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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.

2016+ Year in Review

I know it is cliche, but I really can’t believe another year has gone by.  Even more unbelievable to me is how much I have actually done this year, and some of the incredible experiences that I have had.

With all of the time I have spent all over the Pacific I have neglected this writing, which I am just now realizing was a sort of therapy that I have also been missing out on.  Such is life though and all I can do is work at getting back into it.

So rather than try to cram everything into one post, I am going to work on getting out one a week or so which will hopefully give me some time to really internalize everything I have learned this year, while at the same time not overwhelming myself and then just giving up.

So here is a quick overview of some of the things I will be writing about over the next few months:

Operation Christmas Drop 2015–  I have mentioned this before, and a year later I am going to actually get to it.  I was on a crew for this operation which was an amazing opportunity to fly all over the islands of the Pacific bringing Christmas joy to people who live about as remotely as you possibly can in this world.

Cope North 2016-  This is a massive exercise that takes place in Guam every year involving 8-9 different countries in this instance.  Once again I was on a flying crew, which was one of the best crews I have ever flown with.  This was the first time I had ever trained with fighter aircraft which was a whole lot of fun.  As well as visiting some pretty historic sites.

Balikatan 2016-  Another large-scale exercise but in the Philippines.  For this exercise I went as a mission planning cell chief working at a location we had never fully manned before.  While I didn’t get to do any real exciting flying, it did really open my eyes to the time and effort that is required to pull off these vitally important exercises.

Red Flag Alaska 2016-  Surprise, surprise, another exercise, though most people who have interest in military aviation have likely heard of it, or at least the Nellis AFB version.  While I was back to flying for this exercise, it is structured differently than the other exercises so I also did a massive amount of mission planning.  It was some of the most incredible flying I have ever done, with a fun crew, and some amazing off duty time in the awe-inspiring Alaskan mountains.

Becoming an evaluator  Not exactly an exciting flying adventure, but something that has shaped the way I view being a flyer.  I have written numerous times about how much I love instructing, and evaluating has only deepened my love of instruction, but on a much deeper level.

Operation Christmas Drop 2016-  This year I went as the mission planning cell chief and there are few times I have worked so many hours and felt so completely fulfilled by what I have done.  To be very clear, there are a lot of people who did a lot of work to make this operation happen, and it was an honor to be a part of it.  It will be hard to beat the value of this experience in my life.

So there it is.  I am sure I forgot events that I will write about as well.  It seems so short listing them all like this, but I am excited to go back and relive all of these experiences again.  I know it will put a lot of smiles on my face, and I hope that you will find some enjoyment from reading about it.  Thank you for all of your support in the past, and I look forward to your comments in the future.

January 6, 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.

“A date which will live in infamy.”

These words evoke an incredible range of emotions for millions of people every year around this time.  Even for those of us who were not yet living, or even our parents for that matter, they strike an instant chord to something deep inside us.

When FDR said those words 75 years ago I seriously wonder if he would believe what I did today would have ever been possible.

I am currently in Guam participating in Operation Christmas Drop as the Mission Planning Chief for the exercise.  If you don’t know what this is look it up on YouTube because there are some amazing videos.  

In short, it is an operation to deliver supplies and Christmas presents to the people of Micronesia and the Marianas islands utilizing C-130s to airdrop these much needed supplies.  This is the 65th installment of the operation and it gets more awesome every year.

What made today special for me was the magnitude of what I was able to witness.  You see, 75 years after that infamous day, I was part of an operation where American and Japanese military members flew on each other’s aircraft to deliver goodwill and happiness to people across the islands of the Pacific.  

Two nations that fought bitterly so many years ago teamed up, along with our Australian brothers and sisters, to drop not bombs but food, gifts, and other vital supplies to people they will never meet in person.  In one day they delivered nearly 10,000 pounds of cargo in a joint operation that demonstrates the amazing relationship we have developed.

As I lay here about to go to sleep almost 75 years to the hour that Pearl Harbor was attacked, I almost cannot fathom the magnitude of what took place today, yesterday, and will again tomorrow.

In a world that can so often be viciously divided it was awe inspiring to see how much good former enemies can do when we unite together for the greater good.  May we all take a minute today to remember those that were lost, but also take a minute to find our own battles that we can bring to a peaceful resolution.

If the flag of the rising sun and the stars and stripes can literally fly together after all they endured three quarters of a century ago, then any quarrel can be settled and instead good deeds can be done.

December 7, 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.

A Few Shots of Everyone’s Favorite C-130: Fat Albert

The Blue Angels are the highlight of pretty much every airshow they fly at.  They put on an exhilarating show that is almost impossible not to enjoy.

