From tactical to strategic: Pittsburgh unit making the switch from C-130s to C-17s

  • Published
  • By Jaimi Upthegrove
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
The 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, is undergoing a significant mission change in order to meet the needs of the Air Force.

The wing is converting from the tactical C-130 to the more strategic C-17 aircraft. While this is no minor task, the conversion is progressing rapidly.

“When we first met with the Army Corps of Engineers, I recall one of their colonels saying this timeline is very tight and we may not get everything done as quickly as planned,” said Mark McUmber, C-17 program manager at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. “There is an incredible team of talented individuals proactively working hard on this project to keep it ahead of schedule and get all the moving parts lined up at the right time.”

Tim Greene, AFRC’s design and construction manager, commended the ACOE team for expeditiously drawing up designs and plans, aiding in the team’s ability to get the conversion under way.

The process started when funds were allocated in the 2017 fiscal year budget. The wing was awarded $125 million for construction projects – the most money any AFRC location has been awarded in a single year, according to Greene.

With the funds in place, the base still faced many challenges.

Maj. Rob Lowe, chief of the conversion office at the 911th AW, said 2017 was an extremely busy year for the wing. In addition to beginning the conversion, the 911th held a capstone event ending its current cycle of inspections, conducted an award winning air show and accomplished the wing’s final C-130 deployment.

“Our members deployed in September and as soon as they returned they hit the ground running on the conversion,” he said.

The wing’s current commander, Col. Doug Strawbridge, took command of the unit April 6 in the midst of the conversion. He came to the unit in 2015 as the vice wing commander and has served at the 911th AW through the entire process.

“We’ve asked a lot of our Reservists and they have demonstrated the utmost professionalism and dedication through the whole process,” he said. “We have a stellar reputation and we will keep building on that as we take on these new, incredible challenges.”

Once the Reserve Citizen Airmen and aircraft returned from their deployment in September, Col. Clifford Waller, 911th Maintenance Group commander, coordinated with the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Florida, to recover, inspect and transition the wing’s C-130s to various locations while workers at Pittsburgh started preparing the base for the C-17.

Wing leaders anticipate sending off the last C-130 by the end of April.

The first C-17s are expected to arrive in June, although they will be maintained and operated at the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, until the Pittsburgh base is ready for them.

“We have experienced an absolute outpouring of pivotal support from our friends at the 445th and the 920th,” Lowe said. “Without their support, this process would take a lot longer. They gladly stepped up to help.”

Lowe said an added benefit to staging the C-17s at Wright-Patterson is that the members of the 911th AW will integrate with and get hands-on training from the skilled members of the 445th.

The 911th will eventually house eight aircraft. They anticipate having their first two C-17s on station in October of this year.

Strawbridge said the new mission set will bring many new opportunities to the wing and the community. He said the C-17 – the most flexible cargo airlifter in the Air Force – has the capability to carry more cargo and fly further than other aircraft, offering exciting new ways to meet the strategic needs of the Air Force.

In addition to new opportunities, the conversion will bring more than 200 jobs to the base and is estimated to have a $205 million impact on the local economy.

There is still a lot of work to be done at the 911th before it reaches full operational capability. Currently, there are multiple construction projects going on, including a new hangar, a new hydrant fueling system and expanded aircraft apron parking.

Greene said there aren’t many buildings on base that won’t be touched by construction to support the new, larger airframe. He estimates that the major construction projects will be completed by the end of 2019.

“This wing is dynamic,” Strawbridge said. “It you look that word up, it’s defined as a process or system characterized by constant change, activity or progress. As we adapt to meet the needs of the Air Force, we will face many challenges, but we can overcome them all so long as we stick together and work as a team. The 911th excels at teamwork.”