First new C-17 lands at Air Force Base

A crowd of airmen and distinguished civilian guests gathers in the bay of the Charleston Air Force Base's newest C-17 aircraft, which landed in North Charleston on Tuesday.

That new aircraft smell — it's what the newer pilots, crew and support crews have been waiting for at Charleston Air Force Base.

On Tuesday, they brought it home. The first C-17 Globemaster III to arrive in five years pulled up to the applause of a hangar full of military and civilian notables. It's the first of 10 new cargo jets the Air Force is in line to get, each at a cost of more than $202 million. It didn't come a moment too soon.

The C-17 has been the workhorse of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so much so that the 50 planes already flying out of Charleston have seen their 30-year lifespan reduced to about 23 years.

The C-17s also have flown humanitarian missions around the world.

In 2007 alone, the planes flew 18,000 missions, moving 2.6 million pounds of cargo and 142,000 people.

The planes and their crews "are delivering hope, providing freedom and taking the nation's fight to our enemies," Col. John "Red" Millander, 437th Airlift Wing commander, told the hangar audience in a brief ceremonial presentation of the aircraft's keys after the landing.

This plane and the nine to follow have technology and capabilities that didn't exist when the first C-17 landed in Charleston 15 years ago, he said. In an interview later, Millander talked about touches such as secure satellite communications worldwide and night-vision goggles that allow not only flying but unloading and loading in the dark.

The new plane is a morale boost, as well as eagerly awaited new equipment. The smell, by the way, isn't much different than a new car smell.

"It's clean, and where we operate right now is dirty and dusty," said Lt. Col. Buddy Czuba, 14th Airlift Squadron commander, who has flown three formal deployments to the Mideast. The workload "has definitely taken a toll on the aircraft. It's great to have a new one show up here, no doubt."

Millander said he expected to put the jet to use flying missions almost immediately, getting it in the air in a few days.

The C-17's first ride was a five-hour jaunt from Long Beach, Calif., through relatively calm skies. The pilot was Brig. Gen. Bradley R. Pray, deputy director of the Air Mobility Command's Air, Space and Information Operations and a former pilot of the C-130, the cargo jet before the C-17. He had never flown one before.

It all wowed him — the sophisticated avionics that make a navigator unnecessary, the new-age electronics. But mostly he just loved the way it flew.

"What a dream," he said.