C-17 arrives for weekend air show

Although an Air Force C-17 landed at Santa Maria Public Airport on Friday, the 174-foot-long cargo plane will not take to the air this weekend during the Thunder Over the Valley air show as originally planned.

Because of a crash of a similar aircraft in Alaska during a training exercise for an air show in July, all C-17s have been grounded from public demonstrations pending the conclusion of an investigation, said Lt. Col. Ben Hackworth of March Air Reserve Base in Riverside.  “It’s extremely disappointing,” Hackworth, a 26-year Air Force veteran, said of the news given to the crew Friday morning.

However, the Globemaster III plane from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing will be on static display for air show attendees.

Capable of carrying 180,000 pounds of cargo, the C-17 is a nimble aircraft, said Lt. Col. Tim Harris.  “It flies like a little plane,” said Harris, a 24-year Air Force veteran.

One of his C-17 flights included carrying killer whale Keiko of the movie “Free Willy.”

Hackworth and Harris are two of the original 12 Air Force C-17 pilots, said Lt. Col. Stu Rodriguez.  The flight from their home base in Riverside took a mere 35 minutes Friday.

Three pilots and three loadmasters are part of the C-17 crew here for the air show.

Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday, the 21st edition of the event is specifically dedicated to the U.S. Coast Guard and a C-130 Hercules cargo plane crew the Coast Guard lost in an October 2009 crash with a Marine Corps Super Cobra helicopter over the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.

Coast Guard aircraft had been scheduled to participate in the air show, but the national Coast Guard commander has pulled all Coast Guard aircraft from air shows and other public demonstrations, according to Mike Geddry Sr., Museum of Flight president and air show organizer.

Geddry’s decision to keep working the phones paid off Friday with a brief visit from an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the Coast Guard version of the Army’s Blackhawk chopper.  The visit was made in part by the work of a Santa Maria native.  Petty Officer Matthew Schofield, a public affairs officer, was able to get a San Diego-based Jayhawk crew to fly up for a tri-tip barbecue. 

“I don’t know if anyone has had [tri-tip],” Schofield, a 1996 Righetti High School graduate, said of the volunteer crew.  That the show is dedicated to the Coast Guard is a big honor, he said.  “It shows the city of Santa Maria opens its arms to us,” he said.

Santa Maria’s air show is unique as it is dedicated annually to veterans and active duty men and women of the armed forces and their sacrifices for our freedom.

Posted in Local on Saturday, August 28, 2010 12:28 am