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Cargo planes offer a rocky ride



Published: Fri, November 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The object: Hit a target the size of a tire while rockin' and rollin' at 225 mph.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

VIENNA -- The Air Force Reserve's C-130 Hercules is not an elegant craft.

The lumbering cargo plane, with four propeller-equipped engines and a stubby fuselage, appears to fly like a brick when viewed from the best angle, which is far away.

Inside, it is an ear-shattering, rumbling, twisting equipment locker with wings. The cargo bay walls are padded in a sickly gray, between the exposed hydraulic lines, conduits and ducts.

Tracks for sliding cargo, stacks of blocks, chains, wires and cords cut across the dimly lighted space, about the dimensions of a basement corridor in a public school.

This was the last sight for more than 100 Army Rangers when they parachuted into southern Afghanistan on Oct. 20 and left after several hours. It was the only acknowledged use of ground troops so far in the war on terrorism.

The 16 C-130s stationed at Youngstown Air Reserve Station here were not involved in that mission, but these were the type of planes.

For 42 years, Lockheed's C-130s have served as the ox cart behind our military's cavalry, delivering munitions, tanks and supplies to conflicts around the world.

What was planned: Three of them took off Thursday with local reporters for a scheduled demonstration of how massive cargoes are yanked by parachute out the back of the plane at low altitude.

At a preflight briefing, officers explained that they would fly two trips in loose formation, swinging and banking to avoid imaginary threats, each time dumping a load of bundled railroad ties or 55-gallon drums of water toward the drop zone target at the Ravenna Arsenal.

"Go 225 mph and try to hit something the size of a tire," Master Sgt. Robert Marino told reporters after a self-effacing talk by an airplane navigator. "That is what these guys are trying to do."

His other words of wisdom to assembled press guests:

"Everybody gets sick sometimes."

The reporters then strolled out onto the tarmac to load themselves into the cargo bays, tripping past pallets of cargo on the way to red web seats fastened to bulkheads. Two loadmasters wove through the space, checking restraining chains and adjusting cargo straps while reporters fumbled with their seat belts.

The cargo would remain put, stranded on the plane by drop zone winds topping 25 mph.

Reporters, on the other hand, wriggled into new poses of discomfort.

How it went: Nausea reduced one television reporter to the fetal position for most of the hourlong trip, and the eyes of another actually rolled back into his head during a particularly bumpy stretch.

"Is this the first time you have flown on a military aircraft?" asked a base press relations person, the only smiling passenger on the C-130, whose fuselage was marked with a cartoon of a goat.

Turbulence even took a toll on the two loadmasters for that plane, men with a combined 39 years of experience.

After the giant, hydraulic rear cargo door on the plane was opened at 550 feet, then closed again because of the winds, Master Sgt. Bryan Watson began taking hits from an oxygen mask that hung on a hose from one wall.

The other loadmaster, Master Sgt. Phil Zimmer, lay on his back on the load of railroad ties to settle his stomach and took to gazing at the horizon from a door in the rear of the bay.

Looking out at a fixed object helps, he said, but sometimes when he turns back inward, it seems the tracks on the floor are wriggling like snakes.

Air sickness can happen on any flight, he said.

"It's random."

The situation was better up in the cockpit, where the crew sat facing forward surrounded by windows, two other C-130s swaying in the air ahead.

Capt. Cathy Miller, who piloted the plane from behind a vast bank of switches and gauges and signs saying things like "solid state sychophasers installed," said she got a blister from fighting the control yoke through the gusting winds.

She swears by chewing gum.

Other flight personnel recommended high carbohydrate breakfasts and ginger pills.

Pilots on all three planes reported they had "two-bag" customers.

"Moderate turbulence," they agreed during a post-flight briefing at the base.

siff@vindy.com




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