By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Maj. James Duncan has the distinction of being the first 186th Air Refueling Wing pilot to fly the first C-27 Spartan transport aircraft into Key Field so it will be fitting this morning for him to fly the last C-27, the same exact one he landed so many months ago, out of Meridian airspace.
The last two of the cargo planes will lift off around 8:30 on a flight to Tuscan, Arizona to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The aircraft are to be inducted into storage. The planes are to be kept there until a decision has been made which branch of the service will use the planes. In the meantime, they are leaving to make room for the much larger birds set to roost back where they belong.
"It will be a good sight to see the tankers all lined up on the tarmac again," says Lt. Col. Brad Crawford, the executive officer for the 186th ARW. "With these two C-27s leaving, goes the tactical airlift mission we have been conducting since the last tanker left in March of 2011."
Key Field has two of the Stratotankers on the base now and is due to receive four more in August. The remaining two tankers are set to arrive sometime in September which would complete the compliment of eight aircraft the 186th is due to fly.
In the meantime, 186th ARW personnel are busy reacquainting themselves with the nuances of the big birds they have so successfully deployed in the past. Crawford says the majority of airmen still attached with the wing have served aboard the tankers before but that there are still a great many air guardsmen who will count the tanker as their first mission assignment.
"For the veterans it is like riding a bike, you never forget," Crawford says. "There are a few things they have to study up on but we don't see that as a problem whatsoever. The newer guys started training last month and that is expected to continue into next year."
To say the excitement is back at the 186th ARW would be an understatement.
The boom operators or "boomers" were loadmasters on the C-27. Now they are going back to the tail of the tanker to stab approaching aircraft so the missions can be continued nonstop. Maintenance workers are busy going over updated instructions on keeping the massive converted Boeing 707s operating at peek performance parameters. And pilots are busy at other bases getting reacquainted with the updated systems of the tankers. All of this takes time but as the number of personnel rotate back through to the 186th after being brought up to speed the number of missions will increase as well.
"We love this mission here and we are really looking forward to getting back to full operational status," Crawford says.