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Can I have the Extravaganza Please…?

August 19, 2013
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That is a C-130 taking off behind my left shoulder. Taken in 2003 by Deron. We are unsure of the location, but I have patches on, so it must have been a day that I was working in an office and not flying. I think Ali Al Salem AB, Kuwait. Neither one of us remembers him taking this picture, but it was in his collection so it must have been taken.

Hey Y’all,

This is a long post and really should be two separate items. The opening is a personal account of the past week for my family. It you want to skip it and go to the war story in the second half. I totally understand.

I have been out of pocket for the past few days. The family went on a mini-end of summer-vacation last week. We went to the COSI museum in Columbus Ohio on Wednesday. COSI is a science based museum for kids. We had a great time, my favorite part is the space section. There are a couple of flight simulators, one that you get to land the space shuttle and another that you get to land a lunar orbiter on the surface of the moon.

Last year we went and at the end of the day, the kids had cleared out. I got to have about fifteen minutes on the shuttle. If you have 8,000 hours of flight experience, twenty years’ worth of time flying instrument approaches and fifteen years spent flying full motion simulators. It isn’t that hard. Or if you are a twelve year old kid who constantly plays video games, it is really easy. I was going for the high score, while I did not get last year. But I did get very close. This year I didn’t get as much time to play. There were kids everywhere and by the end of the day we had to leave. So sad, I know.

We jetted down from Columbus to Cincinnati OH. On Thursday we went to King’s Island. Another great day filled with ride, thrill, and fortunately no spills. My son and I went to the Dinosaur park. It is filled with life sized dinosaurs. Amazing, I always knew they were big but wow. I have seen the skeletons like everyone else. But without the flesh hanging off the bones, they didn’t seem that impressive. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted and by ten at night we were all out.

Friday, we went drove up to Dayton to visit the Air Force museum. For me it was great to see the airplanes. They have a great collection of airplanes from the Wright Flyer to the F-22. My son and I walked the entire space while my daughter was still suffering from the day before. She and my wife stopped in the second hanger. She is a trooper though and she did a great job taking pictures.

 

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My son acts like he never wants to read. It is like pulling teeth to get him to read, but he figured this one out real quick. Then he and my daughter walked around the museum repeating the name of this B-24. We finally had to ask them to stop.

 

Saturday morning, my son had his first flag football game. We have a team of seven and three players on the team were at King’s Island. So we played with four, the other team had everyone. I have one guy who has played before, everyone else was having their first game. The experienced player was a monster on the field. He ran down a kid who was on his way to a sure touchdown, pulling the flag about a yard from the end zone. He also made a fantastic tackle towards the end of the game. Using perfect form, with his head up, he wrapped up and drove the ball carrier to the ground. The only problem is that it is flag football and it is slightly illegal. He earned the penalty but it was cool. Two other kids were playing their first game and their heads were swimming a little. By the end of the game they were starting to catch on but at their best they were about 75%. The forth kid was more interested in playing in the dirt than playing football. In reality it was 2.5 versus the 6 players from the other team. If they were keeping score, we would have lost 20-0.

The other team scored on their first possession with a 2 point conversion. After that, my guys figured out the defense and did great. The other guys scored after an interception put them close to our goal and on the last play of the game. They were set up because of the tackling penalty on the five yard line. My guy pulled the flag from the QB just before he handed it off. But the referee missed the call and the RB scored a touchdown. In the end, we accomplished all of my goals for the team. Have fun, play hard, and be a good sport. After the game, the referee told me the other team was stacked with players who all friends. They play all the sports together and have been doing so for a couple of years. He said they should be the best team and my guys did great holding them to only three scores especially shorthanded. I’m proud of my guys and amazed that even in non-competitive sports there are people who are stacking their teams.

