The Open Door

Chinook Air Drop: Cpl Walker

Change. Not a word synonymous with 47 Air Despatch Squadron. A simple word that strikes fear into any good Despatch Crew Commander’s heart, that same fear ran through myself as the distinct “Wocka-Wocka” sound of Chinook rotors resonated around Keevil Drop Zone.

Harness packs loadedI took a long, hard stare at the bizarre looking, 160 KG, Harness Packs that stood before me and automatically thought, “Brilliant, this should be fun”. Again, change!

Slowly, the monstrous Chinook touched down 100 metres away from our position, blasting stones, mud and used lumpy boxes into our faces from the down-draft. Several Loadmasters, sorry, Crewman, disembarked and came bounding over to us like over-excited Labrador puppies!

After an initial aircrew brief by the pups, sorry, Crewman, we were then briefed on procedure by the Oracles that reside at 47 Air Despatch Squadron Training Wing, who are usually known as the subject matter experts! ““Right lads, this is what is going to happen…..”, and thus, the brief went on!

Minutes later, the Harness Pack was in its despatch stations, lashed in, final restraint on and we were up, bouncing around the air, blades, (Wocka wocka!) sounding far too close for comfort.

Chinnok dropping harness packsTime to carry out my DCC checks: flying belt on, comms checked, knife in right hand map pocket. The Chinook Captain’s doing some pretty impressive evasive manoeuvres, which were not too kind on this creaky old Air Despatcher’s knees. The correct name for this manoeuvre is the Wells Profile. I’ve got to be honest; I didn’t feel particularly well after one and a half hours of this crazy way of flying, with the old knees digging into the ramp (knee pads, SQMS?) SMACK!!!! I feel a dull thud in my ribs as an over-excited Loadmaster, sorry, Crewman gives me a swift jab to get me to prepare the load for airdrop. The jab wasn’t too bad, however, the fact that I was looking directly at him made it quite obvious the Crewman was playing a whole new ball game to what he was used to, and was slightly over enthusiastic in his approach.

It’s then that two things ran through my head:
1. Better get the overhead restraint off.
2. How much adrenaline must be pumping through the system when this drops in theatre, with the rounds flying.

The Captain at this point is still at 3000ft, yanking the Chinook around the Wiltshire skyline at a high rate of knots. The crewman, still over-excited at this point, seems on edge. The DCC, however, calm as you like, right hand on J-knife, left hand on load, coiled, ready for the call. It is at this point that 14 years of Air Despatch experience takes effect. Confident, calm, yet weary of the alien surroundings. 3000ft turns to 150ft in seconds, left then right, stomach in mouth time!

“Red On”. Adrenaline kicks in, knife at the ready.

“Green On” One swift cut. Quick push. Load gone.

The DCC observes the load under canopy, at this point, the Captain goes back to his evasive manoeuvres, pinning the DCC and Crewman to the ramp.

Within no time, the Big Bird’s back on the Keevil airstrip. Harness Pack ready, good to go again. At this point, the DCC’s doubts are quashed. What seemed to be another dull training drop turned out to be an awesome experience, on a system that will no doubt be a valuable asset at any commander’s disposal.

It, yet again, goes to show the adaptability and resourcefulness of both 47 Air Despatch Squadron and the Royal Air Force working in unison. It was agreed by all DCCs on pre-deployment training that this system will be a hell of a ride in theatre!

Sometimes it goes to show that change, is nothing to be afraid of!

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