Guard eyes Air Force's new planes

March 24, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The 167th Airlift Wing is vying for a new plane that could add up to 100 jobs at the Martinsburg base and increase the unit's role in military missions.

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West Virginia Air National Guard leaders have asked the U.S. Air Force to station eight C-17 Globemaster III transport planes in Martinsburg when the Air Force begins taking delivery of the new planes over the next few years, said 167th commander Col. V. Wayne Lloyd.

Each new C-17 would allow 167th crews to fly 102 troopers and an M-1 tank directly into overseas battlefields without stopping for fuel, said Lloyd.

The Martinsburg unit has 12 C-130s, but Lloyd said those planes carry only 92 troopers and are not capable of carrying the U.S. Army's M-1 battle tank.


The C-130 also requires refueling stops at friendly air bases for long flights, while the new planes can be refueled in the air.

"The C-17 would change our mission from a tactical role to a strategic one," said Lloyd.

The Martinsburg unit has flown missions to several hot spots around the world, including Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, and recently delivered food and medical supplies as part of a relief effort in Nicaragua.

West Virginia, however, is only one of several states lobbying for the new planes.

While Jackson, Miss., is slated to receive six of the 120 C-17s ordered by the Air Force, Lloyd said Air National Guard bases in Alaska, Hawaii and Oklahoma are also trying to get some of the planes.

"This is by no means a done deal," said Lloyd.

The 167th could find out more about the Air Force's plans later this year, he said.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., said Wise was aware of the West Virginia request but said it was too early to determine how the request would fit federal budget plans.

Air Force plans to scale back the number of C-130s in its fleet have caused uncertainty in Martinsburg before. The base has been threatened four times with losing up to four of its 12 C-130s.

The current defense budget will keep those planes at the base until at least the end of September, said Lloyd.

The loss of four C-130s, he said, would cost the base an estimated 300 jobs.

The Martinsburg base would be capable of housing eight of the new $200 million C-17s and would have to give up its C-130s, said Lloyd.

The 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston, W.Va. would continue to fly missions with the C-130, he said.

The earliest any new C-17s would be stationed in Martinsburg would be 2005, said Lloyd.

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