where it will pick up wounded patients at the Air Force Theater Hospital, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, near the Tigris River.

March 20, 2:01 a.m.
Balad Air Base, Iraq

The C-17 lands in Balad in the middle of the night. The Balad Air Base is a unique creation, a small American town in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq. Twenty thousand troops are based there, and it's a very temporary home to wounded soldiers on their way to Landstuhl Regional Medical Hospital near Ramstein.

"If a soldier arrives here, they've got a 96 percent chance of surviving," says Col. Tip White, vice commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. "During the Vietnam conflict, it often took several weeks for us to get an injured soldier out of theater. Here, we can do it sometimes in as little as 24 hours."

On any given day, several dozen C-17s are in the air at the same time—flying missions in support of the global war on terrorism, humanitarian efforts and training. But Air Mobility Command selected an aeromedical evacuation mission to represent all C-17 flights that contributed to the million-hour milestone.

On the fast track

Carolyn Giordano
Electrical team mechanic

"All the hard work has paid off. I'm really proud to be on the project. I think it's a very successful project that should carry on for years to come. I think our government could use a lot more of these C-17s. They can only be beneficial."

These missions are easily the most important type flown by C-17s—transporting wounded American soldiers to follow-on medical care in Europe and the United States, says AMC Commander Gen. Duncan McNabb. "This airplane is quickly becoming the flagship of U.S. compassion," he says.

Air Force personnel give high marks to the C-17 for its aeromedical capabilities. "In aerovac, we really appreciate the C-17. Boeing was thinking about wounded soldiers when they designed the aircraft," says Maj. David Ball, medical crew director on the million-hour mission. "It's a marvelous aircraft, and to everybody at Boeing, I just want to say 'thanks a million.'"

In Balad, during two and a half hours on the ground, the C-17 is refueled, quickly converted to an aeromedical evacuation configuration, and loaded with patients—including some critically wounded.

March 20, 4:35 a.m.
Balad Air Base, Iraq

The C-17 leaves Balad at "oh-dark-thirty," as this time of day is often called. One of those in patient litters on the aircraft is Spc. Jeff Reedy of the Army's 103rd Armor Regiment. The day before, he was in a tank on the main supply route from Ramadi to Fallujah, keeping the road open and free of improvised explosive devices.

His tank was providing security for a group of infantrymen on the ground. Reedy was standing in the hatch, and without warning, a car pulled up. Next thing he knew, gunmen in the car shot Reedy in his left hand. Now in cheerful spirits in the skies over Iraq—and happy to be on his way home—Reedy learns he's on the million-hour mission.

"If these planes have flown that many hours, it means they've taken care of an awful lot of my brothers out here," says Reedy. "The care I'm receiving is fantastic. This is like flying in a hotel. The C-17 is like a Cadillac."

At 30,000 feet on the flight from Balad to Ramstein, the C-17's imaginary time clock hits one million hours. One million flight hours is the equivalent of one C-17 flying every minute of every day for more than 114 years without stopping.

On the fast track

Charlie Lammers
Director, Final Assembly

"The airplane is working hard all over the world. This airplane's changed the way we fight wars and is performing missions nobody really talked about when we designed the airplane. We're real proud to build an airplane that has so much positive effect."

March 20, 7:32 a.m.
Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Fourteen and a half hours after the million-hour mission begins, 16 patients arrive at Ramstein, where they'll be carried onto a bus for the short journey to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. With 162 beds, it's the largest American-run hospital outside the United States. Here their recovery continues, and the wounded warriors are one step closer to home and an often emotional reunion with their families.

The final leg of the million-hour mission leaves tomorrow afternoon for Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. From there, most patients will be taken to Walter Reed Army Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital for further care.

With the news media on board, including a crew from CNN, the entire mission is extraordinarily well-documented. But it is not an extraordinary mission. "It was pretty routine," says Conway, the aircraft commander. "All in all, the mission went as planned."

And for the Boeing team that watched from afar, it was a mission well accomplished. "Reaching this milestone is an incredible accomplishment for the entire C-17 team," said Dave Bowman, vice president and C-17 program manager.

"Hitting 1 million flight hours more than a year ahead of the original plan is astounding," Bowman said. "It's truly a testament to the quality, capability and reliability built into the aircraft, and it demonstrates our customers' unwavering confidence in the C-17."

On the fast track

Tia Charfauros
Procurement agent

"Never in a million years would I have dreamed I would be working for one of the top aerospace companies in the world. I am proud of the C-17 and what it has done for the government, humanity and the world."






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