C-17 lands at Greybull airport

by nathan oster

According to the official website of the U.S. Air Force, the C-17 Globemaster III is “the newest, most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force, capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in deployment areas.”

By the end of the day Monday, it had earned another distinction: largest plane to ever land at an airport in Big Horn County.

The C-17 touched down on the Greybull airport’s new runway shortly before 3 p.m. to pick up equipment from B&G Industries. It left for its final destination, an Air Force base in New York, at around 4:15 p.m.

“Everything went very well,” said Carl Meyer, who manages the airports in Big Horn County. “They had been working with the county for the past week on runway loading capabilities and the structural integrity of the taxiway … they required a surface that would hold up to 400,000 pounds. So it’s a pretty big airplane. And there aren’t many places in Wyoming where a plane that size could land.

“This is a testament to the vision that the county’s elected officials and Airport Board had when they were developing plans for the improvement of the Greybull airport. Five years ago the military may have had to pick this cargo up with a flatbed truck. Today they fly a C-17 in.”

B&G Industries, which operates out of the Don Russell Hangar at the South Big Horn County Airport, was the prime contractor on a 12-month government contract to provide cargo-handling systems for C-130 aircrafts.

B&G initially expected 24 aircrafts to be flown into the airport to receive the retrofit, but that didn’t happen. “We did 16 of the 24,” said Karl Bertagnole, who owns B&G.  “From our standpoint, the contract went very well,” he added. “We completed work on the last aircraft the day before Christmas in 2011. It was supposed to go through March of 2012, but we didn’t end up doing the last eight because they ran into delivery problems and couldn’t make the aircraft available.

“By all indications, they decided, for whatever reason, not to complete the project.  But they bought the rail sets. They paid for them. We have eight sets here worth $2 million.”

Bertagnole said the C-17 that stopped at the airport Monday picked up the two sets that go to an Air Force base in New York. B&G will be shipping the others, with four going to a base in Alaska, the remaining two to a base in California.

The contract provided a big boost for B&G. Bertagnole said the company was able to add employees, and as he spoke on Monday, he was optimistic that B&G would get another defense contract sometime after the first of next year.  With this contract, however, no planes would be brought here; B&G employees would need to do the traveling, making modifications to planes all around the world.

Of course, the future of B&G is linked with that of the airport it calls home.

For Meyer, Monday’s C-17 landing was “a significant milestone” for the county.

“One needs to keep in mind, though, that it’s just a single event.  We just keep building on these single events, though,” Meyer said. “We now have a runway capable of a C-17 landing and departure … a staging area for a glider club at the Cowley airport … and shortly, we’ll have the base in place for a single-engine airtanker to land here for retardant to go fight a fire.

“These important single events build our airports in Big Horn County, they make them more popular and they take the hesitation away from potential business that wants to come here. They make our airports stronger, more viable and usable, and that’s important.”