Military cargo plane completes Lewis-McChord fleet

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — A $200 million military cargo plane has arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, becoming the 49th and final Boeing C-17 Globemaster III to be permanently stationed at the Puget Sound base.

“We’re marking a milestone in McChord’s history with our final C-17 delivery,” said Col. R. Wyn Elder, commander of McChord’s active-duty forces, shortly after the aircraft landed Wednesday.

“But our airlift history is much longer than that, and it will go on for much longer,” Elder added.

The planes are built at Boeing’s plant in Long Beach, Calif., and the company has only three more C-17s to deliver to fulfill its Air Force contract for 224 of the jets, The News Tribune reported Thursday.

The 21/2-hour flight from Long Beach carried Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, who as commander of the 18th Air Force leads more than a dozen major Air Force units responsible for air transport, refueling and other support roles.

McDew thanked the assembled airmen for their work and the American people for footing the bill for a “highly capable and extremely versatile aircraft.”

“It allows us to keep promises,” he said. “Those are the promises we make at home and everywhere around the world.”

Going back to World War II, McChord Field has been home to several military cargo aircraft: the C-47 Skytrain, the C-82 Packet, the C-124 Globemaster II and the C-141 Starlifter.

The four-engine C-17 Globemaster III is designed to fly longer, carry more and land on shorter runways than its predecessors. The first two at the Washington state base were delivered in 1999.

The C-17s and their crews have delivered supplies to remote combat outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned wounded and dead service members and transported goods and equipment in response to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan.

McDew acknowledged that the jet has been put under heavy strain supporting wars. He expressed confidence it would remain reliable in meeting the nation’s future needs.

“We just have to keep an eye on an airplane that we are using this hard to see what will pop up in the future,” he said. “But I have no reason to believe it can’t survive for another couple of decades.”

The U.S. military hasn’t requested any new C-17s since the 2007 fiscal year, but Congress continued to approve additional jets for three more years in part to keep people employed in districts that manufacture them.

Boeing also has delivered 32 of the jets to seven international customers, including Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India and Qatar, said Cindy Anderson, a spokeswoman for the C-17 program.

In addition to the three jets remaining on the Air Force contract, Boeing also is building 10 C-17s for delivery to India.

Boeing has shed employees and slowed production at its Long Beach plant, but Anderson said there are no plans to close the plant as it continues it push for more international orders.

“We have a number of countries that are interested in the aircraft,” Anderson said. “We see that it has a bright future to continue production.”

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