Military Aircraft Adventures

Guns and Knives Welcome - Flying in military aircraft is an adventure in itself. Got a gun? Welcome aboard! Got a big knife? Come on down!
(e.g., passenger, pilot, navigator, flight engineer, loadmaster, rescue swimmer, pararescueman)

Over the Hindu Kush


I was flying into Bagram, Afghanistan from Manas, Kyrgyzstan with my battle buddies. We knew we would be entering a combat zone for the first time to begin a one-year tour. The plane was a military C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, which was cavernous and had winglets. There were a few windows, and the view of the Hindu Kush Mountains was majestic. Once we landed, we exited out the back ramp and I felt like we were the U.S. Olympic team entering the stadium for the opening ceremonies. When our one-year tour was over, I flew in a C-17 again from Bagram to Kuwait to begin the journey home. Whenever I see a C-17 with its signature winglets and stocky fuselage, I smile and appreciate this plane which safely brought me into and out of a combat zone.


Sleeping Next to Ammunition


I was flying in and out of a combat zone aboard a military C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, which routinely carried both people and cargo in its cavernous bay. We were asked to leave our ammunition behind, which was understandable. Once the plane was airborne, we were allowed to stretch out and sleep on the floor of the aircraft in the aisles. My sleeping partners were several pallets full of ammunition crates. Go figure.


Whoops! Drafty Exposure


My buddy and I were in a C-130 Hercules aircraft at night in Afghanistan, which stopped at Kandahar to pick up and drop off passengers. The ramp in the rear of the aircraft was lowered to accommodate the movement of cargo. There was a toilet in the rear near the ramp and there was a curtain instead of a door. I decided to use the facilities when a big gust of wind came through the rear of the aircraft, and my exposed parts felt the draft as the curtain flapped in the breeze! Thankfully my buddy was able to help me hold the curtain shut so I could finish my business.


Helicopter: On Rappel!


The cool guys were undergoing refresher training for rappelling and fast roping (sliding down a thick rope) out of an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter. My military reserves coworkers and I were afforded the opportunity to join them, which we all appreciated since this gave us the chance to do something different from our normal military and civilian jobs. We trained on a tower first before we could exit the helicopter on the ropes. We were anxious, as it was our first time and it was a dangerous feat. The risk was mitigated by safety controls, and the support and encouragement that we received from the cool guys was overwhelming. Having survived two wars- the one in Afghanistan and the one I had at home with ovarian cancer, I had experienced fear before, but this was somewhat different. We entered the helicopter and hooked our belts to personal retention lanyards which we secured to the helicopter floor. I smiled as the helicopter took off, and I was refreshed by the breeze from the open door. I smiled even more as the helicopter banked, giving me a great view of the terrain below as I looked out the open door. I really enjoyed the flight, and I had not been in a helicopter since Afghanistan – that was fun too, skimming over the mountains and watching the gunner move his barrel around as my war buddy and I looked at each other’s big grins. Anyway, before we knew it, we were in a hover. Once we received the signal, we went out the door one at a time, like stuntmen, and flew through the air with a sense of exhilaration that was indescribable. We were doing it, and I smiled and laughed. Once we were on the ground, we were thrilled that we had performed this feat and conquered our fears. This made me reflect on other tasks that had made me nervous or gun shy – such as delivering important oral presentations or shooting a risky golf shot. I rationalized, why be afraid of those things? They will not kill you so go for it! Now I compare some tasks to the feats we performed on a very special occasion with the cool guys, and I feel more confident. I am also grateful to have shared an experience with these ultra cool guys whom I respect.


Fighter Jet from the Beach


I was a lucky person; I took the Naval Aviation Water Survival and Physiology class and received a qualification to fly in the back seat of a fighter aircraft. I met the right people in an F/A-18 Hornet fighter squadron who could make this happen. The stars, the earth, and the moon lined up and I was put on the flight schedule to fly in the back seat with an instructor pilot who flew from the front. The back seat would have been empty if I had not been there. A pilot who was an F/A-18 student pilot would be flying another plane with his instructor in the back seat. I jocked-up in full fighter pilot gear: G-suit, harness, survival/flotation vest, helmet, and oxygen mask. I gingerly climbed into the jet to avoid falling, and one of the maintenance men helped me strap on the jet. Once we taxied to the runway, I felt a powerful, pleasant and smooth acceleration as the plane took off. We practiced some shallow turns to warm up to the G-forces, and then proceeded to perform some steep turns. The G-forces made me sink into my seat, and I had a hard time holding up my arms and head because their weight was increased by a factor of four to six. The flight was beautiful with full visibility from the bubble canopy, and the second plane flying next to us and over us was one of the coolest sights I had ever seen from an airplane. The pilot let me take the stick and scoot back and forth across a valley, tacking like a sailboat in a narrow waterway. I was grateful for this opportunity to peek inside the fighter pilot community, and the instructor pilot even signed my logbook.


“Hooker” – Flying to and from the Boat


I got lucky again. I served aboard an aircraft carrier for a very short time for Reserves annual training duty, and befriended an S-3 Viking Naval Flight Officer (NFO). Since I had the qualification to fly back seat, I was granted permission to fly with the crew from the carrier (boat) in an S-3 Viking jet aircraft, in the empty fourth seat. The S-3’s are now retired. The NFO I had met would also be on the flight. I borrowed another pilot’s flight gear. The crew showed me how to strap in and get hooked up to the ejection seat. We went up to the flight deck, which was a beehive of activity. As we taxied, the pilot kept holding and releasing the brakes to move around on the small flight deck surface. The boat was moving and pitching a bit too. I didn’t know if I felt a bit seasick or airsick. Once the plane was hooked into the catapult and shot off with an incredible slap in my back and rear end, I looked out the window and saw the carrier below as we turned to the left. This made me smile. I helped the crew observe activities on the water, and the pilot let me come forward to the right seat and take control. The crew members made me feel welcome, and they were touched and amazed by my enthusiasm. We circled high and tight above the boat prior to landing, and as we approached the boat, all I could see was the blue water. I kept thinking I hope we catch the wire (arresting cable) with our tailhook. We did, and once we cleared the cable and returned to our tie down spot, I exclaimed, “Wow this is great – I’m a hooker!” That is, tail-hooker. Several months later, I read an article that the NFO who arranged for my flight had been killed in an aircraft accident while on deployment to the Western Pacific. I was saddened when I heard this news, but was grateful for the opportunity to know him and experience the life of an S-3 crew for a short time.