“On this clear night I could sense the outline of southern Spain and northern Africa, a spectacular panoramic view from my space ship,” Jay Lacklen, former C-5 pilot
Jay Lacklen is a former C-5 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of two books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command. He’s working on the last book of the trilogy.
First C-5 Mission
Soon after returning from Altus I departed on my first copilot line ride, a ball-buster air refueling enhanced mission direct to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, thirteen hours of fun and frolic.
I had flown internationally in the B-52, but always to the Pacific and only once to Europe (Upper Heyford, England after losing an engine over the Atlantic). I enjoyed the exuberant enthusiasm of a first-time tourist on a new airplane. This fit well with the other pilots, who were only too happy to let me ride the cockpit while they slept. I think I was in the copilot seat for eleven of the thirteen hours and didn’t mind a bit.
After observing the first two oceanic position reports sent on HF radio, I got the knack of it and did the rest of the reports on the crossing. Approaching Europe we had to fly the international air boundaries between Mediterranean countries because we didn’t have diplomatic clearance for many of their airspaces. This would begin at Gibraltar at the entry to the Med. My eyes grew wide as the Gibraltar passage approached. On this clear night I could sense the outline of southern Spain and northern Africa, a spectacular panoramic view from my space ship. Then the oceanic controller directed me to contact Casablanca Center on a VHF radio frequency. “Cool!” I thought, “Casablanca! Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at Rick’s Café! Africa! The Sahara!”
About an hour later, approaching Italy, I heard what would become a routine fascination in the airlift world, a Korean Air pilot trying to communicate with an Italian controller in English. I could hardly understand either one of them but they seemed to understand each other, so it worked. As an aside, in the 1960s the international air conference voted on what the international air traffic control language would be. English beat out French by one vote. I felt sympathy for the Korean pilot and Italian controller. But for one vote, I’d have to communicate in French with possibly disastrous results. Sacré bleu!
More marvelous sights appeared, the Nile River at night, bright gold and silver lights winding narrowly through the utter darkness of the desert. Then, as the sun rose, it starkly displayed the deserts of Saudi Arabia in sharp detail with crystal clear air and almost blindingly bright sunlight. Finally, we arrived and the other pilots rejoined me for the landing on the long, multiple way complex of Dhahran. We parked on a large ramp facing a small hill with the operations buildings on it.
We were billeted in the military compound adjoining the air base. It possible to exit the compound to visit a nearby civilian mall, but I did not venture out on this first visit. Having not slept the entire trip, I hit the rack as sun went down and slept blissfully… until.
Just as the sky was starting to lighten the next morning, I leapt out pf my bed in a fright. A loudspeaker somewhere nearby blasted the area with what I eventually realized was morning Muslim prayers, but what I thought was jihadists coming over the walls for me.
“Aaaa-oooo-aaaaa,” the liturgy began as my feet hit the floor, and then it continued in an Arabic morning prayer. Since I didn’t see anyone running the halls in panic, I decided maybe this was something I would have to grow accustomed to. I would have to adjust my ear to a language style far different from Vietnamese or Thai. Many things would be far different from my B-52 and C-7 active duty period.
Later a movie on the compound TV showed my new multicultural world. A Clint Eastwood “spaghetti Western” played with Arabic voice-overs and English subtitles. So I had an American movie, shot it Italy, being shown in Saudi Arabia dubbed in Arabic with English subtitles—amazing.
On the return flight we crew-rested in Rota, Spain, a location I would see much of in the next twenty-three years. There I learned the rule that the billeting office would almost always give us the farthest rooms on the highest floor. As I lugged my trusty B-4 bag (a large satchel shaped canvas bag slight larger than a large suitcase) up the stairs and down the hall, I developed a rhythmic swing with it to match my gait down the hallway. This was several years before wheeled suitcases replaced the B-4 bag.
Rota’s Mediterranean climate on the Atlantic just above Gibraltar usually made it a marvelous crew rest location in all seasons except winter. Looking across the harbor at Cadiz, I learned that Columbus began his second America voyage from here and later read that Phoenician sailors from the eastern Med sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar to trade in Cadiz thousands of years before Christ, a thought I still find fascinating.
Photo credit: Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation via Wikipedia and U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com