Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Touchdown at Travis

Touchdown at Travis
Solano Base Scores First of its 13 C-17s
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

Dignitaries from the United States Air Force, local government officials, Air Force personnel and their families sit Tuesday on the flight line at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield to welcome the first new C-17 Globemaster III to the base. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

All eyes at Travis Air Force Base were focused Tuesday on a hulking gray plane as it slipped down through a somewhat hazy sky and touched down with a bit of white smoke swirling around its landing gear.
While it's certainly not unusual for aircraft to take off and land around the clock at Travis, this particular arrival had a very special significance.

After taxiing, Travis' first C-17, a nimble cargo hauler which is gaining quite a reputation for its versatility on the war fronts, rested proudly on the flight line.

A large appreciative crowd of military personnel, federal, state and local officials and Air Force veterans were present to welcome the C-17.

"Did anyone else have a lump in their throat like I did when (it) landed?" said U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Solano, who has helped the local base obtain the new aircraft.

Travis' first C-17 has been christened Spirit of Solano, a nod to the local community that has supported the base over the years. The Travis insignia, emblazoned on the plane's tail fin, seemed to make the base the C-17s home official.

The aircraft was piloted Tuesday from a Boeing production facility in Long Beach to Travis by Maj. Gen. Thomas Kane, a former wing commander at the base.

To show the base's air mobility clout, a flyover was conducted involving all three of the base's "weapons systems," now including the C-17.

A C-5, a massive cargo hauler, whined overhead and a streamlined KC-10 refueler aircraft made an appearance, followed by the "new toy," as one military leader called it.

Kane, piloting the C-17, put the airplane through its paces in the flyover, as he sharply banked the northbound aircraft as the crowd gawked.

"What you see is American spirit and industrial ingenuity," said Col. Robert Millman, acting commander of the 349th Air Mobility Wing, the reserve wing at the base that will share the incoming fleet of C-17s.

Now that the first C-17 has arrived at Travis, the base will begin accepting one of the $237 million aircraft every month, until the full squadron of 13 planes graces the base's flight line.

In the meantime, the Spirit of Solano will spend most of its time in the sky. The plane is scheduled for an overseas mission this week, according to base officials.

The C-17s, after they all have arrived, essentially will replace a squadron of C-5 haulers that have been stationed elsewhere.

With the C-17, the base has three distinct missions. The C-17 is used to send troops and equipment, such as the M1 Abrams tank, directly to the front lines in places like Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The C-5 performs "strategic airlift" and moves supplies and troops to major hubs around the world. The KC-10, meanwhile, is versatile in that it refuels fighters and cargo planes alike.

Rick Tubbs, an activated reservist with the 349th, summed up the feelings, no doubt, of many of the military personnel who gathered for the ceremony. The C-17 had instantly become his new favorite, he said.

"The plane you're flying is always your favorite plane," Tubbs said.

Jason Massad can be reached

Air Force Col. Steve Arquiette (left), commander of the 60th Air Mobilty Wing at Travis, and Air Force Reserve Col. Robert Millmann, acting commander of the 349th Air Mobility Wing, high-five each other after unveiling the Spirit of Solano, a C-17 Globemaster. It's the first of 13 new high-tech military aircraft to be assigned to the base.

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