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C-17 Globemaster III celebrates 16 years of flight

by Maj. Adriane Craig
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

9/17/2007 - MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN) -- At 16 years young, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is the newest and most versatile aircraft in the mobility fleet. And, according to those who fly it, it is the best the Air Force has seen in its 60 years.

"There's no doubt in my mind I fly the best transport aircraft ever," said Major Wayne Manuel, director of operations for the 817th Airlift Squadron's Detachment 1.

The C-17 flew its maiden flight on Sept. 15, 1991. According to a Boeing Web site, it has broken 33 world records and won numerous awards since that maiden flight.

For the crews who fly it from Manas, they just know the aircraft enables them to safely deliver passengers and cargo into Afghanistan, delivering much needed resources to the folks downrange.

"It's hard to believe, but it flies more like a fighter than (a large transport)," said Capt Ryan Spodar, a pilot with 817 AS, Det. 1. The aircraft features a control stick instead of a yoke, a heads-up display and other modern cockpit features.

But it was the maneuverability in a sizeable airlifter that Air Force planners and engineers envisioned when they set their sights on a new cargo aircraft. Features of the aircraft include elements from all three of the most recent cargo workhorses:  the C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy. The result was a mid-size cargo aircraft with strategic range that can carry oversized equipment and operate on austere fields with shorter, unimproved runways.

"Smartly, the military recognized the need to more swiftly deploy forces and equipment beyond its current capabilities," said Major Manuel, a command pilot with more than 2,600 hours flying the C-17.

The C-17 can back up under its own power, meaning it can actually complete a driver's ed-style three-point turn to turn around, even on narrow runways.

"This is one of the more unique aspects of the plane," said Major Manuel, who is deployed to Manas from the 7th Airlift Squadron, McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

While this is normally a capability utilized in more austere locations, it can also help on parking configurations, like at Manas.

"Our aircraft here at Manas occupy ramp space at an international airport. The parking layout doesn't allow you to pull forward," said Major Manuel.

So aircraft at Manas back up in order to move ahead with their mission of supporting coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Operation Enduring Freedom missions flown from Manas add to a long list of distinguished service for the C-17 fleet which has also served in military operations Joint Endeavor (Bosnia), Allied Force (Kosovo), and Iraqi Freedom.

There are currently 168 C-17s in the U.S. Air Force, and Great Britain, Canada, and Australia have established C-17 forces of their own. 

When not deployed in support of humanitarian or combat operations, C-17s can be seen stateside on the ramps of active-duty, Guard and Reserve Air Force installations in South Carolina, Washington state, Oklahoma, Delaware, California, Mississippi, New Jersey, Alaska and Hawaii. 

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