First Squadron of C-17 Transport Planes Declared Operational
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ The Air Force declared its first squadron of C-17s operational Tuesday, about 19 months after the controversial transport planes began arriving at Charleston Air Force Base.
The Air Force has proposed a fleet of 120 C-17s _ at $533 million each _ by the year 2006, but reports last month from the General Accounting Office and the Rand Corp. said other aircraft might be better.
The GAO report suggested the Pentagon buy only a minimum number of the transports, which cost $533 million each and were plagued by development problems. The Rand report said the Air Force should scrap plans to buy any more C-17s and instead use cargo versions of the Boeing 747.
The Pentagon, which has contracted to buy 40 of the planes, said more analysis was needed before the aircraft’s future can be determined. A decision will be made in November.
But the new operational status means 12 planes and 48 crews at the base can be used on missions worldwide.
The Air Force said two or three of the planes in the 17th Airlift Squadron will be available for missions immediately. The rest will continue crew training. Even without operational status, the C-17s had flown on several missions, including to the Persian Gulf, Central America and the Caribbean.
The C-17, built by McDonnell Douglas Corp., is about the size of the aging C-141 airlifter it replaces but can carry twice the load and can land on shorter airstrips.