Wing completes C-17 conversion

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --

After a three-year transition to the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft mission, the 167th Airlift Wing officially exited conversion status June 1.

The wing began its transformation in June 2014, trading a fleet of 11 C-5 Galaxy aircraft for eight C-17’s and retraining personnel to operate and maintain the newer, smaller airlifters.

The wing learned it would be transitioning to the C-17 in February 2012 when the Secretary of the Air Force released the Force Structure Overview guidance which aimed to align new strategic guidance with the 2013 fiscal year budget submission. The Force Structure overview called for aircraft changes to units throughout the entire Air Force.

Capt. David Groom, a pilot for the 167th who has been tasked to the wing’s conversion office for the last year and a half, said the wing is fully operationally capable.

“We are meeting all of the appropriate levels of readiness,” he said.

The wing has already logged 7,619 flight hours, completed 2,194 sorties, hauled 10,339 tons of cargo and carried 11,311 passengers since receiving the C-17’s.

The wing’s maintainers have logged more than 114,414 hours to keep the C-17 missions moving.

Maintenance has completed 49 home station checks, the routine inspections of the aircraft. They have also completed 142 field level time compliance technical orders which are basically upgrades and modifications to the C-17s. Additionally, the maintainers have done 10 refurbishments which includes things like replacing anti-skid tape and worn seat cushions.

Last fall, just over two years into the new mission, the wing was rated “overall effective” at the conclusion of the Unit Effectiveness Inspection capstone event.

A Site Action Task Force (SATAF) meeting held at the wing in October 2013 identified 61 specific tasks were required for a successful conversion.

“To the untrained eye, the conversion process seems easy, old airplanes get retired, new airplanes arrive, and we easily become mission capable,” said Col. Shaun Perkowski, 167th Airlift Wing commander.  “In fact, conversion is highly complex, requires the hard work of wing, state, National Guard Bureau, Air Mobility Command and Air Force agencies and comes at a cost.  There is a cost in resources, time and sometimes personal hardship.” 

The change in mission called for a change in manning. The wing’s force was reduced by about 200 positions.

 “Although the vast majority of those impacted experienced a relatively gentle landing, they also experienced the uncertainty and stress of job changes and job loss,” Perkowski said.

 The reduction in force wasn’t the only challenge the wing confronted during the conversion.

 Groom said getting parts for the new C-17 aircraft has been a challenge. The wing currently has about 30 percent of the parts that will eventually be stocked on base. Parts not stocked at the wing currently are special ordered which has slowed down some of the maintenance processes.

Training was another challenge early on in the conversion.

“The initial training timeline was very aggressive to get aircrew and maintainers through C-17 schools and that training was accomplished well, all the pieces that our people were involved in went well,” Groom said.

There was a shortage of Mission Essential Special Training (MEST) days that caused a delay in the follow-on training Airmen were to receive at the wing after completing their initial technical school.

The training days were scarce Air National Guard-wide because numerous units were going through conversion at the same time. The wing eventually received the MEST days and 121 aircrew members were trained and qualified on the C-17 aircraft.

Throughout the conversion 260 unit members were trained to maintain the wing’s C-17s.

Groom also credits the C-17 simulator on base with helping the conversion process move forward.

“L3, the contractor that runs the simulator, worked hard to get the simulator up and running ahead of schedule so that our crew could get their training on base and save the time and expense of traveling to other bases to get the training,” Groom said.

Fifty-eight of the 61 conversion action tasks identified at the SATAF are complete. Other than a few ongoing facility modifications and upgrades, this chapter in the wing’s history is complete.

 “As the 167th exits our C-17 conversion, we are a more capable, more relevant mobility force and could not be that fighting force without our own wing professionals who made it happen,” Perkowski said.