Sunday was my first time watching the annual Wings over Wine Country event in Santa Rosa. I was excited to see a large number of planes that were on display and the one that impressed me the most was the C-17 Globemaster III. This enormous machine towers above all the planes parked on the field. We queued up for a tour and as we entered the aircraft, Master Sargent Christopher Whittely, who is a Loadmaster, gave us a few particulars: the weight of the loaded aircraft can reach almost 600,000 pounds; its cruising altitude is ~33,000 feet, its cruising speed ~500 mph and it can also be refueled in flight. It’s difficult to imagine this airplane landing and taking off right here at Sonoma County Airport.
Then we climbed a ladder into the cockpit. I was impressed with the number of controls required to fly the plane. Switches, dials, and monitors line the interior. In the cabin, Amy, a Major in the Air Force Reserves, fielded our questions. The plane is primarily used to bring medical supplies and humanitarian aid to both Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s also used for returning wounded soldiers to the US for medical attention. But the aircraft has also been used for non military purposes, such as transporting Keiko the killer whale (from the movie Free Willy) to its new home in the Icelandic waters of Klettsvik Bay.
Tucked away in the back of the cabin is a narrow bed where one pilot can get some shut eye while the other pilot flies.Â As Amy spoke, I imagined what it would be like to sleep on this giant airship in the pitch black night, cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet, listening to the hum of the engine making its way across the Pacific, and into the middle of an Afghani war zone.