The evening started off simply enough. I slept in a little later than usual, which I’d be thankful for a few short hours later. I got up at about 2330, showered and was at my desk by midnight. When we do the shift change, I’ll usually walk over to the DFAC for midnight chow with the guy I’m relieving. We’ll spend a half an hour or so shooting the breeze and then hurry back to start the evening’s routine. This night, Sac went in with me to finish up some paperwork, so we had a full house.
As the morning guy, I usually call the first crews flying that day to alert them and then coordinate all the necessary arrangements to get their day started on the right foot. At about 0530 I found out that one of the pilots had received the phone call every one of us fears, and none would wish upon another, trouble at home. While it could’ve been worse, it’s never good to try dealing with problems back home, no matter how minor. His wife’s car was broken into, everything stolen including house keys, garage door openers, the full catastrophe. We convinced him to stay behind and let us find someone else to fly for him; we had about an hour to come up with a plan, wake that pilot up, get him dressed, fed and briefed to fly a 16 hour day, and our options were limited. So we did some quick public math and realized that I was the best candidate to go, and I gladly volunteered. While were weren’t going to a place I’d never been, it was a place I hadn’t been in a long time, and I wanted to see how it had changed over the years.
I stopped off at our friendly intel shop and got briefed on the latest nefarious activities Mr. T and his evil cousin Al had been up to. It turns out they’re still up to no good and hadn’t given up the fight over the course of the last night.
We were only 20 minutes late, which over here is considered on time, which is pretty good since we farted around for at least an hour trying to hatch a plan. We pointed the nose into the sun and settled in for a couple long hours.
The good people at The Drake, the finest fly fishing publication out there sent me a whole box of back issues to donate to Jack’s Place, and I thought maybe I should peruse the latest issues while at cruising altitude, which I did with great alacrity.
I won’t really talk too specifically about where we went, but it was brown and barren. In the back of my mind I was thinking about the rocket attack I heard about earlier and wondered what it would be like to be on the ground when something like that happens. Then I decided I could go my whole life and be happy not knowing the answer to that question, kind of like not knowing what it’s like to get shot at while flying, or anytime for that matter.
The flight over was uneventful, we did fly over those big palm tree islands in Dubai,which was pretty darned cool. They’re also working on an island chain of the map of the world, but right now it just looks like someone threw a bunch of scoops of ice cream on the floor and they started melting. Sure you can make out something that resembles South America, but you gotta use some imagination.
When we arrived in the terminal area of our “downrange location,” we were handed off to the Air Force controller who cleared us into his traffic pattern. We set up for a wide left downwind and started scanning for traffic. The controller told us we were #2 behind another C-130 so we started looking for that guy so we could roll in behind him and get on the ground. The co-pilot looked out my window and pointed out a white airplane that was C-130esque in its profile from 2 miles away. I rolled in behind it and then our intrepid Co pointed out a green airplane form behind the white one that was definitely a C-130. I rolled back out and waited until we were abeam that second airplane and realized that when the controller said we were Number 2 for landing, what he really meant was that we were Number 3.
As I rolled out on final our TCAS started squawking at us and it turns out there was yet another airplane that we had just cut off, although after discussing it amongst the crew we think the controller gave that guy bogus information and he rolled onto final early and didn’t see us.
I was on final, assuming the guy in front of me would be flying at least as fast as I was, but he wasn’t. You know what they say about assumptions… Now I’m rolling down final doing S-turns trying to make space between my plane and the guy in front of me. All the while I’m looking down at all these mud huts and wondering if any of Mr. T’s relatives live down there, and if they do, are they armed?
Finally, as we’re approaching the perimeter of the airfield, the guy in front of me touches down and the controller tells me to expect my landing clearance in half a mile. That was a good thing to expect since we were already less than a half mile from touchdown. As I crossed the threshold, I had one eye focused on the guy in front of me, hoping he was going to clear the runway and I wouldn’t have to go around. As his nosewheel crossed over to the taxiway, I got cleared to land about 5 seconds before my main gear squeaked silently, almost imperceptibly on the pavement.
Under normal circumstances, this was the perfect opportunity to prove to a young co-pilot the importance of the go-around maneuver. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve been on the go a mile back, but there were a few factors to consider. To my left, there was a flight of two helicopters milling around a few hundred feet off the deck. To my right, a flight of two, bigger helicopters was hovering; both flights sort of limited my path of escape. Off in the distance, straight ahead a couple more helicopters were crossing left to right, and others right to left, further negating my desire to go around. I knew what the guy in front of me was going to do, or at least I had a pretty good idea, and I could watch him the whole time.
We slowed down to taxi speed and missed our turn off to the left because those two helicopters were hanging out right where we wanted to go, and to the right, the C-130 ahead of us was still parked on the taxiway. I rolled out to the end and could hear the consternation in the controller’s voice when he sent around the guy behind me.
The place was abuzz with helicopter traffic, it looked like a bee hive with helos coming and going in all directions. We found out later there had been a few attacks in town right around the time we arrived, and that would explain all the traffic around the field.
We off loaded our passengers and cargo, reconfigured for a different load and a couple hours later we were back in the air, glad to be heading home. Had we stayed on schedule, our public math earlier that morning would’ve worked out perfectly. I would’ve returned home well within the constraints of a 16 hour crew duty day. The rest of the crew was in good shape since they showed for work 4 hours later than I did. We started recalculating and realized I needed a duty day extension waiver, which fortunately, as the aircraft commander, I can grant myself.
Another exciting day hacking the mission in the AOR.