That evening, I had planned a surprise birthday party for my wife. It wasn’t much of a surprise as she figured it out on Thursday. But still it was a fun night. On Sunday, we had our first service in our local church’s new building. It is nice to be a part of a church that is growing, vibrant and positive. I’m not saying anything about any other Church that I have ever been a part of. I am just saying that I really like being a member at my current Church. Another birthday party in the afternoon and we finally were able to catch our breaths last night. It was a busy five days, but so wonderful to spend it with my family. I am truly a blessed man.

 

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My wife and I. Taken Saturday at her semi-surprise birthday party. I am a blessed man for sure.

 

I am sure you are thinking, blah, blah, blah. I apologize for spending so much time talking about life. Thank you for indulging me, now back to the regularly scheduled program.

June 2003

After our crew had our tour of the Saddam International Airport, we were back the very next day. The twenty hour days had been shortened to eighteen hours with between sixteen to twenty four hours off and back on for another eighteen hours. A normal day was a wake up and two hours getting ready to turn a prop, then a two hour flight from Qatar to Kuwait, a couple hour sit in Kuwait followed by a 1.5 to 3 hour flight to Baghdad/Balad/Mosul/Kirkuk/Basra/Erbil/Fallujah/Al Nasiriya/Jordan, followed by a couple hour sit and back to Kuwait to do it again. Operating on a rotating schedule, there was no normal. And that was the norm.

 

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Taken by Deron in Qatar. The upper scale is 120 degrees. Well over the top, trust me it is hot.

 

In June, the insurgency was just beginning. It would peak by October by then we were getting shot at on daily basis by a missile. I never was concerned about approaching a field and landing. Descending from altitude and minimum power, the airplane was a full speed and we were able to approach from any direction. Being random and unpredictable, we were a tough target to hit. Departing was a totally different problem. It was hot, the airplane was heavy full of troops or equipment and fuel. The insurgents knew exactly where we were starting from and there were only a couple of ways to depart. Because of the performance capabilities of the airplane it literally took seven to ten miles before we could reach a good flying speed. Until then, we were a big, slow target that was trolling for missiles.

 

departure 3

Insurgent photos of the shooting of the DHL Airbus. Paul was right about everything except I don’t see the empty beer cans.

 

The approved Air Force departure procedure was to spiral down over the field and to climb up in the same manner. We did the spiral down arrival once. I don’t remember if we did the spiral departure. Either way, my Flight Engineer, Paul had it figured out really quick. He said that if he was an insurgent, he would get a case of beer, put some tunes on the radio, and find a nice shady place about three miles from the airport away from the army guys. He would watch the area above the airport and when he saw an airplane slowly climbing out over the airport, he would finish his beer. When he was tired of watching the hulk of metal spiraling upwards, he would get his missile out. He would fire off a shot, watch the airplane blow-up and drive off to collect his bonus check from Al Qaeda. Why would anyone in their right mind give an insurgent a ten minute exposure to be shot? That summer two airplanes were hit by missiles. A C-17 and a DHL Airbus both took a direct hit from a missile. Both landed safely after doing with spiral up departure. I am convinced that the departure was designed by some knucklehead General, sitting in his air conditioned office 1000 miles away from Baghdad and forced on us so that he could get a medal and a promotion.

 

departure 5

An C-17 taking off. The bright light is the missile defense system deploying a flare to distract an incoming missile. Photo from yahoo.
I looked at the C-17 that was damaged up close. We were not allowed to take pictures of it. I cannot find a reference to the event on the internet. Although the military has erased the evidence from history, I assure you that it was hit and the crew survived.

 

One afternoon, my guys and I were lying under the wing of our airplane, trying to hide from the heat on the massive concrete tarmac when a British C-130 taxied past us. We waved and they waved back. We watched them take-off because we had nothing better to do. They took off to the south like we all had to do, but surprisingly they didn’t turn west or depart south out like everyone else. They made a hard left turn and flew over the outside runway. By now we were all standing, watching what would happen next. Then instead of continuing to the north they made another hard left turn and overflew the runway they just took off from and by the departure end they departed to the south. In the process they flew over the top of our airplane in a 70 degree bank. I and the pilot made eye contact as he passed. I raised my arms in the touchdown signal as it was one of the most impressive demonstrations of airmanship I have ever witnessed. More importantly they had covered about six miles of ground track and were at a proper fighting speed before they left the airport perimeter.

