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Year In Review: Operation Christmas Drop 2015

Yeah, I know it has been more than a year since I promised this video, but here it is finally.  While I am by no means a professional video maker, there is some pretty awesome footage in there.

Operation Christmas Drop 2015 was the 64th annual edition of this humanitarian operation, making it the longest running humanitarian aid mission in DOD history.  Over a seven-day period we dropped to 56 islands covering more than 2 million square miles of mostly water.  To give you some perspective, that is an area larger than the continental United States.

This was the first year that the US Air Force was joined by the Royal Australian Air Force and Japanese Air Self Defense Force, and it was a tremendous success.  All three nations gained valuable knowledge and experience from this amazing operation.

I have done some amazing things over the past year, but I honestly don’t know that I could ever have more fun flying than I did for this week.  Cruising out at altitude for hours and then descending into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and picking out an island that is less than a square mile in area is incredibly fulfilling.

As you level off over the islands you see the bluest blue waters surrounding stunningly green palm trees with small groups of people waving and excited to see you.  It is hard to imagine a more remote location and that makes the airdrops that much more challenging.

Normally we airdrop on surveyed drop zones with ground controllers that increase our situational awareness by giving us winds and ensuring the drop zone is secure.  In this case we have to estimate the winds ourselves, and make multiple passes to ensure that we drop in a safe location free of people and structures.

While this can be extremely challenging, it is also incredibly rewarding to see all of the countless hours of training we do pay off as we deliver Christmas to people who wouldn’t receive it in any other way.

It is a little weird to celebrate Christmas in the toasty region of Guam and the South Pacific, but I also can’t think of a much more rewarding and fulfilling way to enjoy the season.

While I am no professional video maker, I hope you enjoy the footage, and I would love to hear any comments you may have to share.

 

January 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.

I Promise I am Still Alive (Video to Spark Your Interest)

Has it really been more than two months since I have posted?

As much as it pains me, I have to be honest: for some reason I just had no desire to write.  Admittedly, I have been busy going to two major multi-national exercises, not to mention some pretty significant family stuff going on.

With all of that being said, those are just excuses, and I apologize.  I promise to get back on the horse now that I have a little more free time.  Besides, I could really use some therapeutic writing to get the avgeekiness flowing again.

In the meantime, enjoy a little snippet of some of the amazing flying I got to do recently.  I will put together some better stuff soon.  Of particular note in this video is the runway at the end is actually where the Enola Gay took off from on its historic mission.  I also think it is awesome to see the propellers go into reverse shortly after we landed.  Enjoy.

 

April 21, 2016 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.

Giving Them Wings: The Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, GA

The C-130 is the chariot of choice for modern Airborne students.

The C-130 is the chariot of choice for modern Airborne students.

This article originally appeared on NYCAviation.com.

Dropping something out of an airplane is generally frowned upon for most people because you never know where that thing you dropped is going to land or whom it might hurt. However, in the C-130, dropping things out of our airplane is what makes us different from UPS or FedEX; that, and landing on dirt strips that are only 3000 feet long.

In the history of the US military, a number of significant drops really changed the face of the wars where they took place. As a member of the 50th Airlift Squadron, I am proud of the heritage that has been left to me by those who participated in those airdrops, including D-Day — probably the most famous airdrop of all.

The HBO series Band of Brothers (which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend) made that airdrop known to my generation and really reinforced the dangerous nature of those types of missions. Another fascinating part of that series was the training and transforming of those men into paratroopers to prepare them to make that fateful jump.

In the decades since that jump, not a ton has changed in the training. Sure, the equipment has improved; though not exactly the same, it still follows the same basic pattern. That includes using three of the four 250-foot jump towers at Ft. Benning where the training continues to take place.

To read the full article and see more videos and images please visit NYCAviation.com.

April 6, 2015 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.

Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School

This picture sums up most of the flying that we did at AMATS.  Tilt the screen to line up the horizon and it will blow your mind.

This picture sums up most of the flying that we did at AMATS. Tilt the screen to line up the horizon and it will blow your mind.

I had the great opportunity to go out to Reno, Nevada for a mountain flying course that really opened my eyes to the challenges of flying in a mountain environment.  I felt like I had a little perspective having spent four months flying in the mountains of Afghanistan, but this course gave me a whole new perspective on what mountain flying can be like.

The Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School (AMATS) is put on by the 192nd Airlift Squadron which is part of the Nevada Air National Guard based out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.  It is designed give C-130 operators an introduction to mountain flying, which has certain inherent dangers that are not present in less topographically diverse terrain.

The course is designed to have one day of academics and three days of flying, but weather (an incredibly important aspect of mountain flying) prevented us from getting the third day in.  From an academic standpoint, topics like weather, previous accidents, and proper mission planning were covered in-depth.  This information was then applied to the actual missions that we would be flying in the coming days.

This is the mountain we climbed over during our "zoom climb".  Imagine flying right for that mountain and then initiating the climb only a couple of miles before you get there.  You can see the low-point on the ridge we aimed for.

This is the mountain we climbed over during our “zoom climb”. Imagine flying right for that mountain and then initiating the climb only a couple of miles before you get there. You can see the low-point on the ridge we aimed for.

The first day of flying focused on flying through narrow canyons where one can get easily confused by which canyon you are flying as well as navigating through less defined terrain.  After a short transit to the training area, we executed a penetration descent (essentially pitching the nose over and descending at maximum rate) then leveled off for a relatively standard landing at an out base.  The first real part of the training is what’s called a zoom climb.  Essentially you fly straight for a mountain at a high-speed and then pitch up and climb about 2000-2500′ in a matter of 20 seconds or so.  Now that is nothing for a fighter, but to see a Herc climb like that, even for a short period of time is pretty awesome.

The next phase of the mission was very reliant on proper mission planning.  One of the challenges of flying in mountain valleys is that it is really easy to fly up the wrong valley and put yourself in a terrible bind.  Through proper mission planning you analyze the terrain to find key markers that will aid you in flying up the right valleys and avoiding dangerous terrain like box canyons that you may have no way of getting out of.  My sincerest apologies that I was without GoPro for this part of day one because it was incredible to experience.

Dropping in over the lake on our way to the second airdrop of the day.

Dropping in over the lake on our way to the second airdrop of the day.  Formation flying is so much fun.

After winding our way through the mountain valleys we exited by way of our first ridge crossing, though nothing compared to what came on day two.  After dropping our heavy equipment at the drop zone we switched positions with our wingman and they led us out on the second route which was much more wide open and presented a slightly different challenge.  When terrain is really wide open there are two potential challenges.  The first is the lack of ground references to verify your position throughout the route.  This often forces you to utilize your navigation system a little more to ensure you are hitting your turnpoints and getting to where you need to be.

The other challenge is that open, gradually climbing terrain can easily sneak up on you if you aren’t careful.  We generally fly our routes between 300-500 feet AGL and as we crossed these wide open areas it was interesting to see how often our AGL altitude would drop without us even noticing.  We never got too close to the ground, but seeing us creep towards the slowly climbing terrain was eye-opening.

It's not hard to get up for work in the morning when you get to look forward to flying this beauty.

It’s not hard to get up for work in the morning when you get to look forward to flying this beauty.

This route was also a great opportunity to witness a little hidden terrain.  What this means is that smaller hills can get hidden when they have taller terrain behind them.  There are more factors involved than just size, but the real danger here comes when you think you are farther away from terrain than you actually are.  In a worst case scenario this could lead you to not climb early enough with catastrophic results.  After passing the second area of hidden terrain we then climbed up a steep valley for our second ridge crossing of the day dropping down over a lake and into the drop zone for a standard CDS drop, and a recovery back to the airport.

While not an incredibly cool shot of the plane, look at those clouds behind it.  Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and excitingly dangerous.

While not an incredibly cool shot of the plane, look at those clouds behind it. Weather in the mountains is unpredictable and excitingly dangerous.

All of the videos on this post came from day two which was equally as impressive as day one.  I should add that the grandeur of these mountains towering well above 10,000 feet was jaw-dropping beauty for our crew that is used to flying in Arkansas where our highest terrain is only around 2000 feet.  If you ever get the opportunity to fly in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains I strongly suggest it.

