The Largest Aircraft to Land Intentionally at KAVQ
Article and Photos by Barry Griffiths
Marana Regional Airport (KAVQ), a desert airport located 15 minutes northwest of Tucson, AZ, was recently host to a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, a heavy military transport, operated by the 137th Airlift Squadron, a unit of the New York ANG, stationed at Stewart Air National Guard, Newburgh, New York.
The C-17A commonly performs strategic airlift missions, transporting troops and cargo throughout the world and has additional roles that include tactical airlift, medical evacuation, and airdrop duties. With its Short TakeOff and Landing (STOL) capability achieved during takeoffs and landings, this aircraft is superbly adapted to utilizing small airports like that of Marana.
The Globemaster III transport (01-0188) operating at Marana was providing logistical support for 24 Pararescue Specialists from 103d Rescue Squadron (103 RQS) stationed at Francis S. Gabreski ANG Base, New York who were conducting a two week parachute training program with SkyDiveMarana in the surrounding desert region.
Steve Miller, the Airport Manager, related to me that this aircraft was the largest aircraft to have landed intentionally at KAVQ. Apparently, in December 1996 an Atlas Air B-747 mistook the 12/30 runway for Pinal Air Park 10 miles to the north, and now holds the dubious honor of being the largest aircraft to have landed there ….. unintentionally.
The planned arrival of the New York ANG C-17A was a significant feat in many ways, for a number of logistical obstacles had to be addressed and overcome. For instance, the C-17A is designed to operate from runways as short as 3,500 ft. and as narrow as 90 ft. and, although Marana’s 6900 ft. runway is well within its operating capabilities, its 100 ft. width provided a challenge for its 174 ft. wingspan. Especially since there is loose Sonoran Desert sand on both sides of the runway. The dense, thick clouds of sand generated by the four Pratt & Whitney turbofans on launches and recoveries could be seen for miles. Since this created a driving hazard for traffic using the road situated 650 ft. from the end of the runway, Steve Miller arranged with the local police to stop traffic on take-offs. Problem solved!
Another issue was the ability of the asphalt runway and parking ramp to handle the gross weight of the Globemaster III. From May to October, the extreme heat of the desert temperatures causes the asphalt to soften and thereby become hazardous for heavy aircraft operations and damaging to the airport facilities. Since the maximum payload of the C-17A is 170,900 lb. and its maximum take-off weight is 585,000 lb. the middle of April is on the outside edge of Marana’s ability to handle heavies safely. However during two weeks of operation, the asphalt remained firm and no damage was noted. On its final departure, the heavy lifter weighed in at 547,000 lb. and completed its take-off roll in 3500 ft. It was a great example of the incredible versatility of this heavy lift STOL cargo aircraft.
This ANG operation was an important milestone for Marana Regional Airport as it opened up a whole new series of future opportunities for working with and supporting the military. Lt. Col. Rich Carter of the New York ANG was very pleased with the quality of the Marana facilities and the cooperation they received from the staff and is planning to make it into a bi-annual event.
A special thank you to Steve Miller, Marana Airport Manager and the crew of the aircraft for their assistance and cooperation in helping me prepare for this article.