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Cargo jet still has weakness

April 18, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

The Washington County, Md., and Berkeley County, W.Va., airports always argue over who has the biggest "runway," but the battle was taken to new lengths last week when Hagerstown got leapfrogged by Martinsburg before it even had a frog to leap.

This has to drive the locals in Washington County bats. For years, they've been scratching and clawing, lobbying and cajoling, scrimping and saving to increase the length of the Hagerstown runway just a bit so it will be in the same neighborhood as that of their interstate rival.

Then along comes U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia's grand patriarch, who mentions in passing that he's penciled in a line item to the federal budget for $200 million to extend Martinsburg's runway to a couple of miles in length.

Washington County airport officials must wonder what it's like to have a representative in Washington, D.C.

Mikulski occasionally makes an appearance. Sarbanes apparently gets lost on his way to the Catskills every once in a while and shows up here, looking slightly nervous and as if he's planning as his next piece of comprehensive legislation the "Keep Me Out of Western Maryland At All Costs Act of 2002."

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And Bartlett - who knows? He shows up here all the time, making us somewhat gratified that other politicians don't. Bartlett, ostensibly an enemy of government spending, wanted millions of dollars in anti-terrorism money for Washington County. Of course the Bush administration rejected it with a big "Return to Spender" stamped across the envelope.

Now, "Don Quixote" Bartlett is tilting at some development windmill for Fort Ritchie, which he assures us is huge, but can't be talked about because if anyone breathes a word about what it is, the project will be lost like a wisp of milkweed in a gale. Yeah, well, whatever. I swear, if Bartlett had been around 100 years ago - oh wait, he was - if he had been around 150 years ago he'd be wearing a stovepipe hat and selling patent medicine out of the basket of a hot-air balloon.

What could it possibly be that is so super-duper confidential? Is Fort Ritchie about to become the new keeping place of Col. Sanders' secret recipe?

"OK, Bartlett, here's the deal: We'll let you in our plans, but if you let slip so many as one of those seven herbs and spices, the deal's off, understand?"

Anyone who wishes to be placed in the "believe it when they see it" camp with Bartlett's secret plan to end the abandonment of Fort Ritchie is hereby excused to do so.

The Martinsburg project is real, however, and is way cool because it involves not only a bigger "runway," but really big four-engine jets - Martinsburg will be home to the mongo C-5 Galaxy transports that make the C-130 Hercules - the plane the 167th Tactical Air Guard currently flies - look like a deer tick.

According to the Aviation Zone, the military calls Lockheed's C-5 "the box that the C-141 came in." Both its nose and tail swing up, so it can be loaded and unloaded at the same time.

The compartment floor is nearly 20 feet wide and 14 feet high. At 121 feet in length, its cargo floor is a foot longer than the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk.

Oh yes, it's a bigg'un. This behemoth takes on 51,450 gallons of fuel, weighing 166 tons. It's somehow capable of getting more than 400 tons airborne. Want to carry six transcontinental buses? Fine. A couple of M1 Abrams tanks? Gotcha covered. Seven Huey helicopters? No prob. Even a 74-ton mobile Army bridge is not an issue for the cavernous jet.

If it has a weakness, I notice, it is that the C-5 can only swallow "eight dignitaries." An aircraft must have some limits.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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