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Attack of the Garbage Truck…



Hey Y’all,


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.

Map provided by Yahoo.


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.


Image result for grand junction colorado

This is Grand Junction Colorado. The first time I was there, I swore I was back in Afghanistan.  Photo from yahoo.


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.


Image result for Kandahar Airfield

This is looking down the departure end of the runway. We normally made our approaches from the opposite end of the runway and not near as high. photo from yahoo


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.


Image result for afghanistan truck

I know this isnt the same truck because it isnt billowing dust. photo from yahoo.


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.”


Image result for Kandahar Afghanistan Military Base

This is not us. This is a J model C-130. We were flying the H2 version. Looks like they are not at Kandahar but landing on a dirt runway. photo from yahoo.


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.”


Coming in for a touchdown

Again, not us. This looks like a NATO C-130 but it is at Kandahar. They were working on the runway in 2006. photo from yahoo.


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.



Different day, different month, different year. Tracy J and Paul S on our first trip to Kandahar in the summer of 2003. Photo from rob akers.


Until next time, keep on rockin.


Tis The Season…

Feel like this little guy? photo from yahoo.


Hey Y’all,


Another week went into the books over the weekend. Sorry that I was caught up in work that I didn’t get the update out earlier.


Of course the big news of the weekend was the victory of the Arkansas State Red Wolves over the University of Central Florida. Saturday was a really busy day for the house, I worked the night prior so getting to bed at 8:00 AM didn’t get things going off to a great start but I was happy to be in my own bed so all was good.


While I was asleep, my wife, kids and dog went to participate in a local 5K run/walk to support a family who has a 12-year-old daughter suffering from cancer.  We know this family very well, they are an amazing family and an inspiration to the entire community. Before I send you to their place, bring some tissues. Not because of their story about their daughter who has cancer, but for yourself because you are not as strong/faithful/loyal/convicted/courageous/grounded/ as they are. If you want to check out the site they have dedicated to their daughter; here you go.


After I slept through the 5K, I did drag myself up to go see Star Wars. No spoilers here so if you haven’t seen it you may read without worry. It was good but it was not Empire Strikes Back and there were no really cool flying scenes, like this twenty-four second scene from last year’s movie.




If you don’t care about the video, here is a photo.


I dont care who you are, this is cool. Image from the Force via yahoo.




After a breakfast of butter popcorn, a traffic jam out of the mall parking lot and some guy in a wrecked Camry telling me when a good place to spend the holidays. I went to my daughter’s Christmas party at Church. That was good fun but I was beginning to drag after a four-hour nap, that popcorn form the movie and two pounds of chicken nuggets. We got home about nine and I gathered up the local contingent of the Red Wolves fan club to watch the game on CBS.


photo from yahoo.



As President of the club, there is no way that I am going to just throw on some jeans and tee shirt for a Bowl Game. Heck No, I go all out for a regular season game and add some extra flare for Bowl season. It isn’t pictured here, but I had on my lucky, big game underwear. Since they are only for big games, I wear them sparingly and never wash them.


Smooth like butter on popcorn, this dude is ready! photo from yahoo.






The Red Wolves throttled UCF 31-13. It was my favorite kind of game, boring and from the beginning of the 3rd quarter, the outcome was never in doubt. If was just plain good fun passing out in my bed from exhaustion around midnight.


It was that kind of night for UCF. They gained over 200 yards rushing against Michigan. They got 12 against ASU. photo from yahoo.



This weekend is Christmas. I know that might be a news flash for many of you but I actually researched it and it is true. I don’t normally promote videos but this one is really good and it puts this whole I didn’t get the right color, most wanted present ever in the history of my life, thing in perspective.





Probably not going to check back in until next year so enjoy the holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone…until next time keep on rockin.



Who wants to go bowling?



Love the black helmet. photo from yahoo


Hey Y’all,


Quick post today about one of the guilty pleasures of my life. Most of you don’t know, but I am the President of the Arkansas State Red Wolves Fan Club, West Virginia Branch. That’s right, I am in charge of the entire state. I organize watch parties, club events and cookouts for all of the ASU alumni in the great state of West Virginia. I took over the posting in 1995, I was elected to a record twenty-one year consecutive term last August.


