Thanks so much for the insight of our military. You help us all have more appreciation for our mission there.
Atop are the LCADS parachutes, and these are fuel drums. Usually, our people try to avoid parachuting ammunition in Afghanistan. Though normally right on target, cargo has a real chance of floating into enemy hands. Also, ammo is more easily damaged than MREs and fuel.
Illumination for the drop was to be at .001 lux (pitch black), and moonrise would be 10 minutes before TOT (time on target). Though military standard for drops is plus/minus two minutes (four minute window), the pilots said they normally are plus/minus one minute.
This is the BSA, or Buffer Stop Assembly. The BSA is designed to keep the cargo from lurching forward during flight.
The floor of the aircraft is lined with rollers and rings for moving cargo and tying it down. You must be careful when walking because people do trip. When we approach the DZ, the pilots will pull the nose of the aircraft up to about 7 degrees, causing the pallets to strain against the anchor webbing as gravity insists they roll out the back. Looking down the aisle between the pallets, you’ll see that inverted Y cable. The pallets are tied down with strong webbing, but that cable is attached to two knives that are up against the webbing. So after the pilot pulls pitch to 7 degrees, and we reach the Computed Air Release Point, a loadmaster uses his controls to cause the knives to cut the webbing and the pallets should slide out. Each parachute is attached via “static line” to an overhead cable, and so when they roll into the hurricane winds and darkness, the parachutes should be pulled out by static line. That is, if the parachute riggers have done their jobs. If the loadmasters have loaded right. If the pilot is doing the job. One weak link and something will go wrong.
The algorithm in the onboard CARP computer (Computed Air Release Point) cannot factor the winds without data. And so as we roared through the night toward the, drop zone a loadmaster would toss a “dropsonde” out the back. The dropsonde has a small parachute, GPS, and radio transmitter. The black antennae screws into the nose and transmits drift data that feeds into a laptop onboard, improving accuracy. In addition to the desire to get this fuel and ammo to our people, nobody wanted that ammo to fall into enemy hands.
This was a great mission so far: our chances of crashing or getting shot down were low, so that made me happy, and all five crew members were enthusiastic about their work, and answered about a thousand questions. They also wanted to know about the ground war and were asking me a lot of questions. Everybody’s war is different.
About an hour after flying out of BAF, we were on final approach to the DZ. The pilots continued to gather information about the situation and decided the dropsonde was not needed and the drop would be strictly CARP. I crawled down the three stairs from the cockpit to watch the release while a loadmaster kept his eye on his own console, which was counting down to drop time. To avoid being seen by the enemy, the back was too dark to take good photos. The ramp was down when we roared over the drop zone and the pilot pulled the nose up 7 degrees, and so now the 32,000lbs in the twenty pallets were straining to be free. At just the right moment, the knives cut the straps and in maybe 3-4 seconds all twenty rolled into the night and the plane, suddenly lighter, accelerated. After the ramp was closed, I unbuckled and stood as the pilot pulled hard and we gained altitude, causing me to stagger under the g-force. Up in the cockpit, he said all the bundles landed on the drop zone, and the last ones landed right on target. Well done.
The pilots pulled the nose south in the direction of Kandahar.
The moon continued to rise.
The heavenly views at night show no hint of the guerrilla war raging below. The crew wants to know more about how our people are doing, and I say we can succeed, and their airlift contribution is crucial. Without the Air Force, we would have to dedicate far more troops to dangerous convoy duty, bleeding our resources away from other important tasks, and we would endure more KIA from the convoys. The airlift crews are saving lives and freeing combat troops to perform other tasks, such as going after the enemy.
We kept rumbling through the night, amid the clouds, the stars and the glow of the moon.
And finally back to Kandahar Airfield (KAF), which is becoming a bustling, crowded base due to the Afghanistan Surge.
The marshaller brings us into a parking place.
If you are a troop on the ground and need a pizza delivery by parachute, well, tough luck. It’s not coming. But if you need fuel, ammo, medevac from remote locations, or any number of specialty services that require a C-130J, you might look up into the sky and see the 772 EAS (Expeditionary Airlift Squadron), from Little Rock, Arkansas.
The airdrop mission was a success. I had been back in Afghanistan for eighteen hours and it was great to be back with winners.