MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — At 1:25 p.m. Thursday, the wheels of the 167th Airlift Wing’s first C-17 Globemaster III touched down at the Eastern Regional Airport, marking the beginning of a new era for the West Virginia Air National Guard unit.
The smaller transport aircraft replaces the massive C-5 Galaxy transport plane, which the unit has flown since 2007.
“It’s a big change, but it’s a big move to the future,” Col. Shaun J. Perkowski, commander of the 167th, said shortly before the C-17 touched down. “We’ve operated the C-5 worldwide with immense pride. It’s a good feeling to move forward, but it’s bittersweet.”
It was officially announced in February 2012 that the 167th would transition from the Lockheed Martin C-5, one of the largest airplanes in the world, to the smaller, but much more flexible, Boeing C-17.
With the change in aircraft has come a reduction in force at the Air Guard unit, because the C-17 requires smaller flight crews and fewer maintenance personnel than the C-5s. Also, because the 167th will be assigned eight C-17s. It had been assigned 11 C-5s.
Perkowski said the unit now has about 1,100 members. After the transition is complete, the unit’s strength will be down to a little more than 900, he said.
The 167th has been working with WorkForce West Virginia and local schools to help its members with retraining and finding new jobs.
A job fair recently was held on the base for members to get information about new jobs.
“We’re working with each individual so they, hopefully, can land on their feet,” Perkowski said. “The C-17s usher in new opportunities, so there will be positions opening at the wing.”
Several members are taking early retirement, which saves jobs for younger members.
The C-17 that arrived Thursday came from the Tennessee ANG’s 164th Airlift Wing. It was still sporting its Tennessee insignias. The flight from Memphis took about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
An acceptance crew of 25 from the 167th made up of maintenance personnel, who have trained for the C-17, traveled to Memphis earlier this week to inspect the plane and review its documentation, Col. Keith Snyder, the 167th’s maintenance group commander, said after landing.
“It’s an awesome airplane with great capabilities and it’s 30 years newer,” he said. “It has great flexibility, can land on shorter runways and in austere conditions. This is my third airframe.”
Before the C-5s, the 167th flew the C-130 Hercules cargo planes. The C-5’s maiden flight was in June 1968. The C-17’s first flight was in September 1991. The C-17 that arrived Thursday was built in 1994.
Snyder said maintenance personnel are in school training to work on the C-17s.
“The aircraft changes, but the dedication of the personnel is consistent,” he said.
The aircraft that arrived Thursday will be used exclusively for training, Snyder said. The first training flights will not begin until January.
He said the second C-17 will be picked up next week and the unit will be getting another plane each month for the next six months.
Capt. James Domenico, the 167th’s maintenance operations flight commander, also was part of the acceptance crew.
“It was an awesome flight -it rides really nice,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the transition. It’s going to be a bumpy road, but it’s very beneficial for Martinsburg and the base and the mission. The workers are ready to go.”
Lt. Col. Lisa Windall is the 167th’s first pilot to qualify to fly the C-17. She also is qualified to fly the C-5.
“The C-5, because of its size, everybody notices when you fly it,” she said Thursday. “You get cool points for flying it. It’s like you’re a celebrity when you fly in.”
Both the C-5 and the C-17 are very stable, she said.
“The C-5 is lumbering, cumbersome,” Windall said. “The C-17 is very nimble. On the ground, it’s easier to maneuver. It has a more tactical mission. It can land on more diverse airfields. And it can back up. The C-5 can’t back up.”
The 167th is down to six C-5s. The others have been flown to the so-called boneyard near Tucson, Arizona, to be mothballed. The last C-5 is scheduled to leave in May 2015.
After this month, the 167th will not fly the C-5 anymore.