Trivia question and answer. The team celebrating a 5th conference championship in 6 years. ASU is the only team in big boy FCS football to do that. Not Alabama, not Ohio State, not Clemson. Only Arkansas State has done it.Photo from Arkansas State Athletic Department.


I am proud to forward the following statement.

The The Arkansas State Athletics Department announced Sunday that its Sun Belt Conference champion football team has accepted an official invitation to play in the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl presented by Florida Hospital on Dec. 17 at 4:30 p.m. (CT), when it will face American Athletic Conference member University of Central Florida.

The Red Wolves, making a school-record sixth consecutive bowl-game appearance, will face the Knights at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., in a CBS Sports Network-televised game.


Bowl season is so much more fun when your team gets to go bowling too. And it is even better if it supports something worthwhile.


Until next time, keep on rockin


The official watch party is at my house, 5:30 EST on the 17th. photo from the Cure Bowl

Happy Latesgiving…

Hey Y’all,

Simple math equation for Thanksgiving tonight.




This is what came off the smoker this afternoon. Photo from rob akers




Traffic on the 405 last night. I think this is a north-south interstate so none of these people were heading to my house for turkey. photo from yahoo





This is all that the survived the locusts. photo from rob akers


The correct answer is to not be late.


Until next time, keep on rockin

It is officially November 18, 2016

Yes they still make records in vinyl. I will be buying the CD in case your wondering. photo from yahoo.



Hey Y’all,


Today is the day you all have been waiting for. Yes, Friday. But not just any ordinary Friday, it is November 18th. And we all know that that means. The new Metallica album, Hardwired To Self Destruct, hits the shelves today. It is already on YouTube if you want to join me in listening. Several of the songs were already debuted earlier, but not the full compliment is available to the public. I will be getting my copy sometime this weekend.


Until you get your copy, here is a fun little skit off the Jimmy Fallon show. I guess it was done this week. Hope you enjoy a light version of Enter Sandman off the 1991 Black Album.



Until next time, keep on rockin.

Open foot..Insert Mouth

I never saw this sign but since it is on the internet. It must be there. photo from yahoo.



Hey Y’all,


Quick story time today as I am all over the place this week.


In late 2002, Billy G was the Training Officer for the Squadron. At that time, I was still the Pilot Scheduler. I say still because I was an absolute train wreck as a scheduler. I can be a detail guy but the schedule was in constant flux and my talent isn’t being anal and keeping up with all the changes. So invariably, something would change and I wouldn’t update the schedule properly and either someone would show up to fly and not be on the schedule or they wouldn’t show up and they were on the schedule. Honestly, it was a deficiency of talent combined with a poor attitude.


Anyway, I walked over to Billy’s office and he was reading a training report for a new pilot that had finished UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training). Billy asked me to close the door and I sat down. We only closed the door for three reasons. The first was if we were going to talk about the airlines. The second was if we wanted to vent about the leadership. The third which was the most usual, there was something to joke about. We closed the door because it was in poor form to be caught having fun.


Billy handed over the report and I read it. The student was a guy named LT. Shy. Before I even read it, I asked if it was the guy with a brother who was a crew chief. We all knew and loved his brother, he was a quiet guy but always smiling and he was a great guy to take on a trip. We all assumed that the apple had not fallen far from the tree when we hired Lt. Shy. I scanned the report looking for the usual deficiencies but there were none. His daily flying scores were excellent; his check rides went well. His academic scores were good too. His Flight Commander ranking was low but we all knew that the guard guys were always at the bottom because it was a more meaningful ranking for the active duty guys. I finally got to the notes section and there was a comment that “Lt. Shy was extremely demonstrative in and out of the airplane.” But there were no other details other than that single comment.


I asked what that meant and Billy said he had no idea but we would find out when Lt. Shy finished school in the late spring. What neither Billy or I knew was that when Lt. Shy returned from training, we would all be deployed and we wouldn’t meet him until six months later.