 

departure 1

The DHL airbus limping back to Baghdad after being struck by an SA-14 missile. The reported maximum altitude is 7,500 feet. If an aircraft is climbing at 1,000 feet per minute, it would take eight minutes to climb out of the reported range on the missile. Photo taken by the insurgents.

departure 2

Despite losing all hydraulic power and the left aileron. The aircrew managed to fly back to Baghdad. They are lucky the wing off light did not illuminate. Photo taken by the good guys.

 

 

Scott and I looked at each other and started laughing. The Brits had solved the dilemma of how to get out of Baghdad. On top of that, it was cool because they never got higher than 100 feet above the ground. The Brits rule, so when we were loaded and taxied out. There was no question how we were going to depart. The only question was if the tower guys would let us go. The tower controllers were Australian. There were about five different voices that we talked with. Four men and one female, they were all fantastic. They knew what we were trying to accomplish when we called the wrong checkpoints. They had us on radar and they let us do anything we wanted, they coordinated the helicopter and aircraft traffic and kept everyone informed.

 

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The control tower in Baghdad. Note the observation deck, the people watching us were on the upper deck below the golf ball looking radar.

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Looking up at the tower. It is about 150 feet tall.

 

 

It was my day to fly from the left seat as Scotty and I swapped seats every day. It was also my leg as we took turns flying or operating the radios. Scott has a great radio voice deep and when he accents the pitch, it reverberates coolness. When we were ready for departure, Scotty asked the controller for permission to do what the Brits did when they departed.
The controller replied. “So you want the Extravaganza One Departure?”
Again, we started laughing. It was the perfect name for what we had just witnessed. “Affirmative, we request the Extravaganza One Departure with pilot’s discretion for egress.”
“Approved as requested.” Those are every pilot’s favorite words. This means do whatever you want.

I took the runway and followed the lead of the Brits. As we flew past the control tower, I saw three people standing out on the observation platform taking pictures of us. I have never seen the picture but it was of the top of our airplane, looking down on us as we were in a 60 degree bank towards the tower. If anyone knows anyone who was an air traffic controller in Baghdad during the summer of 2003, I would pay good money to have a copy of that picture.

 

departure 9

Help me track down this missing photo please.

 

As an aside, the Extravaganza One Departure was declared Illegal in August of 2003 because an Air Force ground guy saw a C-130 flying crazy low over the runway, it might have been Jimmy Two Balls for all I know. The person must have thought the airplane was going to crash, and he complained enough until it became a forbidden maneuver. I may have been the person he reported, but in my mind if was the safest, most practical, war time, departure procedure ever created. We modified the departure to every airfield, minus the name of course and were able to depart every field in a similar manner.

 

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C-130 departing from somewhere. Photo from Yahoo.

 

Once it was declared illegal, we never asked for the Extravaganza One again. We asked for a hard left turn after take-off to fly up the outside runway followed by another hard left turn to fly up the inside runway to depart to the south. The tower guys always approved that request. Essentially, nothing changed for us. I have a friend from a unit in Ohio. He picked up the commanding General in Baghdad in late September 2003. He departed from Baghdad asking for the two hard left turns after take-off. After reaching altitude, the General raved about the departure procedure. He said it was the most tactically sound method he had ever seen and that when he got back to his office, he was going to require that all C-130s depart Baghdad in that manner.

He did just what he said and his staff informed him that he had witnessed the Extravaganza One Departure in action. A maneuver that he ordered to be illegal, it was this very General that wrote the order that we could no longer perform this maneuver. The formerly impressed General was now extremely ticked off that we were not following his stupid rule. He sent word that the pilot that he praised the night before, was now to be courts martialed. The pilot was taken off flying duty for about a week where he was threatened and harassed by every Colonel and General in his chain of command. Finally, they returned him to flying status with a letter of reprimand. Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to be safe.

