11/07/04 — Reporter has fun in the C-17

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Reporter has fun in the C-17

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 7, 2004 2:07 AM

It was like riding roller coaster that dropped so fast it put your stomach into your mouth and then stopped so quickly that you felt like your body was being left behind.

These sensations were part of a practice fight in a C-17 on Saturday. The flight was preparation for today's air show at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. The C-17 is part of the 315th Airlift Wing out of Charleston, S.C., an Air Force Reserve unit.

Gates to the base for the Wings Over Wayne air show open this morning at 9 a.m.

Lt. Col. Rick Davis, one of the pilots who has flown the C-17 for about nine years, said the plane's part in today's air show will be impressive.

"We're taking the Wings of Blue, the Air Force Academy's parachute team, and dropping them out the back of the plane. Then we'll demonstrate how fast the airplane can climb, turning capabilities, high speed, low speed and an assault landing."

As the plane climbed to a low altitude of 5,000 feet on Saturday, the back was opened for a spectacular view of the North Carolina coastline. The flight plan took us to Morehead city then down the coast to Wilmington. A small breeze drifted through the open plane and the white sandy beaches contrasted with the peaceful blue ocean.

TSgt. Tim Schnaible, one of the loadmasters on the flight, said he has been a crew member on the C-17 about 6 1/2 years. He and two other loadmasters wore restraint harnesses that attach to the floor of the plane. Schnaible said when the back of the plane is open, they either wear the harnesses or parachutes.

"We can air drop jumpers or heavy equipment such as vehicles and tanks," he said. "When dropping heavy equipment such as a tank, the tank would be locked into the rails of the plane, which keep it from moving around during flight."

Schnaible said the loadmaster has calculated all aspects of the drop such as exact location. Then the mission computers count down when it's safe to drop the tank and allow the locks to release. Parachutes pull the tank out of the airplane.

Although he has dropped parachuters, Schnaible said he wouldn't jump out of a perfectly good airplane himself. "It had better be burning," he said.

After 20 minutes or so, the back of the plane was closed to prepare for an unusual assault landing. But first the plane did an overhead pattern. This is where the C-17 comes in at a high altitude right and at the approach end of the runway, does a hard break and then starts down in one continuous spiral, rolls out and lands. This is the part where you find your stomach in your mouth.

Lt. Col. Keith Guillotte, one of the pilots, said they use this maneuver tactically to keep the plane fast and high over an airfield where there's danger of being fired on.

But the fun wasn't over yet. There was still the assault landing. This is where the plane landed on the runway and stopped in about 1,000 to 1,200 feet. This is also where you feel like a part of you is leaving your body behind. A plane the size of a C-17 usually takes anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 feet to stop, according to Guillotte.

Guillotte, who's piloted a C-17 since 1996, said the aircraft is built to stop on a very short airfield. "It has a lot of breaking power with special carbon fiber brakes," he said. "And it uses thrust reversers on all four engines. That's about 180,000 pounds of thrust and reverse."

Another exciting part of the airshow will be the Red Baron flying demonstration. Two of the Red Baron Pizza Squadron pilots were practicing Saturday.

Todd Schaufenbuel has been a Red Baron pilot three years. "I love flying in these vintage World War II airplanes." he said. "I think we bring something extra special to the crowd."

Travis Aukes has been a Red Baron pilot 12 years. Today he is flying the lead of the two-ship formation.

The two will be doing a lot of formation acrobatics such as loops, quarter clover leafs, barrel rolls and hammerheads where the planes go straight up, pivot and come straight back down at the ground.

Aukes said their signature maneuver is making hearts in the sky.

"It's a lot of fun flying in an open cockpit biplane," Aukes said. "It brings out the true romance of flying. You got the hair blowing and everything. It's like flying a piece of history.

"It's great to get to go all around the country meeting all the special people. This year I've gotten to fly over the Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle in Seattle and Mount Rushmore. I've gotten to do a lot of unique things and it's just a thrill. What other job can you do that and have this much fun?"