Powerful hurricanes that barreled through Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands leaving a deadly swath of destruction will likely keep Wright-Patterson C-17 transport jets flying relief missions for weeks, a unit official said Thursday.
The Air Force Reserve 445th Airlift Wing has had an average of a flight a day since the first mission to Texas launched Aug. 30 after Hurricane Harvey left widespread flooding in the wake of a deluge of record rainfall, the official said.
Between the 17 missions flown after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria through Wednesday, the wing has transported more than 650 passengers and hauled more than 1.3 million pounds of cargo, figures show.
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“We’ve been incredibly busy,” said Lt. Col. Bryan M. Bailey, director of operations for the 89th Airlift Squadron, part of the 445th Airlift Wing based at Wright-Patterson. “We’ve had an airplane airborne in support of hurricane relief everyday.”
Each mission often has several legs, or separate flights: C-17 crews have picked up troops, first responders and supplies and flown to hurricane-ravaged areas, he said. Among other spots, the workhorse airlifters have landed in recent weeks in Texas, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, South Carolina, Delaware, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Honduras.
Wright-Patt C-17s transported thousands of packages of meals-ready-to eat, water, sleeping cots, farm combine-sized forklifts, power equipment and other supplies, according to wing spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cynthia Harris.
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“We’ve basically been in surge operations and making it happen with extra volunteers,” Bailey said. “…The sense of urgency is shown through the volunteerism that we’ve had because this is above what we normally do.”
Flights headed to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico left Wednesday with an 18th mission set to take-off Thursday for Puerto Rico, officials said.
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The wing is postured on alert status for relief flights through the end of October, Bailey said. “It might be longer,” the C-17 pilot added.
The Wright-Patterson reserve wing has nine C-17 Globemaster III airplanes that fly missions around the globe.