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Flying Somewhere New Can Reinvigorate You

The mountains of Japan are simply stunning.

It is hard to admit that sometimes I get a little bored flying, but I do.  For the first few years I was on the C-130, most of my flying was at about 300 feet above the ground out in the open terrain of Arkansas.  While the skyline was not particularly magnificent, and the terrain was not exactly rugged, it is an incredible rush to move that fast, that low, in a plane that big.

Coming to Japan has been an incredible experience with all of the places I have gotten to visit and the incredible people who I have gotten to meet from so many different countries.  With that being said, the flying in the local area can often be a little less than spectacular.

As you may know, Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world so it can be challenging to find a piece of land that isn’t covered with people.  For that reason we are forced to fly more than three times higher than I was accustomed to before coming here.

You have to get a good steep bank angle in to really have fun, and fly safe, in the mountains.

However, the reason that Tokyo, and most of Japan for that matter, is so densely populated is because about 73% of the country is mountainous and uninhabitable.  What that means for flying, is that there is some incredible terrain out there to be explored.  The obvious question then is why don’t we spend all of our time flying in those areas?  The short answer is weather.  Wind, turbulence, and cloud cover all keep us out of those areas a lot of the time.  (To read more about the challenges and dangers of mountain flying check out my post on the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School.)

As luck would have it last week, I was scheduled to fly on a pilot’s last flight here in Japan and he wanted to go and rage through the mountains one last time.  It even looked like the weather was going to cooperate for us. I had never been to this area before, but in his 6+ years here our pilot had flown it numerous times.  It is worth mentioning that if you are not familiar with mountain flying you should really take a course or at least go with someone who is before attempting it.

The aforementioned weather that cut into the route but still didn’t stop us from some amazing fun.

My biggest regret was that I didn’t bring my GoPro because the scenery was simply stunning.  The weather did force us to skip a big chunk of the route, but overall it was just a wonderful experience.  As you can see from the few pictures I took, the mountains were the most beautiful shade of green and it was just all around beautiful.

While I could go on and on about how stunning it was, and how much fun it always is to rage through the mountains, that is not what I would like to focus on today.

It is not uncommon when you fly for a living to get into a rhythm and fly the same stuff over and over.  That may be flying the same routes repeatedly as an airline pilot, or flying the same maneuvers as a flight instructor, but it is easy to get into a rut.  As easy as it is to get into that rut I would submit that it is just as easy to get back out of it, assuming you want to.

The ground breaking solution to getting out of this rut is to do something different.  Maybe that is getting back into a small general aviation plane and go and get a $100 hamburger for the first time in decades.  Maybe you could go and get your float plane rating (I have often heard this referred to as the most fun rating a pilot can get).  Or maybe you could take an aerobatics course and pull some G’s and improve your understanding of how an aircraft handles in all different attitudes.

Full yoke deflection means you are about to feel the pull through a turn.

It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it breaks up the monotony for you.  For me it was getting into a new area of Japan that I had never seen before.  We raged through some amazing scenery and just had an amazing time.  By the end of the flight, which I am a little ashamed to admit was only about three hours, I was pretty exhausted because I hadn’t flown like that in a long time and it takes it out of you physically.  In my defense I do stand the whole time, but it was an incredible feeling to be so tired after a flight again.

Flying is the most fun thing you can do in this world in my opinion.  It is one of the few ways we can overcome the laws of physics and put ourselves somewhere that the human body cannot go on its own; flying through the air.  If you have gotten bored with it, or thing it is just not fun anymore than you need to change it up and get out and do something new.  Life’s too short to not enjoy something so incredibly fun.

June 18, 2017 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Cope North 2016 Video

Once again I realize I am behind the power curve on this one since the 2017 version of Cope North was over a few months ago as well, but I had too much great footage to just let this one go.  Hopefully I can get some more videos done faster so that won’t be so dated.

The 2016 edition of Cope North was the largest version of the exercise to date with participants from no less than 9 different countries.  The exercise involves dozens of fighters from numerous countries, and multiple branches.  There are also AWACS, Tankers, and of course the best type of aircraft, C-130s.

We were joined in our airlift efforts by the South Korean Air Force as well as the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, who we work with on a regular basis.  As a group we executed numerous air drops, and a massive amount of airlift in a humanitarian aid simulation.  It is always a pleasure working with our international partners learning from each other and having a few laughs.

One of the most fun things we get to do at this exercise, other than flying around all of these gorgeous islands with incredibly blue water, is execute unimproved surface landings on the island of Tinian at the old North Field.  If that name sounds vaguely familiar that is because some pretty important history took place there.

North Field was the departure field for a couple of B-29s that you may have heard of, The Enola Gay and Bockscar.  I have mentioned before how much I love walking where history has happened, and in this case I actually got to fly there.  To utilize such a historic runway leaves me just a little bit speechless.  It is a lot of work for our crews to clear back the jungle each year so that we can utilize the runway for this exercise, but it is invaluable for all of the crews.