 

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All military organizations have their fair share of idiotic Generals. I kind of like this guy.

 

Sorry about the overly long post. Until next time, keep on rockin.

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From → military

10 Comments
  1. Another great post of flying tales from the war and liked the family stuff, too. After all, families are the backbone of our military guys and girls.

    • Thank you Sandy. Unfortunately most military families suffer because of the extended deployments, constant training, and stressful working conditions. I left the service at the 13 year mark because I did not want to go down the path that I saw many of my friends go down. Divorce and loveless marriages are the lives that many of my friends live with.

      It is unfortunate but the sharp end of the stick gets the bloodiest.

  2. Forgot to mention, my kids spent time at the COSI museum (sounds like its been updated since they went a “few” years ago). Their favorite place on a rainy day was the AF Museum (although it only had one of its big sections then). One is now an F-16 jock and the other an AF Civil Engineer. Niece is just starting out in C-17s. We love to fly in our house.

    • That is very cool. I love that your family is rooted deep with a military tradition. As tough as it is on families, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the military. I can imagine how much fun your kids are having being on the front lines.

      I thank them for their service and I salute you for raising them with the will to serve. You done good!

  3. My father and mother drove out to Colorado over 12 years ago. During his visit, my father was very tired, could hardly walk or function. When they left to return home, I knew something was drastically wrong. Unfortunately, I was correct. But on the way back, my dad, a former Navy man who flew had to stop in Dayton to visit the AF Museum. Two months later he passed away. I’m glad he got to visit there before he did so.

    A very happy birthday to your wife– she is lovely! And yay for your new church building. It’s exciting to be a part of a thriving church.

    • Sorry about your father. That is very tough, but I thank him for his service and I thank you for sharing his story. If you are ever looking for stories to tell, I for one would love to hear how he served the nation. I think that would be a great way to honor him and your family.

      It is nice to be a part of a growing, vibrant, congregation. It is even more wonderful to have a wife like mine. She is so supportive of everything. I am a blessed man.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed both parts of your post. I think I learned more about the war from this post than any other. Your post reminded me of my father, who passed away a few years ago. He served in the Pacific during WWII. He never talked about the war, except for a story about finding a tomato in someone’s garden, and some other guy threatening to kill him if he didn’t give it to him. But it was at his funeral that I finally found out what my dad actually did in the war. He loaded the bombs onto the planes. My family told me that my dad’s personality changed after coming back from WWII. Thanks for sharing your illustrative post.

    • WS,

      I am sorry about the loss of your father and I salute him for his service. The Pacific Theater was so tough on everyone. Being in a combat zone is tough, but to be subjected to everything they had to deal with was over the top. The lack of clean drinking water, no food, and the constant heat and humidity were literally killers. There was no escaping that. I have a friend who was a crew chief in the Marines in WWII. He has told me stories that literally make me sick.

      I can’t imagine how much guilt he must have had knowing that he helped to bring death to so many people. A blogger friend of mine recently wrote about the massive loss of life during the war. To the tune of 120,000 combined military and civilian deaths per DAY lost their lives. The numbers are staggering.

      For a long time after I came back from Iraq. I didn’t want to talk about what happened either. I preferred to forget it. My daughter is always asking for stories about when I was a kid, and I indulge her with stories. I would like her and my son to know who I was before they were born and I don’t want to wait until they are old enough to know these stories. That is the reason behind the war stories. I want to document them now, while I can still remember them.

      Thank you for all the support.

  5. Rob… you are blessed. For so many reasons!! Always remember that.

    • I always focus on that. Life can change so fast. Every extra day at home is a win, extra positive moments with the family is the goal. The trick is keeping the balance between time and being able to eat.

      I know that you understand.

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