Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My plane, my plane

Back before our plane got upgraded with new engines we would have to do what is called a flare to land. Basically when we did a flare as we got close to the ground we would have to cut back the power to the engines and sort of coast the plane to the ground. Kind of a scary manuever when you consider we were flying on a big four engine, overweight plane.

One day after a mission we were coming back to land in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We had a brand new co-pilot and she was getting one of her first landings on this very day.

Now let me say up front I have nothing against female pilots, I have flown with some really good ones.

This unfortunately was not one of those times.

I was sitting back in the plane where I could look out the window we have there. It was a pretty clear day, and everything was going good. We were on the path and coming in just like we should. Then we flare. Usually when we flared there was a delay before we contacted the ground.

The engines cut back power.

And I waited.

And waited.

I sat up, looked out the window.

And waited.

I tightened my five-point harness a little bit.

And waited.

Then we hit the ground. Hard. Really hard.

Now in most instances this would not have been too bad, because most people have the sense to build things far away from an active runway. This was not the case with the Saudi's when they built their runway, and support facilities. There were lines of buildings right off the runway. On both sides.

When we hit the ground we were lined up right in the middle of the runway just like we were supposed to be.

I'm not sure what happened when we came off the ground again, but for some reason the plane turned on it's axis a little bit, and instead of all the buildings going by like on a normal landing I look out the window and see...

the runway.

This is not normal. Things are definitely not right at this time. Because if I am looking down the runway, that means the nose of the plane is pointed at some of those buildings that were close to the runway.

Now this wasn't quite the first time I thought I might die, but it was the first time that it seemed like a serious possibility. And the first thought through my mind? Man I hope my underwear are still clean when they find the bodies.

Then over the interphone I hear the greatest expression I have ever heard. The pilot comes over and says "My plane, My plane" and the engines start to come back up to power.

Then we hit the ground the second time.

And we bounce again, but the engines are up to power now, and the pilot is able to get us to where we are accelerating. I have stopped looking out the window, and I'm not sure if we are accelerating toward the sky or the buildings, but we are moving in some direction now.

As I peel my eyes open, sense we haven't exploded yet I decide I'll peek out the window. I see sky and and the tops of buildings just the way it should be. We come back around and land safely this time with a perfectly executed flare. Well comparatively speaking perfect. We didn't bounce, we didn't twist in flight. We landed parked shut it down, and got the heck off the plane.

Pretty sure I saw a couple guys kiss the ground after that one.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hi...I'm here.

I graduated from Technical School in Feb of 92. On my orders to my next base it had where I was supposed to go. So I took my two weeks of leave, packed my stuff up and headed for my new base, filled with excitement and wonder.

I drove from west Texas to the Baltimore area, checked in at the base and got a billeting room. The next morning I was up bright and early and eager to check in with my new squadron. I go to the orderly room and check in, only to find out that I'm in the wrong place.

The airman just sort of looked at me like I knew where to go next. I had no idea, that's how I ended up there in the first place.

Eventually I guess me standing there and looking at her dumbly had an effect on her, because she took my orders and looked at them again. Then tells me to report to the building across the parking lot that was surrounded by an 8 ft fence with barbed wire around the top. At this point my excitement kind of turned to fear, because the only buildings like that that I had seen to this point had prisoners behind the fences.

So I drive over to that building and watch it for a few minutes. People come and go so I figure whats the worst that could happen. Go up to the phone attached to the fence near the gate and call the number listed for entry.

About 5 minutes later someone comes out. "Airman Keener?"

"Yeah that's me."

"Why are you here?"

Oh great here we go again. "Well my orders told me to come here."

"But why are you here now? We weren't expecting you for another 3 months."

At this point I'm starting to get really nervous. Did I miss something? Did I somehow skip the last 2 months of technical school?

"Did you go to survival school?" the sergeant asked.

"Um...no I'm pretty sure I would remember that."

"So you came straight here from Texas? You didn't go to Washington?"

"Washington? No never been there."

Insert string of curse words here. Words I had never heard used together.

Then he takes me in the building and we go see the Chief (highest enlisted rank). Go through the whole why are you here? line of questioning again.

