MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — Folks in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Northern Virginia, and Western Maryland see C-17s flying low over their neighborhoods three to five times a week.
But, the crews flying the transport planes aren’t joyriding. Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg are sharpening their skills for two to three real-world missions they fly in support of U.S. forces in faraway places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
C-17s suck a lot of gas about 11 gallons for every mile they fly, and at more than five dollars a gallon for JP-8 high octane jet fuel. That amounts to more than $2,000 an hour and $2 million a month.
Colonel David Cochran, the wing commander, says his pilots won the Air Force Fuel Efficiency Award for reducing the burn rates of the C-17’s four big engines.
“We’re not doing things much differently than any other Air Force unit. We are just doing it a little better and a little more consistently,” said Col. Cochran.
By flying smart on local training missions and long-haul missions, Cochran, a commercial airline pilot in civilian life, hopes to save 5 to 10 percent on fuel costs.
“If we can put that kind of dent in the fuel budget for the U.S. Air Force, that goes a long way to being a good steward of our taxpayer’s money,” Captain Jack Mesner, one of Cochran’s pilots, says. “We’re lucky that we have a low-level route just over a ridgeline west of the airport and do most of our tactical training here at home.”
Air assault strips are painted on the runways so Mesner and other pilots can practice landing and taking off in a short distance if they ever have to use a third world airstrip in support of U.S. forces.
In addition to reducing the burn rates of gas-guzzling engines, loadmasters like A1C Anthony Jacoby and A1C Thomas Spillane are doing their part to keep fuel costs down.
“We make sure the cargo is correctly balanced so as to reduce drag on the Globemaster III as it flies locally or trans-continentally,” said Jacoby said.