I often write about performing airdrops in the various different locations I have been to because it is one of the things that really sets us apart from civilian aircraft, and is one of the most enjoyable things that I get to do. While it is a lot of fun from my perspective there is another perspective that I had never experienced, until recently, that plays a vital role in our mission:
The perspective from the dropzone.
I had always been curious as to what it would be like to view a drop from the ground, but we are generally too busy to take a day off to get out there and witness it. However, I was unable to fly for the first month or so after getting to Japan while I waited on training, paperwork, and various other logistical issues so I took advantage of the opportunity and made a trip out to the dropzone to check it out.
The dropzone itself is really nothing more than an open piece of land that we have permission to drop stuff on. We can’t exactly go dropping stuff wherever we want because it could end up causing some serious damage on the ground. To prevent that type of mishap, we have designated areas that have been approved for airdrops where we can practice our craft in a safe and secure way.
Part of making it a safe process is having someone on the ground to verify that the dropzone is clear and that we are safe to drop. They also can provide wind information and visual references to make our drop more accurate. While we certainly could kick stuff out the back without someone on the ground, they make our efforts much easier, effective, and safe.
Something that I had not really anticipated once we got out to the dropzone was how much time we would spend waiting around. When you are in the plane performing airdrops the whole sequence seems to move pretty rapidly, but on the ground it moves much more slowly. It was actually nice to see it from this perspective because it helped me to realize how much time we actually have in the air and that it is all a matter of slowing the process down and taking the necessary time to do things right.
While there was nothing groundbreaking that I learned while helping out at the dropzone, It was a great opportunity to gain some appreciation for the work that others do to make our mission possible. Flying involves a collaborated effort from a number of different agencies. From air traffic controllers, to dropzone personnel, to crew chiefs and maintainers we often take the work of all of these support agencies for granted, but we never could do what we do without them.
So the next time you fly make sure you take a minute to thank the people who support us doing what we love. Take a minute to chat with the line guy at the FBO, he probably loves planes as much as you. Surprise the mechanic with a case of his favorite beverage, he may have been up all night working so that your plane would be ready to fly in the morning.
And for heaven’s sake thank every air traffic controller that you ever meet because they are one of the true unsung heroes of aviation. They safely move tens of thousands of aircraft all over the world without anyone ever knowing their name or face. Millions of people travel without ever thinking about ATC and that is because they are so freaking good at their job.
If you get a chance to spend a day with any of these invaluable personnel make sure you jump on it, because it will give you a new perspective on their job, and it will make the system as a whole that much safer and more effective.
Here are a couple of shots showing the drop sequence from the ground.