New assault landing strip opens in Wyoming; McChord C-17 makes first landing

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kirsten Wicker
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A C-17 Globemaster III from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., approached the 5,500-foot-long stretch of paved runway with new turnaround points and a new width expanded to 90 feet. That's not much space on which to land a heavily loaded, half-million pound cargo plane, but officials here say it's the perfect runway for C-17 pilots to train on.

Wyoming National Guard members and special guests gathered at the Camp Guernsey Joint Forces Training Center Oct. 17 to celebrate the opening of its upgraded runway. McChord Airmen from the 7th Airlift Squadron lent a hand in this historical event by performing an assault landing of the first C-17 on the new runway, which went through $9.6 million in upgrades to accommodate utilization by ever greater numbers of joint combat forces in pre-deployment training.

"These new facilities accommodating C-17s offer great capabilities to prepare for contingency operations more similar to what our military sees in current conflicts," said Lt. Col. James Twiford, commander of the 7th Airlift Squadron.

Called Guernsey Field, its aviation capabilities include a joint-use airstrip capable of supporting C-17s. Approximately 360 square miles of sparsely populated terrain and 65 square miles of restricted airspace up to 30,000 feet are part of the field. The runway was constructed to withstand the demands of the Air Force C-17s which will now be able to transport joint units to and from the facility as well as conduct combat airlift training utilizing the center's aerial delivery drop zones.

More than 100 people attended the ceremony, watching as McChord Airmen performed a C-17 flyover and a landing that demonstrated the air field's and the aircraft's capabilities. Distinguished visitors included former Wyoming governor Mike Sullivan, former President of the Wyoming Senate, Jim Twiford, former state representative (former chair of Joint Transportation Interim Committee), Rep. Dave Edwards and Guernsey Mayor Michael Pettigrew.

"Lieutenant Colonel Twiford's landing of the C-17 at the Wyoming National Guard's Camp Guernsey was the culmination of several months of coordination among the 7th Airlift Squadron, Camp Guernsey and the 62nd Airlift Wing, 18th Air Force, and Air Mobility Command," said Camp Guernsey Deputy Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Dave Herder. "John Ryan, McChord Airspace Manager, Lt. Col. Twiford and myself - with help from each agency, spent a lot of time and energy ensuring the collaborative effort maintained the exceptional standards of a joint endeavor. At the end of the day it was an overwhelming success and the beginning of a new era in tactical training opportunities and joint operations."

The McChord-based 7th AS was the first to fly and land the C-17 to Guernsey Field, which Air Force officials call the service's "most flexible cargo aircraft." The C-17 can operate from austere airfields including assault runways as short as 3,500 feet and only 90 feet wide. The aircraft turns around on narrow runways by using its backing capability to make a three-point turn.

Maj. Joseph O'Rourke, 62nd AW current operations chief and a pilot in the 7th AS, said such maneuvers are generally performed by aircraft commanders. All aircraft commanders are required to conduct assault landings every training cycle.

"That's a lot of training we have to accomplish," said Major O'Rourke. "Assault strips and airdrop training are vital to the Air Force C-17 community, providing critical combat readiness capabilities."

An aircraft commander or mission pilot are the only Airmen who can conduct the steep and swerving descents and short stops using thrust reversers and brakes during an assault landing. It's an initial qualification achieved at aircraft commander upgrade school at Altus AFB, Okla.

Such landings can be conducted in blackout conditions in which aircrews wear night vision equipment to see special lights defining the runway. It could be compared to landing on an aircraft carrier at night, except that the runway is a lot longer and is not pitching and rolling.

However, a C-17 is longer than three Navy F/A-18 Hornets and can carry a 70-ton Abrams tank and more than 100 Soldiers.

With 62nd AW Airmen flying airlift missions to Iraq and Afghanistan with a long history of supplying airlift to joint forces in that region, the training is relevant. Wing Airmen say they remain ready to respond to all requests, including natural disaster missions and combat missions into joint force operations overseas.

"This new runway is one more element in our national defense infrastructure that continues to make us the most capable military in the world," said Colonel Twiford."It's an asset to the C-17 community, the Department of Defense and the nation."