There I was at six thousand feet over central Iraq, two hundred eighty knots and we're dropping faster than Paris Hilton's panties. It's a typical September evening in the Persian Gulf; hotter than a rectal thermometer and I'm sweating like a priest at a Cub Scout meeting. But that's neither here nor there. The night is moonless over Baghdad tonight, and blacker than a Steven King novel. But it's 2004, folks, and I'm sporting the latest in night-combat technology - namely, hand-me-down night vision goggles (NVGs) thrown out by the fighter boys.
Additionally, my 1962 Lockheed C-130E Hercules is equipped with an obsolete, yet, semi-effective missile warning system (MWS). The MWS conveniently makes a nice soothing tone in your headset just before the missile explodes into your airplane. Who says you can't polish a turd?
At any rate, the NVGs are illuminating Baghdad International Airport
like the Las Vegas Strip during a Mike Tyson fight. These NVGs are the
cat's @#%$. But I've digressed.
The preferred method of approach tonight is the random shallow. This tactical maneuver allows the pilot to ingress the landing zone in an unpredictable manner, thus exploiting the supposedly secured perimeter of the airfield in an attempt to avoid enemy surface-to-air-missiles and small arms fire. Personally, I wouldn't bet my pink @#%$ on that theory but the approach is fun as hell and that's the real reason we fly it.
We get a visual on the runway at three miles out, drop down to one thousand feet above the ground, still maintaining two hundred eighty knots. Now the fun starts. It's pilot appreciation time as I descend the mighty Herk to six hundred feet and smoothly, yet very deliberately, yank into a sixty degree left bank, turning the aircraft ninety degrees offset from runway heading. As soon as we roll out of the turn, I reverse turn to the right a full two hundred seventy degrees in order to roll out aligned with the runway. Some aeronautical genius coined this maneuver the "Ninety/Two-Seventy." Chopping the power during the turn, I pull back on the yoke just to the point my nether regions start to sag, bleeding off energy in order to configure the pig for landing.
"Flaps Fifty!, Landing Gear Down!, Before Landing Checklist!" I look over at the copilot and he's shaking like a cat shitting on a sheet of ice. Looking further back at the navigator, and even through the NVGs, I can clearly see the wet spot spreading around his crotch. Finally, I glance at my steely-eyed flight engineer. His eyebrows rise in unison as a grin forms on his face. I can tell he's thinking the same thing I am.... "Where do we find such fine young men?"
"Flaps One Hundred!" I bark at the shaking cat.
Now it's all aimpoint and airspeed. Aviation 101, with the exception there
are no lights, I'm on NVGs, it's Baghdad, and now tracers are starting to
crisscross the black sky. Naturally, and not at all surprisingly, I grease
the Goodyear's on brick-one of runway 33 left, bring the throttles to
ground idle and then force the props to full reverse pitch. Tonight, the
sound of freedom is my four Hamilton Standard propellers chewing through
the thick, putrid, Baghdad air. The huge, one hundred thirty thousand
pound, lumbering whisper pig comes to a lurching stop in less than two
thousand feet. Let's see a Viper do that!
We exit the runway to a welcoming committee of government issued Army grunts. It's time to download their beans and bullets and letters from their sweethearts, look for war booty, and of course, urinate on Saddam's home. Walking down the crew entry steps with my lowest-bidder, Beretta 92F, 9 millimeter strapped smartly to my side, look around and thank God, not Allah, I'm an American and I'm on the winning team. Then I thank God I'm not in the Army. Knowing once again I've cheated death, I ask myself, "What in the hell am I doing in this mess?" Is it Duty, Honor, and Country? You bet your @#%$. Or could it possibly be for the glory, the swag, and not to mention, chicks dig the Air Medal. There's probably some truth there too. But now is not the time to derive the complexities of the superior, cerebral properties of the human portion of the aviator-man-machine model. It is however, time to get out of this @#%$-hole. "Hey copilot, clean yourself up! And how's 'bout the 'Before Starting Engines Checklist.'"
God, I love this job!
Ever Onward and Upward,
Major Michael R. Hampton
115th Airlift Squadron, USAF, ANG