Day two was focused on high altitude drop zones and landing zones.  The first video above gives you a little glimpse of a formation takeoff and transiting to the training area.  There are two important reasons this was included.  The first is the weather.  Look at the clouds as we fly towards the training area.  The second reason is caused by the weather.  Flying through such tall mountains can create some seriously drafty wind conditions.  Add this to the fact that a huge storm was starting to blow in that would ultimately have 100 mph winds and drop four feet of snow and staying in position was serious work for the pilots.  If you feel like the video is a little bouncy or jostled that is why.  It can be a challenge to stay in position in calm conditions so add 30-40 knot winds and it is even more challenging.  I give all the credit in the world to my pilots who kept as where we needed to be.

The first part of this training involved a rapid descent through a gunsight valley into a high altitude drop zone followed by a rapid climb out the other side.  The real challenge of a high altitude drop zone is that it takes longer for your plane to slow down to drop speed.  On top of that we were descending into the drop zone which makes it almost impossible to slow down at all until you actually level off.  Once again, proper mission planning was necessary to ensure that our descent began on time, so that we would be leveled off in time, so that we could slow down in time, to drop our load on time.

It was really cool to see how well the numbers we had planned worked out allowing us to get our drop off on time.  It was equally awesome to see how well our climb out numbers worked on the other side of the drop taking us up and away from the rapidly rising terrain.  The views were absolutely stunning, and something that the guys in Reno take a little bit for granted.  At the top of this climb you can see us fly well above two good-sized lakes at about three minutes into the video.  Those lakes would make a more prevalent appearance later in the mission.  We then circled back around for another high-altitude drop without a hitch.

The most exciting part of the day came after the second climb out up and over the mountains.  To take us from our high altitude above the mountains down into the valleys for our next phase of training we would execute a ridge crossing.  Initially, this was probably the most uncomfortable I got during all of this training.  If you look closely in the video you can see the plane in front of us bank to the left way passed the ridge, and then we dropped over the top.  The pilot banked the plane up to almost 60 degrees and the nose dropped quickly below the horizon.  It honestly felt like we were headed right for the top of the ridge until we picked up speed and it carried us right past it.

It was exhilarating to see such a large plane drop out of the air so fast.  You can actually hear our instructor scream with excitement right as we cross the ridge.  Shortly after that you can also hear the really loud sound of rushing air.  That is the sound of the pressure release valve trying to keep up with the pressurization in the plane.  It would end up taking another minute before the system would catch up after we leveled off.

Once we got down to the valley floor we transited over to another ridge for a second ridge crossing into the valley where the landing zone was.  While not quite as exhilarating as the first crossing it was still pretty awesome.

The work at the landing zone provided many of the same challenges as the drop because the plane does not slow down as fast.  My apologies that I only got two of the landings, but the battery died.  The first landing in the video is at normal speed to give you an idea of what it looks like.  The second landing was at 2x speed which is honestly more what it feels like.  The added challenge of this landing zone is that there is rising terrain on three sides which means you have to slide in between the two ridges and then climb as quickly as possible after takeoff before turning for the next pattern.

Flying back to the airport provided maybe the best example of how powerful the weather can be in mountainous terrain.  We were flying at least a couple of thousand feet above the terrain but we still had a couple of sections of turbulence that caused us to lose at least 300 feet of altitude almost instantly.  Mountain wave turbulence is some of the most dangerous weather you can experience in a plane because it is incredibly strong and can extend up to 200 miles away from the mountains that caused it.  That means that you may not be expecting it.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this trip is just how important it can be to get good weather forecasts, and to truly understand how it can affect your operations.  I think most of us are quick to understand the dangers of ice, thunderstorms, and the wind associated with it, but it is the clear air stuff that can really ruin your day.

As I mentioned before our third day got weathered out because of the aforementioned mountain wave turbulence which was really an incredible disappointment because we would have been executing air drops on the side of mountains and up narrow valleys.  Then we would have done dirt assault landings at high-altitude which would have been some awesome video, but what can you do?

The AMATS course was the most worthwhile training I have gotten in the C-130.  It was easy to see how everything they taught us could be applied in an operational environment.  Even for the training that we perform on a regular basis there were key aspects that were taught.  It really is a shame that this course is not more widely utilized because it will literally save the lives of the people who properly apply it into their missions.

