CHARLESTON, S.C. - As the sun rose above Long Beach, Calif., the last U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, P-223, rolled off the Boeing assembly onto the flight line where it was prepared for its inaugural flight to Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
A ceremony was held on stage with the P-223 in the backdrop for all to see, while Air Force leaders thanked the Boeing employees, who worked on the U.S. Air Force C-17s for the past 20 years, for all their hard work.
"Even though this is the last C-17 to be delivered to the Air Force, we know that the Boeing employees will stand behind us and all 222 C-17s we operate for many years to come," said Gen. Paul Selva, Air Mobility Command commander.
The keys to the bird were handed over to Selva and the aircrew boarded the aircraft to begin their journey to JB Charleston.
As the C-17 took off and Lt. Gen. James Jackson, Air Force Reserve Command commander, performed a fly-over Boeing, employees could be seen waving American Flags in the air cheering the Air Force on.
"I had never flown a C-17 before, but after going through the simulators and getting hands on instructions from experienced C-17 pilots I felt confident taking off and flying the Globemaster high into the sky," said Jackson.
Jackson is a former F-4 Phantom and F-16 Falcon fighter pilot as well as a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot.
The crew on board the C-17 was handpicked and included a General officer, pilot, loadmaster and crew chief from active-duty, reserve and guard components.
"It is truly an honor to be a part of the mission today," said Tech. Sgt. Paul Garner, Air National Guard 155th Airlift Squadron loadmaster out of Memphis, Tenn. "I'm happy I can represent the Air National Guard as a loadmaster on this historical flight."
After taking off and flying for more than an hour, Jackson handed the controls over to Selva who flew the C-17 alongside Lt. Col. Scott Torrico, Air Force Reserve, 701st Airlift Squadron out of JB Charleston, S.C.
"There is nothing this aircraft cannot do," said Selva. "If we need to transport vehicles, cargo, personnel or even perform an aeromedical evacuation, the C-17 and its crew are highly capable of doing any one of these missions."
While the generals took care of the piloting of the aircraft, crew members to include loadmaster and crew chiefs took care of all the flight duties in the rear of the aircraft as well as sharing stories of their time with the C-17 and how much it meant to be on the flight.
This is something I will definitely be telling my grandchildren someday," said Staff Sgt. James Regan, 437th Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "My wife Samantha and my four-year-old son Taylor will be on the ground at JB Charleston to greet me when I land."
After Regan turned the controls of the C-17 over to Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, Air National Guard director, Selva handed him the keys to P-223.
"Words can't describe how I felt being handed the keys to the last C-17," said Regan. "Speechless, really."
As the aircraft approached JB Charleston, Clarke performed a fly-over for the crowd of military, community members and their families all eager to see the final U.S. Air Force C-17.
"This was my first time flying the C-17, so I made sure to make the landing as perfect as possible," said Clarke.
"It's is a little bigger than the fighters I am used to," he jokingly said.
P-223 landed and was parked right in front of the crowd of people waiting to greet the aircrew and celebrate 20 years of history in the making.
"While this may be the last U.S. Air Force C-17 delivery, this bird has many more flights in its future," said Jackson.