Last Boeing C-17 leaves Southern California assembly plant, does flyover with 1,000 looking on

LONG BEACH, Calif. – The last C-17 Globemaster III built at a Southern California Boeing plant soared into history on Sunday with a flyover that marked the end of an era for the region’s once-thriving aerospace industry.

The enormous cargo jet was cheered in Long Beach as if roared over the heads of an estimated 1,000 onlookers, many of them Boeing employees, spokesman Felix Sanchez said.

The jet, which can hold more than 80 tons of cargo, will be housed in San Antonio, Texas, until it is delivered to the Qatar Emiri Air Force early next year.

“This is truly the end of an era. It’s a sad day, but one that all of the Boeing employees and suppliers who have worked over the years building this great aircraft can be proud of,” Nan Bouchard, vice-president and C-17 program manager, said in a statement.

The Long Beach facility assembled more than 250 C-17s over two decades but Boeing announced two years ago that it didn’t have enough foreign orders to justify keeping the plant open.

With production ending, most of the 25-acre plant will be shuttered by year’s end. However, some engineering support for aircraft may continue there for a year or two.

About 2,200 employees are losing their jobs, although many have retired or transferred to other Boeing operations.

Boeing still has more than 16,000 employees in California working on programs ranging from satellite manufacturing to cyber security. However, that’s a nearly 50 per cent cut in the workforce in the past decade.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced plans to lay off as many as several hundred workers at an El Segundo satellite factory.

California once held pride of place in aerospace work, producing everything from jetliners to bombers. However, the industry has been shrinking for decades. Some of the work has gone to other states but some of the drop is due to the end of military programs and to purse-tightening by the Pentagon and civilian aircraft purchasers.

However, there is hope for California’s aerospace industry.

Last month, the Air Force chose Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Corp. to build its next-generation bomber. Much of the plane’s assembly could occur in the Southern California desert community of Palmdale, home of Air Force Plant 42, a military industrial park leased to aerospace contractors where the B-1 and B-2 bombers were built.

Northrop Grumman said last year it could create 1,500 new jobs in Palmdale under the $80 billion bomber contract.

Spaceship producers SpaceX and Virgin Galactic both have facilities in Southern California.