RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

The Longest Journey…

I’m not smart enough to remember who said it but, “the longest journey begins with the shortest step.”

I’m sure lots of people have made long journeys.  But have you made difficult journeys? What is your most difficult journey?

Mine was a delightful trip across to Goose Bay in Canada.  At Goose Bay the fast jets could use the vast wilderness of northern Canada to practise their low flying without disturbing anyone, and hence it was a popular destination for us to travel to.  (Popular with the pilots actually – but only when flying, not really any other time as Goose Bay is a bit of a one horse town. If I recall correctly it has about 12 miles of tarmac-ed road which just stops, two or so bars, and just a couple of shops. Oh and a fantastic pizza place.  But I digress.)

One particular trip out there I was selected to fly across in a C-130 Hercules.  These may look graceful and if you see them flying about in the UK they are often at low level and tonking along at fairly high speed, but the one I was on this time was loaded down with over 50 people and a LOT of kit.

How do you imagine the seating to be on a Herc? Well, it’s certainly not very comfortable.  The seats for passengers are all along the side of the aircraft, leaving the main floor space free for pallet loads of kit to be secured down.  Occasionally if the Herc is configured as a “trooper” then there are a second row of seats put down in the middle of the floor – but the narrow width of the body of the aircraft mean that there is not quite enough room for legs and knees and such, and you find that your left leg is between the knees of the person sitting opposite you, and his right leg is between yours…and so on. Legs are alternated along the length of the row of seats, which are a single bench-like effort.  The only way you know where your “seat” is, is from matching up a pair of seat belt ends to form a single belt which secures you in…almost safely!

Anyway, this one had a combination of the two – a short trooper, but with pallet space to the rear.  The next important thing to know about travelling on a Herc is the position of where you sit dictates how comfortable your flight will be.

Not that it is ever REALLY comfortable.

But for the sake of it. If you sit at the front – the journey will be noisy, but warm…but if you sit at the back then the reverse is true…its relatively quiet, but it can get very cold.

In this case, to fly across the Atlantic, I was fortunate to sit at the back of the plane. This meant that I would be able to take advantage of the spare space that the ramp offers – I had come prepared you see – with a sleeping bag.

Because I knew that the journey would take 13 hours.

Yes. 13 hours.

So I want you to imagine the scene of being on a C-130.  You get to sit, during take off and landing, with your knees between the legs of someone else…and their knees are between yours.  If you are lucky you may be able to stay warm for the trip, but you will end up deafened…or else you might be in the situation I was going to be in, able to get some sleep, as long as you are well wrapped up.

Every so often you will get stepped on by the Loadmaster, who for some reason wanders about the cabin with a torch looking at things. I think he’s just doing it for something to do, he doesn’t need to do it. He just does it to spook people out and to keep himself busy.

A few other times you will find yourself dripped on by what you hope is water…you are never quite sure it is…but you hope so.  One thing you know it isn’t is that you know it hasn’t come from the toilet.  Oh! The toilet!  This is a posh, stainless steel bucket with chemicals in.  With a fabric curtain around it to preserve your dignity.  You never, NEVER, ever, sit down on it…

The best thing you can hope for is to get yourself out of the seat as soon as you can, find a comfortable place to spread out (if possible) and to SLEEP. Sleep for the entire duration of the journey.

If you can sleep. Because there is one thing I forgot to say.  It’s the vibration.  It’s like strapping yourself to a 1950’s washing machine which has developed an ability to wander across the kitchen when left on. Now do that for 13 hours.

But you know what. I loved it. I love travelling. But as some people like travelling to get to places, I like travelling for the sake of going there. And it is journeys like this one that really pique my interest…and I love them.

I’ve done the 13hours across the Atlantic. I’ve been on a Herc flying out of Al Kharj to Turkey where we had to divert into Amman, Jordan (due to a lightning strike in Turkey).  I’ve flown on a Tristar where half the cabin space was an open floor – open enough to be able to have a game of football. I’ve watched Tornado F3’s carry out Air-to-Air refuelling with the VC-10 that I’ve been flying in. I’ve watched us leave the Tornado’s standing as that same VC-10 cruised away from them after that refuel has been completed.  I’ve been on a Herc where the underfloor heating (such as it is) had broken and had ramped up to the maximum and our boots were melting as we tried to walk around…

But I’ve had some great trips. Difficult trips. Long trips. Short trips. But there is one thing I have learnt from flying with RAF air transport is that invariably the getting there is always interesting.


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