An Experienced Flightbyjthserra©
An Experienced Flight
At the time, it didn't seem extraordinary for me, just a few days before my tenth birthday, to fly an USAF C-130. For someone who watched a mongoose fight a deadly Habu snake to the death, this was just another normal event. For a kid who watched a flight of F-86 fighter planes drop napalm bombs on a hill a half-mile away, piloting a C-130 seemed fairly ordinary. Yet, there I sat at the controls of a C-130, the workhorse of the Air Force's Quartermaster and Supply Wing, with my parents and little brother in the passenger compartment behind me.
My parents planned a spring trip from our home in Okinawa to the main island of Japan. I wasn't bothered that we would spend my birthday in Tokyo, hell, after snake fights and napalm, not a lot really bothered me. I kind of looked forward to visiting Mt. Fuji and the other sites my parents had described as we talked about the trip. Mind you, this was not a 5 star vacation trip, in fact, in an effort to save as much money as possible, my father billeted himself, my mother, my little brother and I onto four of the twelve passenger seats on this cargo plane.
To better understand what flying on (and flying) a C-130 feels like, consider the plane. Try to envision a two-car garage, cluttered with boxes and tools, perhaps a car or two. Now, picture a dozen chairs bolted down at the front of a cargo compartment. Through tiny windows you can see the short, stubby wings on both sides and if you crane your neck, perhaps the shadow of tall tail in the rear. Now imagine two enormous, loud, loud, loud propellers, with these propellers ever so slowly dragging the garage down the runway and up into the air. This flying garage was so loud we all were provided with our own personal balls of wax to shape and put into our ears to reduce the noise level. It was the first time I ever put wax back in my ears.
As the plane leveled off for the noisy, two and a half hour long flight, I worked on my dad to let me sit back where the paratroopers sit. Along the sides of the interior storage area, there were seats made out of some type of netting, where the paratroopers would actually hang off of the wall of the plane. Something like that must have been agony for them, but looked to be some excellent fun for a ten year old. I did read the sign saying that the harnesses along the sides of the plane were for military personnel only, but hey, I watched snakes and napalm, so sitting in a paratrooper's seat should have been easy for me.
Well, not that easy. My father sternly convinced me that I wasn't getting out of my seat for the duration of the flight. Resigned, I prepared myself for a long, boring and noisy ride, when a crewman bent down and screamed in my ear, "How'd you like to fly this plane?" My dad agreed with a roll of his eyes and I nonchalantly walked with the crewman to the cockpit.
As the plane buffeted through the clouds, I stepped into the bouncing cockpit and was amazed at the hundreds of dials, buttons and controls. After strapping into the pilot’s seat, I had my hands on the controls and was ready to fly. After a few minutes of level flight, I watched the co-pilot cautiously remove his hands from his controls, leaving me in complete control of the plane. I calmly flew on a straight path for a few minutes, and then the co-pilot told me we'd need to turn the plane. He grabbed his controls and together we banked the plane to the left and completed the turn. After the turn, they unstrapped me and in a brief ceremony pinned some wings on my shirt. I then strolled proudly back to my seat.
My mom and dad smiled as I eased into my seat, proud at the way I had fearlessly gone off and flew the plane. I tried to act unimpressed about it all, but I did notice the way they looked at me. While it was just another day for this snake fighting, napalming kid, I'll never forget the look of terror in my little brother's eyes as I came back from the cockpit. Now, considering that at the age of seven he had also seen the snakes and napalm, his terror was something out of the ordinary.