Thursday May 26 2011
So the rotator flight actually got changed…being a private charter carrier with modern-ish aircraft, usually they’re right on schedule, but the 24 hour delay puts our BWI arrival behind our Southwest tickets home to San Antonio. Same thing happened last time, except it was my fault that time. Anna is starting to get morning sick, so we decided to just head down to the terminal and head back to the states today if possible. There were only 13 seats available on a KC10 (inflight refueling tanker) but we were the lucky ones (no luck actually…just a long time on leave already) and got on.
Our Plane out the Ramstein Terminal window.
Absolutely, positively the coolest flight ever! We climbed up the stairs and the 60 passenger seats were already half full with air crews sprawled out…even a 1-star general in a flight suit (he had a special car drive him to the plane.) The several teams were returning from a 8 week deployment. We had a row to ourselves (with 3 feet of leg room, yay…notice Anna’s crossed legs about 8 inches from the seat in front of her ) in the middle about 15 feet back from the cockpit door which was still open and we had a decent, if limited, view through it.
As I was doubting they we keep it open for take-off, one of the crew asked Anna if she wanted to sit up in the cockpit jumpseat for takeoff! Seriously! I couldn’t believe it. So she jumped up, got seated behind the general who turned out to be one of the pilots, and put on a headset through which she could hear the crew, air traffic control and other planes pilots talking.
After we got above 10,000 feet the boom operator (the guy that directs the gas nozzle into the receiving plane) told Henry to knock on the cockpit door when he was ready. Henry got the same treatment, headset and all.
The boom operator, Sgt Josh Bonner (I think), was so great with Henry answering all his questions. After the cockpit (I took a brief turn up there too, the view is spectacular) he took us back in the cargo hold (only the lower half of the plane holds fuel, there’s cargo in the rest of the top half) …
and then down to the very tail where the boom operator works.
He had Henry get in the operators seat… and push the lever to open the window (still glass…have to keep pressurized )and showed him some pictures on his laptop of them refueling fighter jets.
He then uncovered another window under Henry’s feet (which was a little disconcerting for a Dad that’s afraid of heights). Through the window we could see the English channel that we were flying over and even a large boat on the water.
Henry closed the windows and we headed back up passing the 20 or so spare tires they had brought with them for the deployment…one of which had blown out with a huge gash and back to our seats. Sometimes Space-A is not-so-lucky…but sometimes it is. Truly an unforgettable experience!
We got into McGuire AFB NJ around 7pm. The flight crews families were waiting for them on the tarmac to welcome them home from deployment which was a sweet sight. They all went up on the plane after we got off.
We got our bags, arranged for a van to take us in to the Philadelphia airport where we rented a car then drove to a hotel on the outskirts of Philly. It was 1030pm by now…the kids had fallen asleep on the shuttle and Henry fell back asleep on a chair while waiting for the car.
Our plan for tomorrow is to see some Philly sights in the morning then head down to D.C. to see Dave and Margaret again. Anna’s parents happen to be in town visiting them so it will be like a mini Hedengren reunion.