Attack of the Garbage Truck…
Hope you all have a great holiday and 2017 has started off for you just as you have dreamed. We are going to continue the storytime series picking back up in the spring of 2005. When we last left off, I was crewed with Shydog the co-pilot, Anita the navigator, Richie the flight engineer, Carl D and Pat M as the loadmasters. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of self-induced stress and other human factors that left me pushed out of shape and probably not mentally prepared to conduct a war. But war doesn’t stop just because a person doesn’t feel good or is in top condition. So, I was forced to suck it up and be all I could be.
We were based at Karshi-Khanabad (K2) in Uzbekistan and flew every other day into Afghanistan. We would bounce between several fields in Afghanistan before returning eighteen to twenty hours later. We got the next day, twenty-four hours off and do it again. After a few weeks, it was already old and after a couple of months it would have been considered torture had we forced the PUCs (person under control) to live like that. Tactically speaking, Afghanistan was relatively safe with only pockets of danger. However, those pockets tended to either be in the population centers. Cities like Kandahar and Jalalabad. Smaller villages like Asadabad (I don’t remember the name of the dirt field we landed on there), Tarin Kowt (another dirt runway I don’t remember the name of) were dangerous because the US didn’t control land even as close as two miles from the runway. And all of the mountain areas were considered dangerous because you never knew where the Taliban might have been hanging out.
We did our best to be random and unpredictable when we approached all of the places that we wanted to land and avoided as much as possible overflight of the eastern mountains. Kandahar was one of the largest cities in Afghanistan and in 2001 it was the center of the Taliban’s area of influence. After we bombed the snot out of them and built up the base, it really wasn’t dangerous but it was still worthy of respect.
Having said all of that, there is really nothing as much fun as flying a fifty to one-hundred-mile low-level flight. I’m not talking about flying around at three hundred foot like we did in the States. I’m talking about a seventy-five-foot bubble where any obstacle might encroach within that radius. The dessert terrain in Afghanistan is much like the terrain of Colorado. There are some serious mountains and there is a high dessert plain which is not perfectly flat like Southern Iraq. So as the terrain rose or fell, we also climbed of descended to stay within fifty to seventy-five feet above the ground. Sometimes we had to climb to get over a mud house and sometimes we found ourselves at two hundred feet because the ground fell away from us. It sounds scary today writing about it, but when you flew around like that for hours upon hours every other day. It was normal and dare I say fun.
Making our approach into Kandahar, it was Shydog’s turn to fly. By this time in his career, he had three times more combat hours than he had regular hours flying the C-130. His first rotation was with Billy G, and Billy taught him well. Shydog was so good at flying, that he was teaching me stuff. We would have contests to see who could go faster and lower towards the runway before pulling off the power and landing within the first 500 feet. It was all I could do to hang with him. I promise you, he was razor sharp and it wasn’t unusual to be fifty feet above the ground, four miles from the field and three hundred and twenty knots before he started to slow down. I don’t think he flies like that at Southwest Airlines now, but if he is your pilot know that you are in good hands.
There we are, screaming in towards the runway and already cleared to land on the runway by a control tower that we can’t see because we were so low. At four miles, the airplane started slowing down and the runway just started to appear at the top of the horizon. Three miles out and just passing two hundred fifty knots. At this point, we are still going four miles a minute, forty-five seconds from landing. I’m not concerned at all and neither is the crew, I am just starting to put my flight gloves on for the landing as mandated by the rules. At two miles, we can clearly see the runway. The airplane is approaching the maximum speed to start putting out the flaps. As I do, the airplane starts to balloon because of the additional lift on the wings. Shydog holds the yoke forward maintaining the altitude. This is important because we don’t have distance from the field to slow down and descend. Maximum performance requires minimum altitude. At a mile and a half, I lower the gear and milk the flaps down as the speed bleeds off. Watching Shydog fly this approach is like watching Picasso paint a picture. It didn’t look good early on, but now it is a masterpiece.
