As many were at work in downtown Charleston one recent afternoon, a hulking Air Force cargo aircraft rumbled over the city, sparking buzz on social media.
The plane was a C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft. With a wingspan of 222.7 feet, it’s the largest airlifter in the U.S. Air Force’s inventory and one of the largest aircraft in the world.
The aircraft was based out of the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg. The 167th Airlift Wing is phasing the C-5 out and switching to the newer C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.
West Virginia National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Melissa Whade said last Thursday was likely the last time the C-5 will ever fly over Charleston.
“They’ll be doing their last overseas mission this weekend and then they’ll do one more local (mission) next month, and then they will fly the last airplane to the Boneyard in September,” Shade said. “We’re planning to do a C-17 rollout, if you will, in December in Martinsburg.”
The late West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd announced in March 2002 that the 167th Airlift Wing would transition to the C-5A Galaxy aircraft. The C-5 has the ability to carry 36 standard pallets and 81 troops simultaneously. The C-5 that flew over Charleston last Thursday was transporting a Black Hawk helicopter.
The C-5 flew its first mission from Martinsburg on March 28, 2007, and will fly its last on Sept. 24. Its last international mission from Martinsburg will take off Aug. 23 to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 11-plane fleet will be retired at the Air Force’s “Boneyard” at the Davis–Monthan Air Force Base near Tuscon, Arizona.
“When we got the C-5s, our maintenance at that location almost doubled because we had 10 C-5s and one trainer, so we gained those 200 positions, but with the conversion, you don’t require as much maintenance on the C-17s as the C-5s, so you lose those positions,” Shade said.
Shade said the transition to the C-17 will result in a loss of about 200 positions at the 167th Airlift Wing because the 11 C-5s will be replaced with eight C-17s, and each C-17 requires fewer personnel to operate and maintain.
“The C-5As were built from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s,” Shade said. “They’re always going to have part issues because of the age of the aircraft. They did amazingly well coming to the guard with the mission capability rate, but changing over to the C-17s will give them more flexibility and better capability rate because they’re newer airplanes.”
The C-17 aircraft was introduced in 1991. It features a 170-foot wingspan and can carry up to 170,900 pounds of cargo. It can take off and land on runways as short as 3,500 feet; the C-5 requires at least a 6,000-foot runway.
Shade said operating a C-5 airplane typically requires about five personnel, but operating a C-17 only requires three. Also, because the C-17 aircraft are newer, there will be significantly fewer maintenance staff required.
The changes at the 167th Airlift Wing come two years after the Pentagon announced plans in 2012 to cut defense spending by $487 billion over the next decade as the United States reduces its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force plans to cut hundreds of aircraft from its fleet as it trims down financially.
Shade said the last 50 C-5 related jobs will be cut from the 167th Airlift Wing in March 2015. She said she hopes all affected personnel can be reassigned or relocated and keep their jobs within the Guard.
“Major General (James A.) Hoyer is trying to do everything in his power to try to find different missions and help those people stay employed, but with the downsize in aircraft, that is one of the things Martinsburg is having to deal with,” Shade said.
Shade said the first of the C-17 Globemasters will begin arriving in Martinsburg soon, with missions tentatively beginning sometime during fiscal year 2015.
Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.