The Boeing Co. has made its last C-17 for the Air Force, the military's giant workhorse plane used for everything from airlifting tanks, supplying troops to performing medical evacuations.
Military officials took delivery of the C-17 Globemaster III – the 223rd sold to the Air Force – during a ceremony Thursday at Boeing's assembly plant in Long Beach, Calif., according to the Associated Press
"It's an awesome airplane," said Rachid Ali, a Boeing avionics inspector. "Capability, reliability, it's above and beyond. The first 50 are still flying. After 25 years, you can refurbish them and they're as good as new. It's going to be in the air for years to come."
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Ali, who has worked with C-17s for more than a decade, said the aircraft were outfitted as mobile hospitals and were regularly used to evacuate wounded military personnel during the Iraq War and has been used in conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan.
Boeing's Long Beach plant, with about 4,000 workers, is one of the last major conventional aircraft factories in Southern California and federal funding has kept it going, according to the Los Angeles Times
Boeing had been pushing foreign sales as a way to help prolong work there, reported thye Times, but the plant is set to close in late 2014 because those overseas orders, which tend to be much smaller, have not been able to sustain the facility.
"Boeing has a long legacy of building military aircraft in Long Beach," said Nan Bouchard, Boeing vice president and C-17 program manager. "And our employees – many who have been here since the early days when we were in the design phase – take pride in building the C-17."
Problems ranging from minor cosmetic glitches to several that involved the plane's complex computer software system started becoming an issue for the C-17. It became a target for Pentagon budget watchers because of cost overruns, technical difficulties and repeated delays, according to the Times.
The aircraft, though, still has the highest readiness rate of any cargo plane in the U.S. arsenal, said Bob Steele, C-17 deputy program manager for the Air Force.
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"They're all over the world," said Steele. "And they're constantly carrying out missions."
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