I gained a whole new respect for people who regularly fly in the mountains and the challenges that it includes.  No matter how experienced you are the mountains can jump up and bite you, but taking advantage of training like this, either civilian or military, will go a long way to ensuring that you get to enjoy flying through the mountains and the wonder that they are.

March 16, 2015 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.

Video of Homemade B-29 Bomber

I’m working to get my stuff together from the awesome training I did last week, but while you wait for that I thought I would share this awesome video my cousin sent me on Facebook.  It is incredible to see the handiwork that some people create.  I love the touch of having the flyable Bell X-1 under the wing that they actually fly.

So take a few minutes and enjoy this wonderful video.  If the video doesn’t show up try clicking here.

February 8, 2015 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.

Airbus A350: MinutePhysics Shows How it’s Made in 5 Minutes

If you are not familiar with MinutePhysics then I highly suggest you set aside an hour or two to enjoy some simplified science at its finest.  He does a great job of taking incredibly complex things and simplifying them for those people who want to be a little more educated, but not Sheldon from The Big Band Theory.

In this edition, Henry Reich takes a look at the brand spanking new Airbus A350 which had its first delivery today.  While five minutes is not near enough time to show everything I think he does a pretty fantastic job of describing the overall process.  Personally I am just incredibly jealous of the tours that he got.  I think most of us Avgeeks would give body parts to get the access he did.

Until that day comes enjoy the physics lesson.  The second video was released by Airbus and shows more of the tours themselves.

 

 

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December 22, 2014 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.

1970s Commercial Recruiting USAF Navigators

A friend of mine from work posted this on Facebook and I just had to share it.  Great for a laugh these days.  I think my favorite part is the beach/surfing at the end.  We navigators really do live a glamorous life.

November 9, 2014 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.

Mountain Flying to Restock Fish

Two of my favorite things in the world are fishing and flying.  As luck would have it, there are some great videos on YouTube by Ted Hallows, about dropping fish out of planes into Utah mountain lakes.

The challenge with these high mountain lakes is that there is no way to get a truck full of fish up there to restock the lake.   So the answer is to fly a plane up there and have it make low passes over the lake and dump the fish out.  It looks like a lot of fun to me, but you be the judge:

If you want to see some more feel free to check out Ted’s YouTube channel.

July 9, 2014 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.

Boeing Phantom Eye Promoted to Experimental Status by US Air Force

The Phantom Eye could change the future of ISR forever.

The Phantom Eye could change the future of ISR forever.

I’m sure I sound like a broken record with how much I talk about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) being one of the most exciting and interesting topics of discussion in aviation, but they are.  Right now the focus is really on their value as an ISR asset, and I think that is largely where the focus will stay for quite a while.  One of the most intriguing stories is the development of the Boeing Phantom Eye.

I have written about the Phantom Eye in the past and all of the incredible goals they have set.  It is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) airframe that is designed to cruise at 60,000 feet for anywhere from 7 to 10 days at a time.  Yes you read that right, over a week which is made possible by the liquid-hydrogen powered engines.

The platform has only performed six flight tests, but was just promoted from unproven to experimental status by the US Air Force 412th Operations Group.  That upgrade was based on the recommendation of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

This promotion allows the Phantom Eye development team to expand testing by flying to a nearby test range instead of strictly flying in the protected airspace over Edwards Air Force Base.  The team will now be able to really push the altitude and endurance limits that they are shooting for.

Military use is often the first thing people think of when they talk about UAVs, but there are so many other uses for a platform like this.  What other uses can you think of for the Phantom Eye, or other similar platforms?  Please share in the comments below.

February 12, 2014 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.

Angel Flight Video by Radney Foster Featuring the C-130

Like most avgeeks I am a sucker for a good airplane video.  While one of these videos is just a compilation of pictures, those pictures, along with the words to the song brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe it is my current position, but it just really hit home for me.  It truly is the most sacred work that we do on the C-130.

It is only four minutes long so please take a minute and watch it.  I actually found a couple of different versions people have made.  There are even more on YouTube.

You are gone, but never forgotten.


Angel Flight Video by Radney Foster Featuring the C-130

Huge props to Radney Foster for writing such a moving song.

January 2, 2014 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.