As we slow, Richie sees a garbage truck approaching the runway from the right side. Every time it hit a pothole in the dirt road, dust billows out of the back of it. It isn’t a modern-day garbage truck like you see once a week, it is a 1950 era truck that should be hauled out instead of hauling out trash. Richie called it out to us and I told Shydog I would watch it so he could continue to fly. Undeterred, Shydog kept flying as I set the flaps to the landing position. Our goal was to have the checklist complete a full second prior to touching down so it was not unusual to be moving the flaps passing over the threshold. This day, Shydog slowed down about a tenth of a mile early, so I was moving the flaps to the final landing position about a quarter of a mile prior to the runway. You could feel the airplane pivot around the pitch axis as the nose noticeably lowered. We were not descending yet, this is strictly a function of drag so Shydog had to add power to maintain the airspeed. I probably called him a chicken for slowing down a tenth of a mile early. Don’t worry, he called me that and more. It is a tough life when everyone is striving for perfection.
I was about to run the checklist, when the garbage truck drove onto the runway. Then it turned right and started driving right down the centerline of the runway. It left a dust contrail in its wake. That is when it started.
Shydog had a documented history of being demonstrative on the flight deck. That means that he swore like a sailor anytime he did something that he thought was messed up. Other than some good nature ribbing, he never turned his anger towards another crewmember. For Shydog, it wasn’t self-abuse; It was normal.
“Go-Around.” Shydog said followed by. “Motherxxx…son of a xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx, I cant xxxx believe that xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, here we xxxx are xxxxx doing xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx, then that xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxx garbage truck xxxxx xxxx xxxx xx xxxxx xxxxx…”
Tower called us and directed us to go-around after Shydog started to go around. I acknowledged it and Shydog was so mad that I am sure his voice was heard over the microphone. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as I raised the gear and reset the flaps. Shydog flew a perfect go-around except that he never said any aviation terms. As we went around, I know we passed over the top of that truck by about ten feet and I know that Shydog did it on purpose. I bet that scared the guys in the truck to death. The airplane is loud, we used to fly over friend’s houses stateside at three hundred feet and it would rattle china cabinets. When it flies overhead at one hundred feet it is really loud. I imagine that when Jesus returns, it will sound a lot like a slowly accelerating C-130 at full power ten feet above your head.
“xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx stupid xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx tower xxxxx xxxxx”. Shydog kept flying, pulling up into a closer to normal downwind. He never stopped to take a breath, just one constant, steady stream of verbal diarrhea. “xxxxx xxxxxx toilet xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx airport xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx cookie xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxxx ponytail xxxxx xxxx xxxxx.”
I like the rest of the crew couldn’t stop laughing. I moved the gear and flaps as he flew without any direction from him. Rolling onto final the garbage truck was now clear of the runway and once again we were cleared to land. The tower guy apologized and told him not to worry about it. It wasn’t his fault, it was just one of those things. I composed myself and spoke in my best radio voice with Shydog’s filthy language clearly in the background. “xxxxx xxxx xxxxx tower guy xxxxx xxxx xxxx garbage truck xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx clear to land xxxx xxxxx xxxx.”
I looked at the final landing configuration and turned to look at Richie, Anita and to my surprise Carl D was up front with us in tears, enjoying the comedy show. We all gave a thumb up that we could safely land. We were happy but Shydog wasn’t. “xxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx.”
The wheels touched down gently. “xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx.”
He pulled the thrust levers into reverse. “xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx.”
The airplane slowed down smack dab on the center line. “xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx.”
I tapped his hand to signal that I was taking control of the airplane to taxi into parking. “xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxx.”
The tower guy cleared us to our parking spot. Shydog’s duties now required him to talk on the radio. He asked if he could say something to the tower guy.
“No!” I said.
“Roger.” Shydog replied to the tower guy’s clearance. “xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx Robbie xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx won’t let me talk.”
We touched down and taxied clear. After we shut down the engines, we went outside the airplane to stretch our legs. Shydog was still upset. “xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx I xxxxx can’t believe that xxxxx I had to do a xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx go around in a combat zone. That is unacceptable.”
There were two Apache helicopter gunships flying around the pattern the entire time. They were taking turns flying over the runway. Richie and I never commented on them but we both knew they were doing flight training. We called it a Local Pro which was an abbreviated term for Local Proficiency Training. We flew those at home and we would fly non-tactical practice instrument approaches and normal procedures. It was only something you would do if we were certain that you were not in danger from enemy fire. To the Army guys, Kandahar wasn’t necessarily a dangerous place; it was home.
“What do you think those two Apache’s are doing?” I asked Shydog.
“I don’t know. Fire suppression?” He said.
“No, Local Pro. Dumb Ass.” Richie said.
The crew started laughing again and finally, Shydog started laughing at himself.
Until next time, keep on rockin.