A pilot with the 522nd Special Operations Squadron flies an
MC-130J Combat Shadow II aircraft, over the skies of New Mexico,
Jan. 5, 2012. The 522nd SOS, assigned to Cannon Air Force Base,
N.M., flies the MC-130J which provides capabilities such as
in-flight refueling, infiltration/exfiltration and aerial delivery
resupply of special operations forces. Photo by Airman 1st Class
Alexxis Pons Abascal
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM (1/12/2012) -- 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
By Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal
Air Force Special Operations Command
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