Lt. Shy eventually became Shy Dog as I called him that sometime in his first rotation in the fall of 2003. Shy Dog first crewed with Billy on that rotation and as Billy told me got a missile shot at them on Shy Dog’s first takeoff out of Baghdad. In the heat of the moment, Billy dived down towards the ground from the altitude of 100 feet. Richie was the engineer for Billy on that flight. He said that Billy was pulling the shingles off the roofs of the houses because he was so low. They got shot at just as they pulled the gear up and in the heat of the moment, Shy Dog never raised the flaps. Billy commented that he couldn’t get the airplane to accelerate faster than two-hundred fifty knots.


Richie figured it out quickly, it was because the flaps were still down. Billy was going to slow down as the danger had passed, when Shy Dog raised the flaps over the screams of “NO!” from Billy and Richie. The damage had been done and they returned back to our base for a series of flap inspections. For the next ten minutes, Billy learned what the Flight Commander meant when he stated that Lt. Shy was demonstrative as Shy Dog brutally dog cussed himself. That is why I called him Shy Dog.


Fast forward two years later and Shy Dog, Richie, Carl D., Patrick, and Anita were sitting at the dinner table enjoying a grilled cheese sandwiches as Shy Dog for some reason started talking about his favorite Aircraft Commanders. Billy was his favorite, but he loved flying with Russ, Toney, SeaBass, Morgan, Mikey, Pauly, DCM, Jody Jack, Scotty, and so on. As he listed off all of the Aircraft Commanders, Richie kneed me under the table. I looked at Richie and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face. I looked at everyone else and they all were holding back their laughter.


I nodded because he had left off one person from his list; me. Everyone knew it except Shy Dog. Carl D. looked at me and we smiled. Patrick looked at Richie and he winked. Anita was holding both hands over her mouth trying not to laugh. But Shy Dog never noticed, he just kept going until he had listed every pilot in the Squadron except me. Richie finally broke the silence. “I guess you don’t like flying with Robbie.”


We all broke into laughter and Shy Dog realized what he had done. He tried to back pedal and say that it was a list of everyone not sitting at the table. He said that iIt should be obvious that I was at the top of the list. Speaking quickly, his face grew redder until he couldn’t hold back the tidal wave of inappropriate words. He cussed himself, he cussed us and he cussed the people he didn’t know at the other tables. He cussed the sky and he cussed the ground. The more we laughed, he cussed. The more he cussed, the more we laughed.


It was the gift that kept giving for the rest of the rotation as someone would tell me that they didn’t think I was as good as any random person in the world. Shy dog would explode on demand and we always laughed.  I see Shy Dog from time to time and he always tells me that he didn’t mean to infer that he didn’t like flying with me.  Right this second, I am texting Billy and I told him that I am writing this article. Billy says “Excellent. We had some good times. He (Shy Dog) is a great guy to the core.” We all feel the same way about him.


Until next time, keep on rockin.





I dont know who this lady is, but the exact table where this story happened was the next to last one on the left. Next to the coffee pot was where they kept the Tiger Sauce. I put the Tiger Sauce on everything to give it some flavor. photo form yahoo.

Rule #1. Don’t make my wife mad…

Great advice. photo from yahoo.



Hey Y’all,


The following story is being told out of sequence since it makes more sense to tell it now as opposed to when it actually happened.


Rarely do stories from a rotation beat you home. Most of the time, I only found out about my friend’s experiences months or years afterwards. That is one of the downsides of being deployed in smaller numbers. This was one of the few stories that beat us back home.


After the few days of despair following my issues with my wife, Donetta. I tried very hard to find a new usual routine which involved trying to call home as much as possible. Those calls were not always pleasant or productive but they did serve to keep the lines of communication open. One of those calls didn’t go very well and later I found out that Donetta was thinking that her life would be better if I would just simply go away and die. I don’t blame her but this was the first time that I discovered that she has powers beyond most women. Her power is that she can change her thoughts into reality.


Zohan was a terrible movie. Donetta is for real. photo from yahoo.