The part of the show that many people unfortunately overlook is one of my favorite parts.  Fat Albert is the workhorse of the show as the transport for the maintainers, as well as the only propeller driven aircraft in the show.  I had the opportunity to see Fat Albert back when they still utilized JATO bottles for some incredible takeoffs, and I have been hooked ever since.  In case you are wondering what a JATO takeoff is, check this out:

While living in Pensacola, FL, the home of the Blue Angels, I got to see Fat Albert quite often, but there is just something special about seeing him on the road.  I had that opportunity again last August while in Seattle during the SeaFair Air Show.

While most of the action took place out over the water, I actually think Fat Albert’s part of the show is better at the airport itself.  In this case that would be King County International Airport, better know as Boeing Field.  The outdoor static displays of the Museum of Flight is a unique and wonderful place to watch an airshow.  Though you will notice a few of those planes peeking into some of my pictures.

Every show starts with a takeoff.

Every show starts with a takeoff.

A zoom climb takeoff like this is incredibly uncomfortable since you are flying at maybe 10-20 feet with the gear up as fast as you can.  Keep in mind, that this is not a little Cessna 172, but a 100,000+ pound cargo plane.  That makes for an incredibly exhilarating experience, and some pretty insane takeoff angles for such a large, propeller-driven plane.

While it can sustain this angle forever, it does get you away from the ground, fast.

While it can’t sustain this angle forever, it does get you away from the ground, fast.

If you have ever watched a “normal” C-130 takeoff, it is not very exciting, and it takes a long time to get up and away.  While this is nothing compared to the old JATO takeoffs, it is fun to take off at this steep of an angle.

C-130s don't necessarily translate to air show excitement.

C-130s don’t necessarily translate to air show excitement.

In terms of the air show itself, this picture really sums up most of what a C-130 can do in an air show.  It can be fun to see some big banking 60 degree turns and high-speed passes, but the real power and utility of the C-130 can’t really be shown at an airshow, with the exception of the takeoff we already talked about, and maybe even more nerve-wracking, intense landings.

The C-130 was designed to go into austere locations and provide support to forces that otherwise would not receive it.  I often explain to friends that all we need is an area free of trees and other tall objects and we could get in there.  While that may not be 100% accurate, it really isn’t too far off.

When all you see out the window is ground, it can be quite unnerving.

When all you see out the window is ground, it can be quite unnerving.

One important aspect of this unique ability is approaching airfields at an incredibly steep angle.  We often refer to it as riding the elevator because you watch the altitude just spin off the altimeter.  I read an article from a reporter who got to take a ride on Fat Albert and she said that the most scary part was this steep descent into the runway.

You would never know that this plane just descended about 1000 feet in about 20 seconds.

You would never know that this plane just descended about 1000 feet in about 20 seconds.

While it may make the untrained civilian uncomfortable, it is things like this that get all of us Herc crew members excited about what we do.  It feels amazing when the pilot rounds it out and you touch softly down after screaming towards good old terra firma.

What a beautiful sight.

What a beautiful sight.

Everyone is attracted to the fast and agile planes at an airshow, and for good reason, because they are exciting.  However, the older I get the more I appreciate the wonder of some of these unsung heroes at airshows.  There may be no greater unsung hero than Fat Albert, but I may be a little biased.

May 14, 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.

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.

A Sneak Peek at Operation Christmas Drop

I know I mentioned it to a few people on Twitter, but I had an amazing opportunity that ended last week to participate in Operation Christmas Drop.

I will do a full writeup hopefully this weekend but I just wanted to share a few images that I took.

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Flying around active volcanos is pretty intense.

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The black is from a lava flow from the 80s. There used to be a runway down there but half of it is covered.

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I don’t know if I have ever flown in a more beautiful place.

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Copilots are easily replaced.

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No words needed.

December 25, 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.

Working a Dropzone Can Be Lots of Fun

The dropzone is a fun perspective for some great pictures.

The dropzone is a fun perspective for some great pictures.

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.

I love it when you can see the rotation of the propellers in a shot.

I love it when you can see the rotation of the propellers in a shot.

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.

The best view for an airdrop is always from the last plane in the formation.

The best view for an airdrop is always from the last plane in the formation.

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.

 

Moments before the drop.

Moments before the drop.

The bundle leaving the aircraft.

The bundle leaving the aircraft.

I sure hope that chute comes out.

I sure hope that chute comes out.

Of course it did, we work with professionals. Just to be clear I am not standing under where this load is falling.

Of course it did, we work with professionals. Just to be clear I am not standing under where this load is falling.

Fully deployed and falling safely to the ground.

Fully deployed and falling safely to the ground.

Another successful drop due to the collaboration of multiple agencies.

Another successful drop due to the collaboration of multiple agencies.

October 11, 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.