Tuesday, May 1, 2012

C-17 T-1 from Start to Finish

A MD corporate 8x10 print showing the freshly painted T-1. These prints are
slightly "well worn".
As I've written before, when you're in the hunt for old photos, it pays to ask! That works at yard sales, too. I came across one that had on old framed space shuttle litho for a buck (and which was essentially worthless), but I took the time to ask the gal who was selling the stuff for her invalid dad if she had any actual photographs, and sure enough, she went inside to dig some out. What she came up with was a bonanza...three 8x10s of the very first C-17, serial 87-0025 and known as "T-1", one of which showed the planes landing at Edwards at the conclusion of her maiden flight. And the photo had even been signed by the crew! Also included were two crew patches, a first flight coin and a small American flag that had been carried onboard the for that first flight (first flight flags is something of a tradition in the flight test world). All for $15!

T-1 on her 2-hour maiden flight, heading northwest over Torrance Airport.
So, in a nod to a bit of history that's just been made with the retirement of T-1, I'm going to break the 30-year rule (the definition of "vintage" in the antiques world) and feature these photos for this blog post.

The C-17 had its genesis in a program intended to develop a replacement for the C-130 Hercules (before, of course, the powers-that-be realized that the Herc is destined for immortality). At the time, Boeing proposed their YC-14 and McDonnell Douglas entered their YC-15. The competition was cancelled when the Air Force came to their senses and realized that the best C-130 replacement was a newer C-130.

Signing this 8x10 of the first landing were Boeing Chief Test Pilot Bill Casey,
USAF pilot George London and Boeing Chief Loadmaster Ted Venturini. Also
onboard was Boeing Flight Test Engineer Henry Van De Graaf, who didn't sign.
Then the Pentagon planners needed to start dealing with the aging of their strategic airlifter fleet, and the C-X competition was launched. Lockheed proposed either a stretched, improved version of the C-141 (after all, that strategy had worked for the C-130) or a new plane based on the giant C-5. Boeing offered a three-engined version of the YC-14, and MD put up an enlarged version of their YC-15 design. MD won.

The program was plagued with technical and political problems from the start. The prototype for the newly designated C-17A was essentially a hand-built plane, and was intended to be a dedicated flight test aircraft - hence the air vehicle designation of T-1 - with an expected lifespan of just five years.

At the 20th anniversary event, from top left, Bill
Casey, Ted Venturini, George London and Henry
Van De Graaf. (Rebecca Amber/Aerotech News)
First flight swag
T-1 made her maiden flight, from Long Beach to Edwards, on September 15, 1991. Troubles continued to plague the program, though, which required a longer developmental and systems flight test program, and so T-1 was refurbished several times, and kept working away out at Edwards. In fact, at one point the demand for testbed aircraft was so high that the YC-15 demonstrator aircraft was resurrected, as well (it has since been retired to the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum and sits on public display outside the base's west gate).

On September 15, 2011, T-1 celebrated her 20th anniversary by flying from Edwards to Long Beach for a low pass, then re-creating the route of her original flight, landing at Edwards where a party was held and the original flight crew reunited. It was announced that the old gal would finally be retiring.

T-1 lifts off from Edwards' Rwy 22L for the last time (Tony Landis/NASA)
Then, a week ago Monday, April 23rd, T-1 lifted off one last time from Edwards. She made a low pass over her Long Beach birthplace before heading east for her new home at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio to, in the words of Winging It Online's Antelope Valley aerospace news blog, "be preserved as yet another valuable contribution that the Antelope Valley has made to the aerospace world and the security of this nation."

Low approach over Long Beach, April 23, 2012 (Courtesy of Kevin Helm)

Where it all started (Courtesy of Kevin Helm)

1 comment:

  1. I was pleased to have been in the cockpit for:

    First engine start.
    First taxi.
    First flight.
    Final flight/engine shutdown of T-1 (NMUSAF).

    Great airplane!

    Henry van de Graaf