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A 5,000-mile sea and land odyssey that began at an Orange County, Calif., testing facility came to an end Aug. 22 at Fort Lee, Va. The Air Force C-17 fuselage is now in its final resting place and will be used by the Joint Transportation Center and School to help train nearly 2,000 military members annually in air-load procedures.

FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 27, 2009) -- A 5,000-mile sea and land odyssey that began at an Orange County, Calif., testing facility came to an end Saturday at Fort Lee.

A hulking Air Force C-17 aircraft fuselage is now in its final resting place just off of Sisisky Boulevard following a 32-day, segmented movement from the west coast.

The 160-foot fuselage will be used at Fort Lee by the Joint Transportation Center and School to help train nearly 2,000 military members annually in airload procedures.

The JTCS will move to Fort Lee from Fort Eustis and become operational here by 2011.

Col. Tod Mellman, JTCS Base Realignment and Closure officer, said the idea to move the C-17 to Fort Lee was the result of a training requirement and a bit of resourcefulness to fulfill it. That requirement called for the construction of a roughly $2.7-million fuselage at Fort Lee to support courses taught under the JTCS.

Sometime earlier this year, however, word got around that a C-17 was available at a Long Beach airport, and it would cost considerably less to transport it here rather than build a new one.

"They were going to chop it up for scrap and get rid of it," said Mellman, noting that it cost about $1.7 million to transport. "We decided to get the real thing, the best training device we could get."

The mission of transporting the structure across several time zones would prove to be a challenging one, but one that logisticians accomplish routinely in operational environments, said Mellman.

With assistance from the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Fort Eustis, coordination was made with several state and federal entities and contractors to make the move a reality. The plans were solidified about four months ago.

"We thought about ways to get it here and found out that one of the Army's Logistics Support Vessels (LSV-7 Robert T. Kuroda) out of Hawaii was coming to the East Coast for maintenance (at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard)," said Mellman.

The fuselage was moved in a nine-hour trip from the Long Beach airport to Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, Calif., via commercial transporters July 11. It departed Seal Beach on the Robert T. Kuroda the following day and began a journey that took it southward along the Baja California peninsula, through the Panama Canal and northwest around Cuba and eastward around the Florida keys.

The trek then turned upward along the United States east coast to the Chesapeake Bay and up the James River to Fort Eustis. From there, the fuselage was transferred to a floating causeway, and watercraft operators of 7th Sustainment Brigade used tug boats to pull it up the James to the Vulcan company docks on the Appomattox River.

The trip was scheduled to meet its endpoint during the early morning hours on Saturday but was delayed several hours. The fuselage was lifted from the causeway Saturday morning, and in a three-hour trip from the Vulcan dock, transported down Puddledock Road, along Temple Avenue, through the Ordnance Center and School and across Route 36 to Fort Lee.

It required several road closures and power outages along the movement route. Mellman, a Transportation Corps logistician, said the fuselage will rest at a location to be called the Multi-modal Training Site currently under construction adjacent between B and C Avenues near Fire Station No. 2.

"The Multi-Modal Training Site will have four rail cars, with ramps on either end that will cut our training time for rail-loading in half," he said. "It will have a real C-130 (aircraft) and a real C-17 fuselage. You can't get any better training than actually using the real equipment that you would be using in the operational Army."

The training that Mellman mentioned currently takes place at Fort Eustis, Va., but not on the scale and level of quality that Fort Lee will feature.

"The facilities that we have at Fort Eustis are wooden mock-ups," he said. "It is not a real aircraft and you can't beat training on a new aircraft versus a wooden mock up."

The C-17 won't be ready for training until the MMTC is complete and is renovated for training, said Mellman.

"We have to make sure that the doors and other equipment are operating properly and safely," he said. "We have to get hydraulic links and hookups (for the ramp) as well as lighting so that it is similar to the real aircraft."

The C-130, currently located at the Dinwiddie County Airport, won't require as many upgrades for training. It has wings, lighting and a working ramp unlike the C-17. It will be transported to Fort Lee sometime next year.

The JTCS is scheduled to occupy what was the Quartermaster Noncommissioned Officer Academy located on B Avenue across from the Regimental Club. Its headquarters element will relocate to Fort Lee within the next few months, and the school is expected to be operational in 2011.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16