I will spare you any more of the details since it happened so long ago, and just leave you with the awesome footage I was able to gather below.  If you want to learn more about the exercise a simple Google search will take you to official Air Force articles.

I hope you enjoy and I would love to get your feedback.

June 13, 2017 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Another C-130 Leaves the Air Force: The End of an Era

I don’t like to write about sad things, because, surprise surprise, it makes me sad.  The challenging thing about this story is that it involves doing something that I totally love, flying.

If you pay much attention to US Air Force changes then you know that the C-130H is being replaced by the C-130J which does not utilize the services of a navigator, which also means I am having to find a new job, but that is a whole different story.  Fortunately, these old beautiful birds still have a life to live in the Reserves and National Guard.

I had the opportunity to go and drop one of these planes off at its new home in Ohio.  While a few pictures and nice memories really don’t do justice to a plane that has served for more than 43 years, that is all that I have to offer.

The sunset as we were leaving Japan was simply stunning. Poetic as well as this was the sunset mission for tail 1659.

Our original plan was to fly the southern route across the Pacific visiting beautiful tropical islands as a good-bye to this sweet old lady.  However, as these planes have done for much of their career, she had different ideas.  She decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan so she broke for two days.  That meant that we had to take the northern route through Alaska which was equally as beautiful, just a lot more chilly.

Having been to Alaska last year I was not quite as excited as I was to visit Hawaii for the first time, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered.  What was unique about this leg was the distance we were able to cover and the altitude we were able to reach.

Sunrise as we started to cross the Aleutian chain on our way into Alaska was equally as stunning.

Typically for us, 6-8 hours is a pretty long mission and generally the limit of our fuel depending on how much cargo we are carrying.  We also are generally restricted to about 20,000 feet or so in altitude because we are so heavy.  But a fortunate shift in the winds, and the small payload we were carrying allowed us fly for a full ten hours and climb all the way to 27,000 feet.  I know that is nothing for a commercial airliner, or even our bigger Air Force brothers, but for a C-130H that was a pretty big deal.  We also were able to make the trip from Japan to Anchorage without stopping which is an even more amazing feat for our non aerial refuel capable plane.

The Canadian Rockies are incredible to behold and probably more remote than most anywhere else I have ever been.

After some much-needed sleep in Alaska, despite the sun not setting until after midnight, we headed off for Great Falls, MT for another stop.  I have never flown over the Canadian Rockies before so it was really fun to see just how stunning they really are.  There was still a large amount of snow up there which made it even more majestic.

I know it is a small thing, that only my older brother may appreciate, but it was fun to just relax and toss a frisbee around for a few minutes. Yes there is someone relaxing in that hammock, the only way to travel in the back of a C-130.

I was also able to fulfill a career-long dream of mine on this leg, playing frisbee in the back of the plane while flying.  Generally this is not possible because we are full of stuff and/or people, but since all we had was the crew and a bunch of spare parts there was plenty of room for activities.  Fighter guys can do lots of cool fun stuff, but they can’t walk around and relax in the back of their planes.  They also have to use a piddle pack, but that too would be a story for another day.

After crossing over Glacier National Park we descended down into the plains near Great Falls and enjoyed some of the beautiful scenery, in particular the Missouri River.  Due to scheduling concerns, we actually had a day off in Great Falls where we were able to go out and enjoy some fishing on the river before proceeding on.  The fishing sucked because the river was so high, but I will never turn down some time on the banks of a beautiful river surrounded by stunning mountains with a fishing rod in my hand.

A stop in Big Sky country seemed fitting as this is the place that many of our other tails will be traveling to. A nice little break before her last leg.

It was a little sad leaving Great Falls on the last leg of our mission knowing that this would be the last leg of an active duty career spanning more than four decades.  There are only a handful of people in our squadron that were even alive when this plane was built, and now her time was up.

As we pulled into parking in Ohio and shut her down for the last time it was a little sad to say goodbye to another one of these sweet girls.  She still has a good life to live in the Guard, but as the number of H models we have on the ramp here continues to dwindle it makes me sad to see the end of this era.  If I’m being honest a little of that is selfish because I am losing my position on active duty, but I really think it goes deeper than that.

We often talk about how the C-130H was really the last plane in the Air Force inventory that you really got to fly because all of the others are so technologically advanced that computers do a lot of the work.  There is also something comforting about all of the gauges and dials, that broke as often as not, but that were a credit to the craftsmanship of this beautiful plane.  How many machines that are this complex have been able to take a legit beating for 40+ years and still keep working?  Not many.

So as I say goodbye to old 1659, it is with a heavy heart, but with fond memories of the amazing things I have gotten to do on this amazing aircraft.

No rest for the weary. Before we could even get all of our stuff of the plane, her new owners had her all ready to be towed into a hangar to get cleaned up and ready to keep working.

June 7, 2017 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.