RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. Air Forces in Europe soon will have a pair of C-17 cargo jets at its disposal in Germany for airlift missions across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Air Mobility Command is rotating the C-17 Globemaster IIIs and crews in and out of Ramstein every four months. The planes and crews will come from Air Force Reserve units in the United States.
The first C-17 — from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. — arrived this month and will fly its first mission on Friday to Iraq. A second plane, coming from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., is scheduled to arrive sometime this spring.
The move is expected to give European-based military commanders the ability to move more cargo faster. Having rotational C-17s in Germany also will save money because they won’t have to be flown from the U.S. every time a mission calls for the four-engine cargo plane.
With the buildup of a new U.S. Africa Command and more missions being conducted on the African continent, the Air Force has been looking to bring the service’s newest cargo plane to Europe over the past year.
Col. Gary Gutowsky, chief of the 603rd Air Operations Center’s Air Mobility Division, said the planes will get plenty of use.
“We would love to have more and could use more,” Gutowsky said.
Ramstein is home to the 86th Airlift Wing, which flies C-130 cargo planes and provides the bulk of the airlift for the command. While the C-130 propeller plane has been a dependable workhorse, the aircraft does not have the range, speed or cargo space of the C-17.
For example, airlift for a recent mission to Africa required four C-130s and took five days. The C-17 could do the same operation in one day.
Retired Gen. Tom Hobbins had frequently expressed the need for a C-17 squadron in Europe during his tenure as commander of USAFE from December 2005 to December 2007. Two rotational Globemaster IIIs fall short of that request, but Gutowsky said having the pair at Ramstein would go a long way in providing quick airlift.
On Friday, the first crew will fly to Naples, Italy, to pick up 50 Iraqi officers and transport them to Iraq. Having a rotational C-17 based at Ramstein perform the mission instead of a U.S.-based plane saves the Air Force about $277,000 — the cost of transporting the same plane from the States.
Two aircrews from McGuire are at Ramstein for the inaugural deployment. A second crew will come with the second plane. With both planes, about 50 reservists will rotate in and out of Germany as part of the plan. They will make up what is being called the 779th Expeditionary Airlift Flight, but airmen have nicknamed it the “C-17 Ram.”
Aircraft mechanics from the Ramstein-based 723rd Air Mobility Squadron will be responsible for providing maintenance, said Maj. Frank Long, the 723rd’s aerial port flight commander.
Lt. Col. Al Brown, a reservist pilot who works for American Airlines, said pilots and crewmembers are excited about the rotations because of the opportunity to be deployed in Germany and provide missions across the globe.
“We had no shortage of volunteers to come out and do this,” said Brown, who deployed from McGuire.
The planes will be used primarily for USAFE missions, but Air Mobility Command will continue to retain ownership of the planes and could use the rotational C-17s for other missions if needed, said Lt. Col. James Fryer, the unit’s aircraft commander.