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'That ain't chicken feed'

C-5 unveiled at 167th Airlift Wing

C-5 unveiled at 167th Airlift Wing

December 11, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - It was like a scene out of a movie.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who has been responsible for steering tens of millions of dollars to an Air National Guard base in Martinsburg, had just finished speaking at a ceremony Sunday to celebrate the arrival of the base's first C-5 airplane when the crowd's attention was directed to the back of the hangar.

A buzzing sound was heard as two huge doors began to open in front of the crowd of more than 1,000 people.

The sun's rays poured into the hangar and a group of musicians played the theme song from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

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"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the spirit of Erma," said Gen. Allen Tackett, the Adjutant General of West Virginia.

The first C-5, parked in front of the hangar, bore the words "Spirit of Erma" near the cockpit.

The plane was named in honor of Byrd's wife, Erma, who died March 25.

Byrd gazed at the aircraft as Tackett stood beside him.

Byrd and Gov. Joe Manchin were featured speakers at the event, and Byrd offered an energetic, down-home presentation.

"Just look at the size ... Yeah man," Byrd said, referring to the massive C-5 transport plane, which is twice as long as the C-130 planes that were used at the base in the past.

The 167th Airlift Wing is replacing its C-130 fleet with 10 C-5s that are expected to arrive gradually until 2008.

The first C-5 arrived last week.

Byrd, D-W.Va., boasted of the construction that has started to transform the base to be able to handle the C-5s and said the investment so far stands at more than $220 million.

"That ain't chicken feed," said Byrd, drawing laughs from those gathered.

Naming the first plane for Byrd's wife wasn't the only news that came from the ceremony.

Byrd also announced that the 167th Airlift Wing has also been selected as one of three facilities which will conduct inspections on C-5s.

As the U.S. Air Force works to streamline operations, military officials have decided that three military units rather than eight will conduct regular inspections on the planes, said Lt. Col. Phil Michael of the 167th.

One of the three military units will be an active Air Force base, one will be an Air National Guard unit and the third will be an Air Force reserve unit, Michael said.

The 167th Airlift Wing has been selected as the Air National Guard base that will perform the inspections, and the announcement means 120 jobs will be created at the base, Byrd said. The 167th Airlift Wing is already expected to generate about 200 new jobs as a result of the C-5s, officials said.

"How about that?" Byrd said. "Hallelujah."

The inspection process for the C-5 is known as an "isocronal inspection" and about 33 C-5s will be inspected at the base every year, Michael said.

Byrd and Manchin joined military officials on a stage during the ceremony and Manchin said the success of the 167th Airlift Wing has given him new "bragging rights" for the state.

Like a lot of events featuring Byrd, the congressman's presence seemed practically as big as what was being celebrated.

Manchin introduced Byrd as "Big Daddy" and a "father to all of us."

"Whenever there was a need, he was always there to deliver," Manchin said.

Robert C. Byrd's story has been described as a classic American saga of hard work, success and achievement.

Byrd, 89, has held more leadership positions in the U.S. Senate than any other senator of any party in Senate history and last month won another term in office.

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