The end of an era in aviation arrives Thursday when the last C-17 cargo jet built for the U.S. Air Force lands in Charleston.

The final C-17 Globemaster III will be delivered to the base at around 5 p.m., touching down more than 20 years after Charleston took delivery of the very first C-17 off the line. Air Force production has come to an end after 223 planes.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, whose city surrounds the air base, said the plane has meant immeasurable value to the community, helping to keep the region’s economic and military longevity in place.

“I think it’s something that has stabilized our Air Force base because of the mission of the C-17,” Summey said in pointing at the thousands of local Air Force personnel tied to the planes, many of whom have taken up long-term roots.

“It’s been a great benefit over the years,” he added.

During the past two decades the skies over North Charleston have seen the planes come and go to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as on humanitarian missions to Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.

The C-17 first entered U.S. operational service when it arrived at the Charleston Air Force Base on June 14, 1993. Published reports indicate more than 60,000 people owe their jobs to the C-17 program domestically and beyond.

With the Pentagon fleet at an end, Boeing has moved on to foreign customers to keep the production line alive. India has ordered 10 C-17s that will keep the assembly line open until the third quarter of 2014, the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram has reported.

The final flight will come from the Boeing Assembly Plant in Long Beach, led by Gen. Paul Selva, Air Mobility Command commander, Lt. Gen. James “JJ” Jackson, Air Force Reserve Command commander, and Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Air National Guard director.

There are currently 53 C-17s assigned to Joint Base Charleston. With Thursday’s delivery the wing will have 54, or about one-fourth of the Air Force’s total.

A welcoming ceremony will be attended by many of those who were involved in the early design and development of the C-17, as well as those who were present for the first arrival, the Air Force said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.