My long-time readers will have seen other posts about my adventures in military-spouse life. It’s hard a lot of the time, but sometimes it’s really, really cool, and today was one of those days.
I completed a class/networking event on the base we’re at called HeartLink, and as a reward for attending, I got the opportunity to go for a ride in a C-130 military cargo plane. How could I possibly say no to that?
We met at the Airlift Squadron’s office (it’s probably called something else; if you’re here for exacting military jargon you are sadly mistaken; I do my best but that’s about it), and I settled into a conference room with a taxidermied giraffe in it.
“Holy crap, that’s a giraffe!” I said as I sat down.
“Oh yeah, that’s Limpopo,” remarked the man in the flight suit who was setting up the projector. “The last time I saw him was at a base in Texas.”
“So he’s…a traveling…giraffe?”
“Yep. It was cool to see him here.”
I was truly down the rabbit-hole now. Or, giraffe hole. Giraffes don’t dig holes. Moving on.
The rest of the spouses going on the flight filtered in, and we were treated to a briefing about all the cool stuff the squadron does, how all the other units (that our spouses are in) help this squadron and others out, and someone very important told us, “When they open the back hatch, do not unbuckle.”
We all exchanged a look. We’re opening hatches on this flight?
The Base Commander’s wife got up and told us, with a very loud, high-pitched laugh, that she wasn’t on the list to go with us on the flight, and that she ‘had an opportunity to fly back in spring, so ENJOY! HAHAHAHAHAHA.’
We bid farewell to Limpopo and headed out to the flightline, where there was a big fat plane waiting for us.
See? It’s just ponderous.
We got to walk all around it (although not under the propellers, as apparently those might turn on their own without notice…), and then we went around to the aforementioned back hatch for a safety briefing, I assumed to make sure none of us broke this very expensive aircraft or our necks.
The Load Master giving us the safety briefing pulled out a green pouch and said, “If we happen to need oxygen, it’s not like on a commercial flight. You’re going to open this green pouch, pull out this plastic bag, and put it over your head.
“Um, I’ve heard that’s the opposite of what I want to do if I’m trying to breathe.”
“It sounds counterintuitive, but oxygen will start flowing as soon as you open it up, so don’t worry.”
“…what if it doesn’t???” One nervous lady asked.
“Oh, we’ll notice, and we’ll be right on top of you getting it fixed. I PROMISE, we’re not gonna let anyone die on this flight.”
I looked around at the crowd and noticed that we had a pretty even mix of ‘reassured’ and ‘what have we gotten ourselves into’ going on. But the dudes in the flight suits just look so darned trustworthy! They’ve all got these big cheese-eating grins, and they shake your hand with their gigantic bear-paw-looking ones and say ‘Hi I’m Chad,’ and ‘I promise we won’t let you die on this flight,’ and you kinda have to feel better, because clearly the guys working the airplane are not nervous – so why should we feel that way?
So we got onto the plane and settled into some seats lined with red canvas, our backs resting against more red canvas in the form of cargo netting.
“How do I work this seat belt?” One lady asked.
“Oh, if it the buckle doesn’t work, just tie it in a knot,” said one of the crew members, laughing at his own joke. He went on to show her how it connected, saying, “We’ve transported Army guys before, and they couldn’t work the seat belt, so they just -” [makes whooshing noise while gesturing as if tying a knot] “- tied the thing together and said, ‘Yeah, I’m good!'”
They gave us presents for the flight (a pair of earplugs and a barf bag), and one of the guys passed out gum and mints to help our ears pop. Honestly, I’ve gotten worse service on Spirit Air; these guys are pretty good.
Just like on a commercial flight, we waited a while before we took off. Unlike a commercial flight, we actually got to see the crew running around and doing stuff while we waited.
After a bit, the propellers started turning, and we all put in our earplugs. Trust me, they were necessary – a C-130 is a very, very loud plane, and there’s no sound insulation on the inside, so we heard the full effect of those gigantic engines.
We started to taxi out to the runway, and someone opened the back hatch. This type of plane has a gigantic opening on the tail, to put in cargo and people and whatever. So they opened it partway, and one of the load masters laid down on his stomach with his head hanging out of the plane.
“Wait,” I asked my friend. “Is he…helping the plane back up???”
“I guess these things don’t come with backup cameras,” my friend chuckled.
Sure enough, the guy hanging off the back of the plane was talking on his headset and gesturing occasionally, helping guide the plane through backing up so it could get turned around properly. Later on, my husband would confirm that not only was that guy telling the pilot where he needed to go to back up, but there were probably people standing on the ground helping with this process too. Considering the sheer size of the plane, it must feel like you’re having to parallel park a double-wide trailer. A multi-million-dollar double-wide trailer. No pressure.
But they managed it with pinpoint precision, and in a few minutes the engines got even louder, and we took off over the base and into the Germany countryside.
It was so beautiful.
We flew really low, so we could see all the gorgeous scenery. Bridges, foggy valleys, forests all turning orange for fall, little farmhouses tucked into their little fields – we saw all of it through the windows, and it was absolutely stunning. Once we got off the ground, the crew let us unbuckle and walk around the plane. Over the roar, we could ask them questions about the plane, their jobs, etc.
We got to see the cockpit:
And then they had us sit down and buckle up again. A couple of dudes put on helmets with big goggles, and one guy strapped himself into a jump seat that was bolted to the wall of the plane near the back.
And then they opened the hatch.
They literally opened up the back of the plane while we were flying! It was so cool! And also terrifying, because the two guys wearing helmets were just standing back there (with cables hooking them to the plane) like they were not 1,500 feet over Germany right then. One of them came around and took the phones of those of us who offered them, and zipped them into the pockets of his flight suit before returning to the open hatch to take pics for us. Despite the terrifying mental image of all our phones streaming out over Rheinland-Pfalz like so many Luftballoons, it was SO COOL that they were taking pictures for us, mainly because that meant I didn’t have to be near the car-sized opening on the back of a plane that was in the air at the time.
Both guys sat down on the back hatch like they were chilling out at a tailgate party, knees pulled up and facing the open sky. We all watched them in awe; they handled it like they do this every day…which they probably do. These guys are cool AF.
None of our phones left the plane without us, and as they passed them back to their owners, one of the crew came around with a case of ginger ale for anyone who wanted it. A few people did, but I didn’t see any barf bags come out, so hooray for us.
As we were getting ready to land, the pilot did make several sharp turns to get us facing the right way, which is the one part of the flight that was actually a little scary. For a big giant hippo-plane, that thing could turn, and turn it did. The ground and sky dipped in and out of the windows, I grabbed onto the cargo netting, and we all wondered if the pilot just thought the flight had gone a little too smoothly for us.
The landing was excellent, and we all thanked the crew and wobbled our way off the plane. Oh yeah, apparently walking around on a plane like that makes you feel a little drunk when you get onto solid ground again, so that’s fun.
Am I glad I did that? Oh. Hells. Yes. That was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I am so glad that I took the opportunity. If you get the chance to do something awesome, you don’t sit around and risk it passing you by – you jump at that, and you get on that plane, and you hold onto the cargo netting and pray you don’t barf or have to stick your head in a plastic bag that allegedly helps you breathe.
Being a military spouse is really hard sometimes. But other times, it is a truly epic adventure that I’m continually grateful for.