The C-141 officially is called the starlifter,
but by many in the Air Force it's more commonly known as the trash
Wednesday the 14th, I and 131 of my new friends are scheduled to
depart at 8AM, which meant
a 3:45 wake up call. The shuttle picked us up at 4:15 from the Y, and
we got to the CDC (clothing distribution center) shortly after 4:30, plenty
of time to spare for our 4:45 reporting time. However once we got there,
Mike the manager met us and told us not to get in any hurry to dress, we
had a three hour delay due to weather.
They open the Visitor Center Cafeteria at our reporting time, so we had
plenty of time for leisurely breakfast. And then quite a bit of time to kill.
With our departure now scheduled for 11 AM, we had to get dressed for a
check-in starting at 8.
||Finding your orange bags, when everyone else’s is the same
can be a challenge.
In order to board the aircraft you have to
be dressed in your extreme cold weather (ECW) gear, and carry the
extra they give you.
Like any military operation, it included a lot of hurry up and wait.
|Everyone's 'hold' baggage is weighted, and is limited to 75 pounds.
I had three pounds to spare, but had about 60 pounds of carryon, including the
clothing I was wearing. We had to complete a departure form, show
our passports, and then are weighted with our carry on bag.
|Everyone is issued a boarding pass.
||Then more waiting for the briefing at 9:10.|
Then just before 9, a collective moan
rang out as everyone saw the monitors display a additional 2 hour delay,
flight CHC006 was now scheduled for a 1PM departure.
Cindy offered to take a picture of me while we were
killing time, but I think her and Frank were in cahoots.
They showed us the Antarctic safety video,
and gave us another hour and a half to kill, before the flight briefing.
A quick walk around the airport for some exercise was uncomfortable
wearing some of your cold weather gear, but it was nice to get out and
Though I doubted we would fly that day, when the time came, they did
the flight briefing and said we were still set to fly. I thought it was
slightly humorous watching the crew chief and a Staff Sargent doing the
flight attendant thing, and showing off the oxygen and smoke masks. They
run everyone through the metal detector and our bags got x-rayed although
they didn't seem too worried about what people had in the bags. I didn't
see a single one get checked, and then we were off to the 5 minute bus ride
to the aircraft.
Of course then we got in line for the aircraft.
And everyone wanted to get pictures.
||My attempt at catching Cindy off guard|
After a short wait while they loaded the lunches, we boarded
the aircraft, and about 1:30, we finally got airborne about 9 hours after we
arrived at the CDC.
The back of the 141 has the red sling seats running down both sides of the
aircraft, and two rows back to back running down the center. When it is loaded
the person on the outside faces in, and the person in the middle faces out, with
barely enough room for everyones knees. The space wouldn't be too bad, except that
wearing the heavy ECW boots, makes everyone's feet almost double size, and takes up
all of the floor space.
This is only one half of the aircraft, looking towards the rear. That's
Bruce Blackburn about halfway down on the right. Against his back would be another two
rows. You can't really see it, but in the rear is a blue tarp. Behind it, is a
30 gallon barrel and a funnel. It is the toilet for the guys. The aircraft toilet
in the front is used by the women, there fore, they segregate the men the women to
cut down on the crawling over each other to get to the can.
The rear of the 141 can be a very crowed uncomfortable place. Those of us in the
middle were sweating, and removing clothing, while the women up front were putting
almost all of their ECW gear, and the guys at the very rear were just about comfortable.
The flight was surprisingly smooth. Almost no turbulence along the route. On
regular intervals, people across from each other would alternate standing, just to
stretch and get the blood moving again in their butts. Everyone was very well behaved,
and almost no one had to crawl to the rear for the restroom. That came to a sudden
end, after about 4 and 1/2 hours of flying and they made the announcement that here
was less than 3 miles of visibility on the McMurdo Runway, and we would be turning
around and returning to Christchurch. You could hear the collective moan. I wasn't
going to make it the 4 hours back, so I led the charge for the barrel. The other
advantage to going back there, were the windows, and we were over the Antarctic
Continent. There are only 3 windows along each side of the aircraft in the
passenger area. The view was spectacular. The little I got to see before I
went back to my seat was endless miles of snow covered valleys, with literally
thousands of mountains towering up out of the snow, almost as if it was clouds.
The flight back was miserable. Not only from the uncomfortable seats, and
other limitations of the aircraft, but also from the thought that we'd have to
do it all over again, at least one more time, possibly more. I read the label
on emergency oxygen masks at least 30 times. The time drags on when you are
waiting to get home.
After another 5 or so times reading the instructions on the oxygen masks,
we finally arrived back in Christchurch.
Of course it takes a little time to get the 132 people off the aircraft, and
then wait for the bus to the CDC. Once we got back there about 10:30 at night,
the word went out, we were to report back at 5:45 in the morning. Ugh!!!!!!
A taxi ride back to town (speed was more important than cost), and we were back
at our old home, the YMCA.