We were scheduled to go on a regular Air Medal mission out of K2 Uzbekistan, down to Herat, Afghanistan to Bagram, Afghanistan, to Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan back to Bagram and back to K2. All of that in an easy twenty-hour day.  We called them Air Medal missions because we would carry Uzbek air to Herat. Herat air to Bagram and so on. We mostly flew empty and occasionally with a couple of passengers or a little cargo. It was simply a regularly scheduled mission that could be re-tasked easily should the need arise.


The co-pilot, Shy Dog, was flying the first leg out of K2 because it was his turn to fly first. Climbing up to twenty-five thousand feet, I already had my chair back and my feet up. He was hand flying to altitude which was the normal routine. We had one of the rare morning departures so the sun was already high in the sky and life was good until he engaged the auto-pilot.


When he did, the aircraft went into a violent spasm, I don’t know how else to describe it. In a nanosecond, it went from smooth flight to severe shaking. A good metaphor would be sitting on a house sized can of paint on the paint mixer. The airplane shook so hard that not only was dust falling down from the overhead panel but it was rising a foot off of the floor. My pilot friends know what severe turbulence feels like and this was way beyond anything I had ever felt. The rudder pedals were popping a couple of inches fore and back, so much that it hurt my feet when I put them to the pedals. The yoke was moving in a circular pattern fore and aft and side to side. Not only that but the sound was overwhelming and over rode the already loud roar from the engines.


I looked at Shy Dog and in typical pilot fashion. “What did you do!” I yelled into the intercom. I was yelling not because I was mad but because I couldn’t hear myself talk through my headsets.


Defensively he replied. “I turned on the auto-pilot.”


“Turn it off!” I commanded using the long-time pilot technique which reasons that if you press a switch and something bad happens, then by turning it off will fix the problem.


He quickly turned off the autopilot and it did nothing to dampen the vibration although the flight controls were no longer fighting themselves. The severe vibration continued and they could be felt everywhere including my chattering teeth. I asked for the airplane and Shy Dog was happy to give it back to me. I had no idea what our airspeed, altitude or heading were because it was impossible to read the instruments. If it had been nighttime, then we would have a more complex issue on our hands. But since we could see the ground, we were able to keep the wings and pitch attitude level.


Richie was one of the most experienced Flight Engineers we had and he was already working to diagnose the problem. Initially, he thought we might have thrown a propeller off an engine. Carl D. and Patrick were already looking out the windows at the engines. As I learned later, they were crossing back and forth from window to window looking for something out of the ordinary. They quickly determined that the engines were operating normally. Carl D even looked at the landing gear thinking that one might have popped out of its lock. It was normally stowed.


After what felt like an hour but in reality must have been thirty seconds, Richie said the worst possible words. “Robbie, I have no idea what is going on.”


Shy Dog and I both turned around to look at him. He just shrugged. That is when I really started to get scared.


He suggested that maybe a life raft had deployed since that had happened to a Marine Corp C-130 a few months earlier. That airplane made an emergency landing in Huntington and our mechanics went down to help them out. But from what we heard, when they had that issue the airplane pitched hard up and rolled over onto its back while the autopilot was on. They were very fortunate to have survived. At that moment, I was expecting the tail of the airplane to fall off and we would have to spend the next several minutes doing our death yell.


Not the actual photo from the Marines C130 but imagine this raft wrapping itself around the tail of the airplane in flight. Not good. photo from yahoo.


At that point, I had only been truly scared once and that was doing a night vision goggle landing in a dust storm. You can read about it here part 1 Part 2 part 3

The difference between these events was that at that time, the airplane was working great so it was a pilot problem. I was concerned another time after taking off with the airplane’s center of gravity out of limits forward. I never was really worried about that event but I knew that we were operating at the edge of a flight limit so we needed to be very cautious on landing. You can read about that here


This was very different as we didn’t know what was wrong and we didn’t know how much longer the airplane would stay in one piece. I told Carl D, Patrick and Anita the Navigator to put on their parachutes. I would have told Shy Dog and Richie the same thing but I knew they would have told me where to put with that order.  For better or worse, we were going to ride it in together.


