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NEWS | June 9, 2015

17th Airlift Squadron; A look back: 17 AS crew gets top honors at Air Tattoo

By Lt. Col. Ed Memi 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Editor's Note: As the 437th Airlift Wing gears up to inactivate the 17th Airlift Squadron, we hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane with us as we reprint stories that highlight the achievements of the Air Force's first operational C-17 squadron. This week's article was first printed in the August 11, 2000 edition of the Airlift Dispatch.

The 17th Airlift Squadron took home top honors as the best aerial demonstration at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2000, held at RAF Cottesmore, Rutland, England, July 22-23.

The award, called the Lockheed Martin Cannestra Trophy, is presented to the best flying demonstration by an overseas participant. The base had beat out a field of mostly fighter jets to win the prestigious honor, the first time any airlifter has won the competition.

Charleston performed a 10-minute aerial demonstration at Cottesmore and also had a static display aircraft on the ground for the crowds to observe. The C-17 drew a lot of attention as the United Kingdom prepares to lease four C-17s from Boeing. An aircrew and C-17 also flew to Farnborough and RAF Brize Norton, near Oxford, England, where they did seven aerial demonstrations July 24-31. The aircrews and aircraft returned here July 31.

"I know that the last eight times that someone has won this trophy, it's been a fighter unit. It's hard to compete against the fighters which often times can steal the show," said Maj. Ken Burch, one of the demo pilots from the 437th Operations Group standardization and evaluation office. The victory was especially meaningful for Burch since he leaves the Air Force this week to join the 315th Airlift Wing and United Airlines. The award allowed him to bring back the traveling trophy on his last "fini" flight.

Burch, along with 17 AS RAF exchange pilot Squadron Leader Darrel Jacobs, thrilled the crowds with an aerial demonstration on each day of the airshow. 15 AS RAF exchange pilot Squadron Leader Jeff Clark had also joined them on the trip. "At RAF Brize Norton, we had a lot of RAF senior officers and maintenance people tour the aircraft since that is where the C-17s will eventually be based in England. We spent about six hours showing the aircraft there."

Each of the three flying squadrons has only three aircraft commanders who are considered "demo" qualified, which requires them to be certified by the wing standardization and evaluation office. The scripted single ship C-17 demo profile consists of a short-field take-off, a high speed pass at about 300 knots, a slow speed pass at about 105 knots, a 360 degree turn at show center, an assault landing at less than 1,500 feet with a full stop followed by a backing demonstration to show the aircraft's maneuverability.

"At Farnborough, the demo was especially impressive since we got to pull within 200 feet of the crowds and then backed into our parking space after the show. People actually started backing up when it looked like the jet might actually go into the crowd. Everyone was very impressed that such a large jet could be so maneuverable," Burch said. The crowd at Cottesmore was equally impressed with the size of the C-17.

The award at Cottesmore was a complete surprise to the aircrew.

"There was a huge celebration after the airshow and that's when they presented us with the award. We know that the demo had impressed the crowds, but didn't think we could compete against the Ukrainian MIG-29s, Dutch F-16s and Swiss F-5s."

Not only did the crowds come out to look at the C-17, but at Cottesmore, a number of heads-of-state, legislators and cabinet officials came out to look at the jet. "There were lots of VIPs that toured the aircraft, to include the King of Jordan and the Prince of Saudi Arabia. There were so many generals that came out that I lost count."

"While Ken was flying the RIAT demo, I was busy with the 315th crew giving VIP tours on the static. The highlight of these tours occurred on Saturday, when the King of Jordan visited. I had him (King Abdullah II) sitting in the pilot's seat of the static C-17 on the ground watching the flying demo through the heads up display," said Lt. Col. John Millander, 17th AS commander. VIP visitors also included Gen. "Speedy" Martin, United States Air Forces in Europe commander; Air Marshall Peter Squires, the Chief of Staff of the RAF; Jeffrey Hoon, the U.K. Secretary of State for Defence and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisel.

"People were just very excited about the aircraft and were impressed with how much you could fit into the back of the aircraft. We would demonstrate  the versatility in the back of the plane to the crowds," said Tech. Sgt. Don Eagle, a loadmaster in the 17 AS. "The crowd was really impressed with how we could back up the plane up and we started to steal the show while backing up the runway," Eagle added.

"Normally at these big airshows, they limit the demonstrations to only 7 minutes, but they made a special exception for us and allowed us to do the full 10 minute demo profile," said Burch, who has more than 5,000 hours flying airlifters. The aircrew became something of a celebrity in the crowds since videotaped interviews were played on at least six massive "jumbotron" screens placed throughout airshow grounds. "We would walk through the crowds and people would recognize us instantly from the videos. IT was like we were celebrities," Burch said.

The Royal International Air Tattoo featured more than 350 aircraft representing military forces from more than 30 countries and drew about 200,000 people each day. RIAT2000 had a major tribute to the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, featuring the Spitfires and Hurricanes that flew to glory six decades ago. The tattoo is staged in support of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the military charity that reaches out to all past and present members of the RAF and their dependents.

The Tattoo was forces to find a new temporary venue because of extensive runway resurfacing  work at RAF Fairford. RAF Cottesmore, one of the Royal Air Force's frontline bases is home to two squadrons of Harrier GR7s, serving as part of the British Joint Force 2000.