Eventually it is discovered that the last base I left seemed to fail to inform me of what my actual job was going to be, nor did they set up the 3 months worth of training that I somehow skipped. But it all worked out ok in the end.

Is that the plan?

We were coming in for a landing and over the intercom we hear the pilot let out a "Oh crap". Now this is never something that you want to hear your pilot say as you are getting closer and closer to the ground in your 200,000 pound death trap.

Then he doesn't say anything for a little while. Our Mission Supervisor calls him up and asks if there is any reason to be alarmed. Then he comes over the interphone and says we're going to go around one of the indicator lights isn't operating properly. No big deal really, lights go out all the time. We're not really concerned at this point.

Nothing from the cockpit for awhile as we fly around in circles.

Then the pilot calls back and says "The nose gear lock indicator is not coming on. The tower tells us the nose gear is down and looks good."

Umm..the nose gear is a very important piece of equipment that really helps us to not end up as a smear on the runway when we land. So now we are a little bit concerned with the goings on and what is happening. The crew talks it over a little bit and the officers decide the best option for us at this point would be a Touch-and-Go. For those unfamiliar with it, that's when the plane basically lands, doesn't stop, accelerates and takes off again.

Now remember we have no idea if the nose gear is going to hold when we touch down. It could collapse and send us careening down the runway at 175 knots with no way to control where the plane is going.

To me this didn't seem like a good idea. If we land and it holds let's just stop and get out. That was my thinking, but apparently being an enlisted guy doesn't make me as smart as an officer.

So the pucker factor (that's what you do when you're scared, think about it) is pretty high as we all know we're going to come in, hit the ground, accelerate, and take back off. Without knowing if at any point in this endeavor that the nose gear is going to hold, or fold up under the plane.

Thankfully it held, and we were able to perform the maneuver and come back around and safely land the next time. As we were taxiing the little bumps and things like that apparently knocked the gear into it's proper position, or maybe just reseated the bulb, because it came on.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What's in a name?

The first time I deployed as a young and naive airmen we had to fly from the States to Dhahran Saudi Arabia, then transfer planes to go to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Now when I was getting ready to deploy I got my supply issue, which included things like a A-3 Flyers Bag, flight suits, helmet bag...things like that.

I was only the 7th person in the Air Force to do what I was doing full time so I didn't think too much about what was issued to me.

So I packed up all my stuff and was so excited that I didn't get a lot of sleep.

I meet my trainer at the airport. Her name was Kotty. That wasn't really her name that was her nickname. You see we were such a small group it was like family back then and everyone got a nickname during their training rotation, so I had that to look forward to over the next couple of months.

So we get checked in, and get on our flight. A military charter flight isn't like flying commercial. They put a couple extra rows in each section, because they get paid by the seat (I think) regardless of if there is a person in them or not. So once we take off we're able to spread out, stretch out and get some sleep. In the floor, across the seats...pretty much wherever you can find a space you'll fit in.

We land in Dhahran with no problems, and that when I learn a thing or two about deploying. They offload the plane in Dhahran, and put all the bags out on pad so you can go out and claim your stuff. This is because a lot of the people are staying in Dhahran and the rest of us are going by C-130 to Riyadh.

We sit through our in brief in to the country and then we're released to go get our bags.

It was at this very moment that I realize that even though the bags we were issued were called A-3 Flyers Bags, everybody in the Air Force gets issued them. I hadn't marked my bags in any way so I could identify them when we had to claim them.

As I stood there dazed at the number of A-3 bags littering the pad I felt my heart sink. I spent a good 45 minutes wading through this sea of bags that all looked the same I started noticing little things. Like brightly colored tape or ribbon on the handles of some.

Man that's a great idea. Why didn't I do that?

After the 45 minute hunt of shame, I go back in and find Kotty. She's all happy to see me and asks if I'm ready to go.


No? Why not?

mumble mumble mumble.


I can't find my bags.

You what?

I can't find my bags.

Did you mark them or anything?

No. I thought that they would be easier to find.

What now?

I didn't mark them.

A smack to the back of the head comes at this time. This was not the first or would it be the last.

GAH! You're such a doorknob!

I know.

And from that day forward I had my nickname, and I've carried it proudly for these past couple of decades.

That's right, they call me Doorknob. And I'm happy with it.