We knew we had to change something and since we were officially test pilots we could do whatever we wanted. I slowly pulled back the throttles to idle so that we could slow down. To my surprise, the vibration dampened as we slowed. It took a minute or so to slow down from cruise speed towards a speed that required flaps. We talked about if we should change the configuration of the wing. We agreed that we could try as long as we made very small changes so that if things got worse we could try to fix it.


We were still at 25,000 feet and slowed down to our landing speed but were still going towards Afghanistan. I thought that Anita was in the back putting on a parachute when I asked Shy Dog to find us a field when she spoke up. She was still standing at her post and had the information available. Anita told us to return to K2 as it was much closer than Herat. I asked why she didn’t put on her parachute when she actually told me what I could do with that suggestion. She was going to ride it in with Richie, Shy Dog and me. Carl D and Patrick already had their parachutes on. I thought was good to have a living witness.


We made the turn back and declared an emergency with Uzbek air traffic control. We decided to descend to 10,000 feet so that when the tail fell off we wouldn’t have as long to scream. We also did a landing check with the landing gear down and half flaps so we felt pretty sure that if we made the runway then we could land. The vibration had dampened but it was still like driving your car over the rumble strips to the side of the interstate. We could actually see the instruments and the dust was no longer raining down on us. If it took thirty minutes to fly out, it must have taken ninety minutes to get back. It was the longest flight of my life. No one said a word. The airplane was out of trim and heavy on the controls.


We reasoned that it was a problem with the elevator but couldn’t be sure if it was in the trim section or the elevator itself. Several years earlier, an Alaska Airlines MD-80 had an elevator problem that resulted with them being unable to pull out of an un-commanded dive. They all died as they crashed into the ocean just off the California coast. Their problem was attributed to a jackscrew breaking in the elevator. As we slowed to landing speed, the airplane was nose heavy and once we discovered that the normal trim wasn’t working properly, we decided to use our muscles and not trim the airplane. The problem was that it took effort to hold the nose up so we traded controls frequently.


Computer image of Alaska Airlines flight 261. All my prayers to those families. photo from yahoo.


Approaching the field, we could see that the entire base had come out to watch us land. The fire trucks were out, there were at least a hundred-mechanics standing outside and whoever else got wind of the news that we were coming back. I flew and Shy Dog worked the controls with me. Together, we touched down gently and taxied in un-eventfully. I’m sure everyone left a little disappointed that they didn’t get to see us die in a Hollywood style fireball. What can I say, I have been disappointing people my entire life.


We hardly had time to pry the seat cushions out of our backside when the maintenance guys came up. They had already found the problem and were working on fixing it. The actuator that moved the trim tab had broken, so the vibration was coming from the trip tab fluttering in the wind. That is why when we slowed down, we also slowed the air flowing over the flapping tab so that the vibration was reduced. We went back to look at the elevator and the trim tab. The elevator is the size of King Author’s Round Table. It is a huge piece of metal. The trim tab is about the size of a 2X4 piece of lumber.  We milled around the airplane for a while, just getting our senses back. Of course, there were hugs and pats on the back but for as scared as we were, it really seemed like the damage to the airplane was minimal.


I bet these guys have a great story. You can see the trim tab just past where the undamaged elevator section is. Maybe we were not a close to death as it felt at the time. photo from yahoo.


We were asked if we wanted to go back out and finish the mission. I declined the offer and told the Commander that we needed a break. I’m not sure anyone believed us when we described how violent the flight was, but I didn’t care. I was just glad to be alive. I was so happy that I called home to tell my wife how close she came to being a widow. That is when she told me that she was actually thinking that she would be better off if I had died. But after hearing my voice and heading the story and knowing that she was really close to getting her wish, she and I both felt a renewal and for once there was hope.


Earlier, I said that this story made it home before I did. That was true, after my wife and I spoke she called Billy G’s future ex-wife, Sherri and told her about what happened and how that she thought that I would die and it almost happened. Sherri told Billy and about a month later when I got back to the squadron for a normal training flight. No one cared about the story or anything else about what had happened. All they cared about was if Donetta was happy with me when I left the house that morning because they were not going to fly with me if she was mad at me. From that point on, it was common knowledge that she had super powers and her feelings were not to be trifled with.


Until next time, keep on rockin.




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