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Made of steel

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
My nerves started to get the best of me when I walked onto the flightline. The winds seem to amplify when you step onto that long stretch of concrete, forcing you to stand your ground. You immediately feel out of place in your Airman Battle Uniform when you're being escorted by several seasoned pilots in flight suits.

My mission was to capture the MC-130 J Combat Shadow II training flight Jan. 5, over northern regions of the New Mexico skies.

Stepping onto the flightline is like stepping into another world. For someone who doesn't normally work in such close proximity to aircraft, it's inspiring and overwhelming each and every time I get to see them. You feel so insignificant, but you can't help admire the engineering of such a craft.

I was slightly intimidated walking up to the Combat Shadow II with three officers who are all geared up and ready to take control of this metal monolith, while all I'm equipped with is my camera and an extra lens.

I'm not familiar with the flightline etiquette or rituals for most pilots and maintainers, but I couldn't help notice as I boarded the aircraft one of the captains escorting me walked to the front of the plane and rubbed the nose. It was a simple act, but it stuck with me all day.

If the exterior of the aircraft is impressive, the interior is something to behold. So many components and panels, buttons and switches; the only thing I could do to fully appreciate and take it all in was sit down. The seats aren't the most comfortable, it's no commercial flight, but when you have the honor of riding on one of the most technically advanced aircraft in the Air Force Special Operations Command fleet, you don't complain about seat comfort.

Other Air Commandos were hustling around me checking and securing various things, all I could do was stay out of their way. Then I heard the aircraft hum as it slowly warmed up.

You know that feeling you get in your gut when your stomach starts to twist and knot up, and your hands get a little clammy; for no reason at all your heart beats a little faster and your breathing gets heavier? Even that doesn't describe what I started to feel as those engines roared to life.

One of the loadmasters handed me a set of ear plugs, I wished he had handed me nose plugs. The smell of burning fuel coming from the aircraft is probably the most intense, acrid odor I could imagine. Your throat burns, your lungs tingle, and you can feel your insides shriving a bit. I give all the kudos in the world to the men and women who board these aircraft regularly, they must have iron lungs.

Slowly the Combat Shadow starts to move, and shortly after we begin our accent. The takeoff was much like any other airplane I've been in. Once we were airborne, I was invited into the cockpit to take photos.

That was a new experience, and an amazing one at that! You experience flying from a completely different perspective. I was able to get directly behind the pilots shoulder and photograph the aircraft flying directly in front of us.

Unfortunately the feeling of awe was quickly replaced by feelings of nausea. My ears began to ring, my vision blurred, and I felt every inch of my body get instantly hot. In an effort to not completely embarrass myself in front of the aircrew, I exited the cockpit as fast as my body would allow.

I had just enough time to make it back to my seat, pull out one of the motion sickness bags I had been thoughtfully provided with prior to takeoff, and fill it up. I spent the remainder of my flight lying on my side, getting up roughly a dozen more times to add to multiple sickness bags.

I was never happier to be back on solid ground in my life than I was after that flight. I slowly regained control of my body as the plane taxied to a halt. I gathered my camera equipment and liquid filled "souvenir" bags, and exited the aircraft as fast as I could.

As I walked off the flightline I had to laugh out loud at my overall experience. It wasn't until I got into my car that I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small manila envelope. Across the top in all capitals it read "MOTION SICKNESS BAG." In smaller letters beneath that the envelope stated, "Do not be embarrassed by this precaution as even veteran travelers are subject to occasional motion sickness."

Despite the motivational blurb neatly printed on the envelope, I couldn't help disagreeing. I was unable to avoid being physically overwhelmed aboard that craft, but the crew had stood their ground with what seemed like lead feet.

My body had felt every up and down, tilt, and vibration. The Air Commandos controlling these aircraft truly are made of steel, or at least their stomachs are. It was a privilege to fly in the presence of fellow Airmen with such unwavering nerves and courage.