ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Air Force received its final C-17 Globemaster III - the 223rd aircraft - during ceremonies Thursday at Joint Base Charleston.
The last new cargo jet, built in Boeing's Long Beach, Calif., facility, was delivered this week to the South Carolina base's 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Airlift Wing. Although this will be the final one sent to theAir Force, overall there were 256 C-17s delivered, including those to foreign military customers.
Foreign Military Sales partners from several countries will eventually have a footprint at Robins' C-17 Combined Program Office. Robins has partnered with Boeing on C-17 sustainment since 2000, when the first plane was inducted here for Programmed Depot Maintenance.
Since then, 364 planes -- this number reflects repeat customers -- have undergone heavy maintenance, which occurs every five years, and mandatory product improvement changes.
The Air Force awarded the contract for the plane in 1981, and the first C- 17 flew in 1991.
Together with Boeing's San Antonio depot, Robins has shared the C-17 workload for a number of years.
"We've been expecting this for a long time," said Col. David Morgan, C-17 Globemaster Division chief, of the final delivery. "The change in the climate will now be from production
and sustainment, to all-sustainment. We at the Robins program office have been concentrating on sustainment for a long time, so this won't be a big change."
Interestingly, the estimated number of C-17s to be delivered fell close to this week's final number.
"The original estimated plan back in the early mid-1980s was for 221 jets," said Gus Urzua, Boeing vice president who works on site at Robins. "Look how close we ended up ... that's remarkable."
Looking ahead, parts supportability will become more challenging as things move out of full-production mode, said Senior Master Sgt. Randy Thigpen, C-17 maintenance and modification section lead.
Able to take off and land on short runways quickly despite its size, the four-engine jet is capable of hauling 60-ton tanks, troops and medical gear across continents. It has the
highest readiness rate of any cargo plane in the U.S. arsenal, said Bob Steele, the Air Force's C-17 deputy program manager.
"They're all over the world ... and they're constantly carrying out missions," he said.
The plane was key in hauling supplies to Iraq, Afghanistan and on humanitarian missions. In June it carried nearly 90,000 pounds of food to Haiti, and during Hurricane Sandy, it brought utility trucks from the West Coast to the East to help restore electricity.
"The plane's mission has evolved a lot further than its initial design," said Steele.
The life of a C-17 is 30 years; the average age of the cargo jet is nine. With the total current fleet experiencing 2.6 million flight hours, there is much work remaining at Robins to manage the C-17 program.
"Even though we're not producing C-17s anymore, we expect the 223 we have to last for a long time," said Morgan.