Saturday, February 20, 2010

Santa Comes in February or One Bad Ass Sleigh.

For those of you who read yesterday's post, you know that I was presented an opportunity to go on a military cargo flight. Me being the aeronautical prostitute (meaning airplane whore) that I am, I jumped on it with both feet. As mentioned earlier, I wasn't allowed to take my good camera so all of the pics were taken with my blackberry. Sorry for the poor quality, but I think you will get the idea.

I made the long drive out to a joint-use airfield to meet the aircraft and my friend, who made this all possible. The aircraft was late, so I had to wait for several hours for it to arrive and unload some cargo. I can assure you it was worth the wait.

There it is, a USAF reserve C-17.
I was fortunate that I was allowed to observe them loading the aircraft. Is is critical that the cargo is secured properly. Failure to do so could be catastrophic. Shifting cargo has caused many a crash, especially when the aircraft is making significant maneuvers. It is very important that the cargo is accurately weighed before loading and that the load is positioned properly within the aircraft. An aircraft that is overloaded or out of balance may not be controllable while in flight.

 This is from the front of the aircraft looking back through the cargo door.
The truck in the foreground had just backed into the plane and was being
chained to the floor.

In addition to the two trucks, two boats and 35 or so people on this trip, there were a couple pallets of cargo. Each pallet is carefully weighed and any hazardous materials are properly stored and documented.
Two pallets of cargo are on the K-lift. It will back up to the loading ramp,
where the pallets will be rolled onto the aircraft. They made it look easy.

After all the cargo was loaded, the passengers were boarded. There were some civilians, some coast guard personnel, some DHS people and some other folks who I have no clue who they were. The seats fold down from the wall of the fuselage and face inwards. There wasn't a lot of leg room for some of the long legged folks. As I was on the plane before most of the passengers, I scoped out a seat with plenty of leg room and claimed it. It turned out I wouldn't need it.

Just before they closed the door, one of the loadmasters asked if I would like to ride up front. Thinking of the two seats and the bunks located in the crew rest area, I agreed. I figured those seats would be a little more comfortable. Myself and a guy from the Coast Guard climbed the stairs into the crew rest area and found the seats occupied by a couple of civilians. I was wondering what to do when the loadmaster appeared and said "not there, up in the cockpit."

Wow! I was amazed, it must be all of my clean living. What an opportunity for a plane whore like me to ride in the cockpit of a C17. The loadmaster led us to a couple of seats located right behind the two pilots. I chose the right seat, just behind the co-pilot. We were given headsets so that we could hear the flight crew and radio conversations and given a short safety briefing. We then made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the trip.

The view from my seat. We are still on the ground, just
before engine start.

There was quite a bit of traffic near the airport, so we had to wait a few minutes before taking off. Another C-17, some training aircraft and a couple of  F-18s were all in the area as we left. After taking the runway, power was applied, we quickly rotated and became airborne.

We took off in a very steep fashion as if we were avoiding small arms fire from near the airport. This is a common maneuver that the C-17 pilots practice all of the time, as they are often fired upon when leaving certain airfields in various combat zones.
 Cruising altitude, on top of the clouds.

While at altitude, the aircraft commander brief the co-pilot about the descent and arrival at our destination. If the weather cooperated, we were going to do a tactical descent, which leaves you high until close to the airport, then you drop like a stone to the airfield. The final approach needs to by stabilized as in any landing, but the descent is kind of spectacular. Again, this approach minimizes that amount of time that the aircraft is exposed to small arms fire.
Instrument panel during tac descent. Note the brown instrument displayed
on the screen in the center of the panel. That indicates the attitude of the aircraft
in relationship to level flight. When level, the top half is blue, representing sky, 
the bottom is brown, representing earth. We are pointed toward the ground,
very steep.

I knew we were doing a tac descent, heard the pilot say we were starting it and yet it took me by surprise just how steep of a descent that it was. I believe the descent rate was 9500 feet per minute. It was spectacular and  it made me wonder if all of the trucks, boats and cargo in the back was tied down good enough.

I talked to one of the passengers in the back after the flight. He said that they didn't know it was coming and it  was quite the surprise. Nobody screamed though.
Seconds after touchdown.

The descent was controlled a ways out, the approach stabilized and the landing was perfect. An amazing flight that I feel very fortunate to have experienced. It was as much fun as Christmas morning, without the Visa bill in January.

I have a greater respect for the capabilities of the C-17, it is one bad-ass sleigh. Thanks to my friend and to the Air Force for this amazing experience.
I will post about the ride home tomorrow. Though not as spectacular, an amazing experience none the less.

Thanks for reading,
an amazed Schmoe


  1. Well, that is one excellent benefit of prostitution.

    My brother was stationed at Barksdale for several years and I got to go into a C-17. I was amazed by the size of it, those things are immense. Very cool Captain!

  2. Capt Schmoe:

    Awesome post and pics! I'm a bit of a transportation junkie myself--I like planes, trains and automobiles.

    Give me a sense of size for the C-17--is it the size of a 747/DC 10/L-1011--a jumbo jet, or is it smaller than these behemoths of the airplane world?

    The Observer

  3. Great post Capt! I can feel your excitement. I'm glad you had so much fun. ;)

  4. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    Unbelievable! Just unbelievably great!
    I'm so happy for you!
    Ann T.

  5. Awesome ride! Even taken with the blackberry, that photo of the AH with nothing but brown on it save a sliver of blue on top is amazing. How did you ears like it?

  6. Observer - not as big as any of those, but it can land on crappier, shorter runways and has greater cargo versatility.

    Julien - I was so stoked experiencing it, I couldn't tell you what my ears felt.

    I'm still a little amped up over it. Good thing I'm at work, my poor wife will soon be tired of hearing about it!

    Thanks for the comments.

  7. I enjoyed the read. Got to give it to our military pilots, God Bless Them!