NEWS | Jan. 4, 2011

C-17 marks two millionth flight hour during airdrop

By 1st LT. Kathleen Ferrero, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

This month, the C-17 Globemaster III celebrated its two millionth flight hour.

As a testament to the C-17 mission tempo, the aircraft passed its two millionth flight hour just four years after passing its first million-hour mark, and the first million hours took 16 years to reach.

Although Air Mobility Command officials estimate the international C-17 fleet passed the milestone on Dec. 14, 2010, the achievement was commemorated on a Dec. 10 airdrop mission out of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

The Dec. 10 milestone mission was a low-cost, low-altitude assignment to deliver 70 thousand pounds of fuel to a remote location in Afghanistan. The aircraft, dubbed with the call sign "Moose 75," was from Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, Charleston, S.C. The air crew comprised Airmen deployed with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in Southwest Asia. Its members included Capt. Rick Kind, Capt. Patrick Murphy, Capt. Jordan Leicht and Senior Airman Carrie Symons from McChord Air Force Base, Wash.; as well as Staff Sgt. Paul Trowbridge from Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and Staff Sgt. Jason Fatjo from Joint Base Charleston.

"It's definitely an honor," said Captain Kind, the aircraft commander of the airdrop mission. "I think it's great the Air Force is utilizing us for what we're designed to do and using us at full capacity. We're flying nonstop, but it's great flying."

Air Force schedulers have doubled the number of airdrops in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility every year since 2006. Helping fellow service members in remote locations is what motivates C-17 crews to meet the high demand. For example, air deliveries keep approximately 970 trucks off dangerous roads per month.

A few weeks prior to the milestone mission, Captain Kind and his crew had delivered fuel to Soldiers. They were later informed on the radio that "if they hadn't received fuel that day, they were basically gonna' go dry."

"In my perspective, combat airdrops in Afghanistan are some of the best flying I've ever known," said the pilot, who's flown the C-17 since 2003. "We're making a difference with U.S. and coalition troops out on the ground in middle of nowhere. Anything they need, which in this case is fuel, we deliver."

The two-million hour total includes C-17 hours flown by international partners. However, approximately 94 percent of the hours were flown by U.S. Air Force C-17s, said Capt. Mark Szatkowski, the AMC C-17 weapon system manager.

The C-17 fleet is helping to meet the demand of the current high operations tempo as it blurs strategic and tactical lines in theater, conducting airdrop and air land missions, flying into unimproved airfields and consistently being re-tasked for emergency aeromedical evacuation and humanitarian relief missions.

One reason for the C-17's success is its versatility in both strategic and tactical airlift operations. The C-17 has broken airdrop records monthly during the past year, keeping an estimated 970 trucks off of hazardous roads per month. It also plays an integral role in airlift and the 98 percent survivability rate in aeromedical evacuation operations.

The aeromedical evacuation continuum success rate depends on a series of dominoes falling on time and in order, according to Col. Chris Benjamin, the commander of Task Force MED-EAST Afghanistan.

"Each link in that chain has to be sound for the really critically injured to have a chance," he said. He said that if he needs to get a patient to follow-on care in Germany or the U.S., "I don't want to have to wait until tomorrow."

Also dependent on the C-17's reliability are the aerial porters at the busiest military airport in the world. According to Lt. Col. Kirk Peterson, the commander of the 455 Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron at Bagram, his Airmen and the maintenance personnel there can work seven C-17s at one time to turn them around for their next missions.

Aerial porters at the Afghanistan airfield handle approximately 100 missions, 1,500 passengers and 800 short tons of cargo daily, based on third-quarter figures, the commander said. More than 83 percent of the cargo moved at Bagram moves in three days or less.

"One goal of air mobility is to see how quickly you can move cargo. The C-17 really enables that," Colonel Peterson said.

During the week prior to the commemorative mission, Bagram Airmen saw 77 Globemasters.

Another goal of air mobility is flexibility. Integral to the hectic symphony at Bagram is the ability to re-task missions, such as reassigning a mission airlifting cargo to become an airdrop or aeromedical evacuation mission.

According to Bagram's airfield nerve center, the Air Terminal Operations Center, 42 percent of missions that flow in receive line changes, which means they get re-cut for another mission; and many of these are C-17s.

This flexibility enabled C-17s to be among the first aircraft on scene in Pakistan and Haiti this year, helping victims of natural disasters. Captain Kind was part of the second C-17 crew in Haiti after the earthquake.

"Our aircraft was diverted from its original mission this summer to take an urban rescue team from New York to Haiti to help recover earthquake victims there," Captain Kind said. "We were there right after the earthquake happened.

Ever since the first C-17 Globemaster III was delivered to the Air Force more than 17 years ago, the plane has become a centerpiece and "workhorse" of the Air Force's airlift force.

In 2010 alone, C-17s and the Airmen who fly and maintain them have supported humanitarian operations in Haiti and Pakistan, a surge of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and are part of a record-breaking year for airdrops in Afghanistan.