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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 7, 2006

History headed toward Hickam

 •  C-17 pilots hone skills in simulator at Hickam

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The C-17 scheduled to arrive at Hickam tomorrow took a test flight from the Boeing facility in Long Beach, Calif., on Jan. 20. It will be the first of eight C-17s coming here, in a move that stations the super jets outside the Mainland for the first time.

Air Force photo

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HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE There will be a C-17 Globemaster III burger at the grill.

The 17th hole on the golf course is being re-designated the C-17 hole.

The 17th lane at the bowling alley is being painted to reflect an aircraft designation.

Three years ago, when word came that Hickam would get eight of the Air Force's latest-generation cargo carriers, the 15th Airbase Wing couldn't change its name fast enough to the 15th "Airlift" Wing.

More recently, the Hickam base newspaper has counted down on its front page the number of days until the arrival of the first of the cargo carriers.

That day is almost here. Gen. Paul Hester, the four-star commander of Pacific Air Forces, is piloting "Spirit of Aloha Ke Aloha," from Boeing's Long Beach, Calif., plant to Kane'ohe Bay today, and a host of VIPs will be on board for the maiden flight into Hickam tomorrow.

It's the first time since the Vietnam War that an active-duty airlift squadron will be based at Hickam and the Air Force excitement level already is somewhere in the stratosphere.

"While we'll be helping nations (with humanitarian aid) ... we're also going to help those who are going into harm's way," Hester said at a recent business-group meeting. "Those who leave from our Hawaiian Islands and head into the danger zones of Iraq and Afghanistan can be transported on this C-17."

The unique partnership with the Hawai'i Air National Guard brings a new capability to the Pacific, ushered in $190 million in construction projects at Hickam and will lead to the creation of an $18 million combat-landing training strip at Kona International Airport, Keahole.

It's also brought a culture change at Hickam Air Force Base, which was an airlift hub from World War II with C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster aircraft, among others, but has had more of a mid-Pacific refueling mission on the active-duty side for the past 30 years, said Pacific Air Forces historian Steven Diamond.

"From a historian's perspective, it's the first time we've bedded down and had our own operationally significant airlift here, at least since Vietnam," Diamond said.

The Hawai'i Air National Guard flies F-15 fighters for air defense of the state and KC-135R Stratotanker refuelers.

Hickam spokesman 1st Lt. Craig Savage said the C-17s give Hickam a new sense of identity.

"When you look at different (Air Force) bases, whether it's Eglin or Tyndall, you think of fighters. You think Charleston, you think airlift," Savage said. "Now, when people think of Hickam, it's going to be C-17 aircraft."

LEADER OF THE PACK

The arrival of the first seven of the $200 million aircraft, one about every three weeks and the eighth expected in late September or early October, also is at the vanguard of a military buildup in Hawai'i that will include an Army Stryker Brigade, more ships and submarines and someday could include an aircraft carrier.

Reflecting the shift of world trade to the Pacific and buildup of the region's militaries, the C-17s were championed by U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, as a way to transport the fast-response Stryker Brigade of about 300 eight-wheeled armored vehicles. Three of the 19-ton Strykers can be transported in a Globemaster III.

The C-17s are expected to be in high demand for a variety of state and federal missions because of their versatility, said 15th Airlift Wing Cmdr. Col. Bill "Goose" Changose, who also is the Hickam base commander.

"It's pretty exciting stuff," Changose said, "because although you may be scheduled to go from here to Okinawa, if all of a sudden a high-priority lift mission comes up, and the vice president is going to Singapore, or the secretary of state is going to stop in the Philippines, it's not uncommon to be diverted."

With a payload of 160,000 pounds, the C-17 can take off from a 7,600-foot airfield, fly 2,400 nautical miles and land on a small, austere airfield in 3,000 feet or less, according to Boeing.

Boeing said the cargo carriers have set 33 world records more than any other airlifter in history including payload to altitude, time to climb, and short takeoff and landing.

A C-5 Galaxy may be a bigger cargo carrier, but the C-17 has it beat in terms of versatility. In 2001, C-17s landed on a dirt runway at Camp Rhino in Afghanistan to deliver troops and supplies.

More recently, when Schofield Barracks sent four Chinook helicopters to Pakistan in October for earthquake relief, the choppers had to be switched in Rota, Spain, from C-5s to C-17s because the larger aircraft can't land at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where the helicopters were reassembled.

NEW PARTNERSHIPS

The Hawai'i basing represents the first time C-17s will be stationed outside the Mainland, and the first partnership with an Air National Guard unit to fly and maintain the aircraft.

Most C-17 squadrons have full or nearly full active-duty manning and an associated Reserve unit that provides additional capability. At Hickam, 60 percent of the personnel will come from the active-duty ranks and 40 percent from the Hawai'i Air National Guard.

"That's never been done before," Changose said.

The change represents the wave of the future for the Air Force and its "Total Force" integration of active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard units.

Col. Larry Stephens, commander of the 15th Maintenance Group, has about 120 Air National Guard and 215 active-duty personnel and civilians ready to work on the arriving aircraft.

The arrangement has blended traditional Air Guard culture, characterized by long working relationships and an informal, first-name basis, with more formal relationships among active-duty members who move to a new assignment every few years.

"It's already working outstanding, and I really mean that," Stephens said.

There has been the assignment of more than 600 new active-duty and Air National Guard positions with the C-17 arrival, officials said. There's a mix of change, pride, new attention and longer work hours for the Air Guard, which used to fly the C-130 Hercules aircraft that are being replaced by the C-17s.

"We used to fly under the radar all the time. Now it's high visibility," said Lt. Col. Greg "Woody" Woodrow, 154th Wing operations support flight commander.

Before, it was supply runs to Johnston Atoll, Wake Island and Kwajalein.

"We take a lot of pride (being part of the C-17 unit) because we really feel like we're contributing to the effort," Woodrow said, noting it will be a lot different flying into someplace like Baghdad, Iraq.

The flip side is that the Air Guard pilots and crews expect to be away from families a lot longer.

Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, head of the Hawai'i National Guard, said the C-17s will be a "tremendous asset" that will help with homeland defense. All 22 members of the 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team and equipment can be transported on a C-17 "to go anywhere in the state in case of terrorist or biological attack, or elsewhere in the Pacific to help our allies," Lee said.

HISTORY TOMORROW

People based at Hickam are being invited out at 10 a.m. tomorrow for the C-17 arrival.

Changose was expected to pilot the C-17 from Kane'ohe Bay to Hickam with Brig. Gen. Peter Pawling, commander of the 154th Wing of the Air National Guard, but instead both will be passengers on board.

Changose, a former C-17 instructor pilot, was at the controls of a C-17 brought in for training when it collided briefly with an Air Guard refueling tanker about 200 miles off O'ahu on Dec. 22 .

Both planes landed safely, but an Air Force investigation board was convened and Changose grounded himself from flying until the review is complete. Changose said he needed to be requalified as an instructor pilot for Pawling to also be in the cockpit for tomorrow's historic flight.

As a result of the mid-air collision, neither will be in the cockpit.

"If the results say I did something wrong ... I don't think there would be any punitive (action) because I know we flew the flight clean, but more retraining, that sort of stuff (would happen)," Changose said last week.

The Air Force plans to build a 4,250-foot by 90-foot "short, austere airfield" for C-17 combat practice landings at Kona International Airport on the Big Island, but also will conduct "touch and go" landings at Kalaeloa and at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Kane'ohe Bay.

Changose said the C-17s are quieter than many aircraft that fly into Honolulu International Airport.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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