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NEWS | Aug. 14, 2013

Before the last C-17, part II: Flying there and back

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

(Editor's Note: For more than 20 years, the C-17 Globemaster III has delivered rapid air mobility at a moment's notice all around the world. With the last U.S. Air Force C-17 scheduled to roll off the Boeing assembly line Sept. 12, 2013, we look back on the continuing impact this signature Charleston aircraft makes to the United States Air Force through our series, "Before the last C-17.")

One Joint Base Charleston pilot isn't just bringing home the last C-17 to join Joint Base Charleston's Globemaster III fleet this September, he was also here when the first C-17 arrived.

Lt. Col. Doug Soho, 437th Operations Group chief of standards and evaluations, grew up in the small town of Plymouth, Mich., a city popular for its ice sculpture festival. He let his dreams soar from the icy lands of the Great Lakes to the skies of Charleston, S.C., as a C-17 Globemaster III pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Soho's history with the C-17 dates back to the arrival of the first C-17 at Charleston Air Force Base, more than 20 years ago.

"I can't believe it's already been 20 years," said Soho, thinking back to the first C-17 arrival. "Getting the first C-17 was interesting to say the least. It didn't take up that much more space on the flight line, yet was able to carry more cargo and able to land in much more obscure locations. It had all-around better performance and capabilities than any aircraft like it."

According to Soho, for pilots, the C-17 was like going from the analog age to the digital age.

"From the glass cockpit, with lit-up screens, to the overall capabilities of the aircraft, it was a huge step forward in avionics technology," said Soho. "I couldn't wait to fly one."
One of the first times Soho noticed the capabilities of the aircraft was when an Abrams M1 battle tank was loaded onto the back of the aircraft. Weighing in at 67.6 short tons, standing eight-feet tall and 12-feet wide, it was an incredible feat watching the tank being loaded onto the plane, as well as being unloaded without preparations.

"From a flying perspective, it took years to see the true capabilities of the C-17," said Soho. "However, during contingencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the aircraft really shined with its abilities to carry as much as it does into remote landing fields at a moment's notice."

Before Soho flew missions into the hot deserts of Southwest Asia, he flew the C-17 on a much different mission into Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze. Soho was a part of missions that flew into the winter-over bases at the South Pole for six years to resupply U.S. Antarctic bases while stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

"Missions into Antarctica are very unique, much different than the wartime mission," said Soho. "Flying in extremely cold temperatures, at extremely high altitudes and oftentimes having nowhere to land the aircraft. Supplies for Operation Deep Freeze are airdropped in during the winter months, when landing is impossible and the ski-way is out of service."

According to Soho, it takes a lot of confidence as a pilot to take part in Operation Deep Freeze, but it also takes a lot of confidence in the aircraft the pilot is flying. And, Soho wouldn't have wanted to be in any other aircraft than the C-17.

"A lot of people have a certain perception of pilots, but it's not like you see on the movies," said Soho. "It's rewarding, but it's not all fun. These young men and women are working their tails off for extremely long days, at times working more than 20-hour work days while we ask them to go into harm's way. Our young pilots work hard to keep the aircrew and aircraft safe, while moving the mission along successfully every day."

The last C-17, scheduled to arrive Sept. 12, 2013, at JB Charleston - Air Base doesn't mean it's the last C-17 being produced. The men and women at the Boeing Company will continue to produce C-17s, filling contracts all around the world. And despite the fact the last C-17 to arrive at JB Charleston may be the last new C-17 the base receives, the airlift mission will continue.

"It's been more than 20 years since the arrival of the first C-17," said Soho. "And, that first plane is still in the air flying the same missions the last one will soon be doing. It's the end of the production line for the U.S. Air Force, but this eagle has just started flying."

Soho is scheduled to be one of the pilots on the last C-17 as it flies into JB Charleston.