C-17 conversion in full swing

Tony Capoccia, the Boeing C-17 base manager assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, works at his desk July 7. Capoccia is one of eight Boeing staff members that will be assigned to the wing to offer technical and logistical support for the C-17s . (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Nathanial Taylor.)

Tony Capoccia, the Boeing C-17 base manager assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, works at his desk July 7. Capoccia is one of eight Boeing staff members that will be assigned to the wing to offer technical and logistical support for the C-17s . (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Nathanial Taylor.)

Martinsburg W.Va. -- The 167th Airlift Wing officially began its conversion from C-5s to C-17s July 1.

While the wing had already began preparing for the new airframe prior to the official start date of the conversion, July 1 marked the start of a three year countdown that sets a completion deadline for a fully-operational conversion.

According to Lt. Col. Brandon Taksa, the 167th unit conversion officer, the conversion is in full swing throughout the base.

"We retired three tails already, have sent one pilot to training, and have sent almost a dozen maintenance folks to training as well; all before the official kickoff [of the conversion]," Taksa said.

He added, all the date really does is start a three-year window with in which the unit has to complete the conversion.

Two of the biggest changes that are already underway are the conversion of the wing's flight simulator and the arrival of several staff members from Boeing.

According to Taksa, the former C-5 Galaxy simulator has been removed from the building and preparations are underway to ready the facility for the new C-17 simulator.

"Simulators are aircraft specific," Taksa said. "The C-5 simulator is no longer on base, but in order to prep for the C-17 simulator we have somewhere near $1.3 million of work that needs to be done to the building. Because the C-17 flies a little bit more of a classified mission, the training profiles are more classified, so we have to harden the building for security reasons."

While there are multiple other components to preparing the interior of the building, the various technological capabilities of the new simulator create the need for a more updated infrastructure.

The C-5 Simulator worked on hydraulics, but the C-17 simulator is all electric so the hydraulics room is being repurposed to make it a loadmaster training area, Taksa said. The other piece is a huge communications side to the installation. The C-17 simulator can link up, via a secure network, with other C-17, tankers and fighters and create a scenario that allows us to fly our simulator here with other Air Force units in a combined scenario.

"The C-5 simulator had nowhere close to that type of capability," Taksa added.

According to Taksa, a team of contractors has already begun the remodeling of the simulator building and will be done in time for the new simulator to arrive Nov. 1. From there, the simulator will take between eight to 10 months to install. The wing hopes to have the simulator opened and ready for training by July 2015.

In addition to the work being done to the simulator building, the wing is now working closely with Boeing, the manufactures of the C-17.

There are currently five Boeing representatives on base, Taksa said. Boeing's goal is to have a full staff of eight people by August, all of whom will be assigned as liaisons to the base. Four members of the Boeing staff are assigned to the Maintenance Group as technical support, three will work in Supply to help coordinate Boeing's unique supply model, and one will act as the on-site supervisor for the staff.

"Boeing runs things a little differently than Lockheed Martin," Taksa said. "Any country that operates the C-17 that we fly to, we can pull parts from. Let's say we fly to Australia, we then have access to Australia's part supply for the C-17."

"That's why we have an in-place Boeing [staff] here, so we are able to supply parts to other C-17s," he added.

The wing, which will retire two more C-5s to the boneyard between now and September, will welcome its first C-17 in September with its second arriving in October.

"Those aircraft will actually be fenced off as maintenance trainers for the first three months," Taksa said. "We will begin flying C-17 missions in January of next year. They will be real-world missions but there will be a lot of training going on during."

While there is always stress and complications associated with large changes such as a full airframe conversion, Taksa is proud of the wing and looks forward to seeing its personnel excel with the C-17s as it did with the C-5s.

"The 167th has always been about excellence and we have always executed the mission," Taksa said. "We are known throughout the business in the airlift community as being professionals and this allows us to continue that on the world stage with a premier airlifter."

For Col. David Cochran, the 167th vice commander, the official startup serves as a marker for all the hard work the wing has put in over the past year and a half to prepare for the conversion.

"(Our progress) shows how we always lean forward as a unit and a wing," Cochran said. "Once we got notified that the C-17 conversion was going to be a reality, our Airman started to put processes in place. Maybe the biggest thing was to mitigate the reduction in force to the manning document."

From supply to personnel, Cochran praised the hard work of the conversion team and the wing as a whole as it heads into the official conversion.
 
"It really strategically positions our wing for the future," Cochran said.