GIANT CARGO PLANE EXPECTED IN RIFLE THIS AFTERNOON
UPDATE: The C-17 is expected between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. today, Thursday.
The anticipated arrival of the next big thing at Rifle-Garfield County Airport will have to wait at least one more day.
QinetiQ, a military contractor for the United Kingdom Defense Ministry, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday in a Boeing C-17 Globemaster — the largest plane ever to land at the airport — but the charter flight was delayed for an unknown reason, Airport Director Brian Condie said. The most up-to-date information as of press time pegs the aircraft’s arrival time between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Thursday, although the time and date are subject to change. The event is open to the public and updates on the expected arrival can be found at http://www.garfield-county.com.
QinetiQ is using the C-17 to transport a Puma helicopter — which recently entered service with the Royal Air Force. Once here, the company will conduct approximately eight weeks of flight tests at the airport.
QinetiQ was looking for a high-altitude facility and ultimately chose Rifle because of the airport’s proximity to Interstate 70, readily available office space and the quality of the airfield, Condie said.
Since QinetiQ is a military contractor, information regarding the company’s planned activities is limited, but there will not be any weapons or explosives testing, Condie said.
“Most of the public probably won’t notice it unless they come to the airport,” he said.
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. The recent string of successful recruiting efforts is worth noting, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson said during Monday’s commissioners meeting.
“We have a great airport, and the proof is in the pudding,” he said.
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.
As for the airport itself, the contract is flexible in the event that QinetiQ needs more or less time to complete its testing. For that reason, 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.
“It’s a very exciting time to be (at the airport),” he said.
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Garfield County’s healthcare network easily has the capacity to administer twice as many COVID-19 vaccinations than it has given so far, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said Monday.