Shelby Aux Field Will Be Used For C-17 Short Field Ops
It's a 3,500-foot-long stretch of cement in Hattiesburg, MS with
a few hundred feet added on... just in case. That's not much space
on which to safely land a heavily loaded, half-million pound cargo
plane, but officials say it's the perfect runway for Mississippi
Air National Guard pilots to train on.
Mississippi National Guard members and special guests gathered
in the summer heat at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center
July 9 to cut a yellow ribbon for the Air National Guard's first
C-17 Globemaster III assault landing training facility.
Called Shelby Aux Field, the 210-acre airfield is one of only
two runways in the world specifically designed for C-17 short-field
landing operations. It was constructed to meet the training demands
of the Air Guard's 172nd Airlift Wing, which operates and maintains
eight of the aircraft.
More than 300 people attended the ceremony. They watched a C-17
flyover and a landing that demonstrated the airfield's and the
airplane's capabilities. Speakers included Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley,
director of the Air National Guard; Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré,
commanding general of the 1st US Army, and Maj. Gen. Harold Cross,
the Mississippi Guard's adjutant general.
"It's great to come out and see something that has been on the
drawing books for many, many years and now it's ready to be used
fulltime," said General McKinley. "It means a lot to our country,
it means a lot to the state of Mississippi and it will provide a
lot of training for many years to come for Airmen flying the
The Jackson-based 172nd was the first Air Guard unit to fly the
C-17, which Air Force officials call the service's "most flexible
cargo aircraft." They say it can operate from small, austere
airfields including assault runways as short as 3,500 feet and only
90 feet wide. The aircraft turns around on narrow runways by using
its backing capability to make a three-point turn.
Capt. Brian Matranga, a pilot for the 172nd, said such maneuvers
are generally performed by aircraft commanders. The wing has
approximately 44 of them, and all are required to make assault
landings every training cycle.
"That's a lot of training we have to accomplish ... and a lot of
times it's hard to schedule at out-of-state facilities," said
An aircraft commander or mission pilot is the only one who can
conduct the steep and swerving descents and short stops using
thrust reversers and brakes during an assault landing. It's an
initial qualification achieved at aircraft commander upgrade school
at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
Such landings can be conducted in blackout conditions in which
aircrews wear night vision equipment to see special lights defining
the runway. It could be compared to landing on an aircraft carrier
at night, except that the runway is a lot longer and is not
pitching and rolling.
However, a C-17 is longer than three Navy F/A-18 Hornets and can
carry a 70-ton Abrams tank and more than 100 Soldiers.
A new three-stall fire house and operations center also has been
built at Shelby Aux Field to support the training operations.
Officials said they would share the facility with active duty C-17
units. It will provide users with real-time scoring and feedback on
their landing maneuvers.
With 172nd Airmen managing weekly airlift missions to Iraq, and
with a history of supplying airlift to joint forces in Turkey and
Afghanistan, the training is relevant. The wing's Airmen said they
remain ready to respond to all requests, including natural disaster
missions and combat missions into joint force operations
"This (facility) is one little part in our national defense
mosaic that continues to make us the greatest nation in the world,"
said General Cross. "It's an asset to the state of Mississippi and
(Aero-News salutes Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard