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First C-17 came to Mojave Airport 29 years ago

Short Flights

Credit USAF.

C-17 Globemaster III.

Greetings from Mojave Air & Space Port at Rutan Field! I remember seeing the first C-17 Globemaster III landing at Mojave Airport 29 years ago. My brother, Larry (Gale) Hellwig, was a Weight and Balance Engineer with McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach at the time and I could hardly wait to call him with the news.

I drove out on Highway 58, nearly under the flight path and clicked off about three rolls of film. My, how times have changed. I use a digital camera now and have the results instantly. Back then I had no idea if the pictures would turn out or not! I even drove down to White's Shell station to buy another roll of film and repositioned my location near the end of runway 30. I was just overwhelmed at the size of this airplane! Unfortunately, my photos were not great quality.

Early in 1980, the Department of Defense issued the request for proposals for a new Cargo Experimental Program. Boeing, Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas submitted variants of civil transports, with derivatives of the prototype YC-14 and YC-15 aircraft, and a completely new aircraft in response to the proposal request.

Cathy Hansen.

Lt. Col. Pam Melroy, USAF test pilot, assigned to the C-17 Combined Test Force, practices crosswind landings at Mojave Airport, February 11, 1995.

Douglas Aircraft Company, a component of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, was announced as winner of the competition in August 1981. This winning design had many features used on the YC-15. The YC-15 was a McDonnell Douglas aircraft developed and flight tested in the 1970s. This aircraft was called the C-17 and as the Cargo-Experimental or C-X evolved into the C-17. The military wanted the C-17 to be capable of direct delivery, or putting troops into the forward portion of the combat zone without a stop at an intermediate staging base.

Isn't it ironic that one of the corporation's competing for this contract swallowed up McDonnell Douglas Corporation? This aircraft is now the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

Later, I learned that the C-17 was here at Mojave Airport practicing crosswind landings because the dry lakebed was full of water! We had unusual amounts of rain and the water stayed on the lakebed for weeks in 1995. I was just elated when I was told that the pilot was an outstanding USAF woman test pilot. Lt. Col. Pam Melroy, veteran of Just Cause and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, had over 200 combat and combat support hours and was a friend of Wen and JoAnn Painter was flying that huge airplane!

I learned that Pam attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1991 and when she graduated, she was assigned to the C-17 Combined Test Force. She served as a test pilot until her selection for the astronaut program in December 1994, and just two months after she had been doing touch-and-goes at Mojave, she reported to the Johnson Space Center, March 1995. She had logged over 5,000 hours of flight time in over 45 different aircraft.

She actually participated in the design of the C-17 seat and was the model for the shortest pilot configuration. I can relate to being vertically challenged, since I'm 5 foot, 2 inches and need a pillow behind my back so I can reach the rudder pedals of our airplanes.

Pam was a member of the Antelope Valley Ninety-Nines and was the third female space shuttle pilot in history, following in the footsteps of Eileen Collins and Susan Kilrain. She piloted STS-92 Discovery from Oct. 11-24, 2000, NASA's 100th space launch, which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida and returned to land at Edwards Air Force Base.

Jim Wilhelm. (Wilhelm was a FAA Tower Controller at Long Beach for the first flight of the C-17!)

Capt. Rachel Sallee and Cathy Hansen at the April 20 Plane Crazy Saturday presentation.

My husband, Al, and I were in Florida for the launch, but because of weather delays we missed it, but we were at Edwards AFB for the landing!

Her second trip into space as pilot was aboard STS-112 Atlantis, Oct. 7-18, 2002. Atlantis launched from and returned to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Here are some ideas and inspiration for all of the young people reading this article ... Pam has a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and astronomy; a Master of Science degree in earth and planetary sciences from MIT; and was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC Program in 1983. Wow! I heard her say to a sister Ninety-Nine, "I'm just an ordinary person with an extraordinary job."

Well, she has another extraordinary job today! She is now serving as Deputy Administrator of NASA! She was confirmed by the Senate on June 17, 2021, and sworn in on June 21, 2021. This position is the second highest ranking official of the National Air & Space Administration.

At the April 20, 2024 Plane Crazy Saturday, Capt. Rachel Sallee, USAF, C-17 instructor pilot gave a great presentation about this fantastic cargo aircraft.

"The C-17 is very responsive and flies like a fighter," Sallee said. She told the standing room only crowd that the Globemaster III has a stick, like a fighter, not a yoke like most large aircraft. Fun and easy to fly was Sallee's description of flying the C-17.

According to the USAF website, the C-17 Globemaster III is the most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force. The C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment area. The aircraft can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions and can transport litters and ambulatory patients during aeromedical evacuations. The inherent flexibility and performance of the C-17 force improve the ability of the total airlift system to fulfill the worldwide air mobility requirements of the United States.

Capt. Rachel Sallee is an experimental test pilot and C-17 instructor pilot in the 418 Flight Test Squadron, Edwards AFB.

Credit NASA.

Pamela Melroy - Deputy Administrator of NASA.

With over 3,000 flight hours in over 40 aircraft types, she is primarily responsible for conducting C-17 and KC-46 flight test.

As a former flight test engineer with a DOD contractor, she transitioned her engineering experience into a military pilot career by joining the USAF Reserves in 2016.

Rachel's reserve career was spent in its entirety with the 728th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State, where she became an instructor aircraft commander and flew over 2,000 hours in the C-17, including 175 combat and 135 combat support hours.

She graduated from USAF Test Pilot School Class 22B before transitioning to Active Duty Air Force.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, a Master of Aerospace Engineering in Composite Structures from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Flight Test Engineering from the USAF Test Pilot School.