COLUMBIA - The Air Force plans to celebrate U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday by naming its newest C-17 cargo and troop transport plane after the nation's longest-serving senator.
The service will name the 100th C-17 The Spirit of Strom Thurmond, at a ceremony Dec. 6 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Rob Koon said Tuesday.
President Bush has invited Mr. Thurmond, R-S.C., to the White House in honor of the senator's Dec. 5 birthday.
"We hope the senator will be able to attend the naming event" at Andrews the next day, Lt. Col. Koon said. "It will depend upon his health."
Mr. Thurmond will retire from the Senate in January and return to his home state. The C-17 named in his honor will be based with the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, Lt. Col. Koon said in a telephone interview from Washington.
Mr. Thurmond, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, enlisted in the Army in World War II. He landed in Normandy as part of the 82nd Airborne Division assault on D-Day and won five battle stars and several other awards for his service.
Lt. Col. Koon said Air Force Secretary James Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper will be the hosts of the naming ceremony.
The C-17 Globemaster III is the newest cargo aircraft in the Air Force's inventory. It was developed to carry troops and large cargo items into rough, short or narrow airstrips around the globe.
The Boeing-built aircraft is 174 feet long with a wingspan of 169 feet 10 inches. Operated by a three-person crew, the aircraft can carry a payload of 160,000 pounds and has a maximum takeoff weight of 585,000 pounds. The plane is designed to carry 102 paratroopers and their equipment, according to Air Force documents.
The plane to be named after Mr. Thurmond is the 100th fuselage built, Lt. Col. Koon said. Three aircraft were used as test planes, and four have been leased to the British. Originally, the Air Force expected to buy 120 C-17s. Fourteen others have since been added for the use of special operations forces.