Huge cargo jet lands at Rifle, carrying RAF copter
RIFLE — Hundreds of onlookers watched as a Boeing C-17 Globemaster — the largest plane ever to land at the Rifle Garfield County Airport — arrived Thursday afternoon carrying a Puma helicopter for Great Britain’s Royal Air Force.
Mike Jordan, an RAF squadron leader and the test pilot of the Puma, said the helicopter is a modified, modernized version of the original Puma from 50 years ago. He added that the Puma was kept in service because it has good capability for urban areas.
“We’ve come to do tests off the Puma that we just can’t do back home,” Jordan said.
The new Puma is already performing duties in Afghanistan, transporting people from Kabul.
Rifle’s altitude was what the Royal Air Force were looking for. Mostly, the exercises will involve flying along the runway at different speeds, watching how the wind affects it.
“It will be in the air, but not for the vast majority,” Jordan said. “We’re not intending going into the mountains at all.”
Frank Donofrio, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, wanted to be at the airport as an old Air Force guy, he said.
“I always liked being around planes,” Donofrio said.
Dale Pfaff was there with his son from the Coast Guard, wanting to see the C-17 land and hopefully get an inside tour.
“Took off work early to come and see it,” Pfaff said.
After the C-17 landed, Brian Prunty, former U.S. Army, was walking toward the plane with a bit more experience than most in the crowd, having flown a C-17 before.
“We flew C-17s out of Kuwait City to Baghdad,” Prunty said. “They’re pretty amazing aircraft.”
Kids were excited to see the plane land, too. Justin Wanca was there with his son, Xander, and said he just likes planes. Xander added that it was cool.
“I wanna ride it,” Xander said.
Xander’s cousin, Kenzlee, a shy 3-year-old, spread her arms out to show how big the C-17 was and then thrust her right arm out to demonstrate how fast it was going.
Of everyone in the crowd, perhaps no one was more excited than Airport Director Brian Condie, proclaiming how historic the landing was. The moment was “awesome and very amazing for this airport,” he said.
The county is charging a one-time fee, along with an hourly rate for when airport staff is on standby. According to Condie, the first invoice was more than $68,000.
British military contractor QinetiQ’s decision to conduct its tests in Rifle serves as one of the more recent examples of the airport’s growing popularity within the aviation community. In March, the state selected Rifle as the home for the new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting.
Along with the added exposure, the QinetiQ training is likely to have an immediate economic impact. Twenty QinetiQ employees are expected to remain in the area for the duration of the testing — filling hotel rooms and visiting local restaurants in the process. The group has contracted with a limousine service to be on standby 24 hours a day, Condie said.
Test pilot Jordan said the trials would last up to eight weeks, but could fluctuate depending on how it goes.
“We’re delighted to be here. You’ve certainly got a beautiful part of the world,” Jordan said.
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