Thursday, October 06, 2005

Neat photo at Fred Schoeneman's web site. Brings back memories, which NOTR's comment pretty much nails.

At first look I thought the aircraft is a C-7 Caribou, but the sponson-like things on the fuselage aren't right.

I have sort of a soft spot for Caribous as I made what has to have been one of the last ever US military parachute drops from a Caribou. The Air Force had completely eliminated them from its inventory and someone got the idea to transfer a few to Reserve Componant Special Forces units. 20th Group HQ in Alabama got one or two of them. I have no idea where they were able to scare up pilots and crew for them, but at least one got off the ground and made it to Maryland and we jumped into Edgewood Arsenal.

It was quite the experience. The C-7 has piston engines, just like those in a car, vice the turbine engines on a C-130 or the jets on a C-141 or C-17. It was a blast from the past, as they say. And sloooow. We took off trailing dense plumes of smoke behind us. There was a 55-gallon drum strapped to the forward bulkhead with a hand pump on top. Every so often the loadmaster would look at his watch, head for the drum and pump the handle several times. Don't know if it was engine oil or hydraulic fluid, but obviously something was leaking or burning at quite a rate on that bird.

There are no jump doors on a C-7, just the ramp. Ramp jumps on a C-130 are easy--get to the end of the ramp, hop a foot into the air, and by the time you come back down the aircraft is no longer underneath you. CH-47s are ramp jumps, too, and a lot slower than a 130, but I dislike them so much I usually flung myself out with great zeal. Never helped them in my opinion that you exit right into the exhaust stream from two tubines, so you get to suck kerosene fumes on the way.

Anyway, we crossed the DZ nice and slow in the Caribou and out we went. Some of the guys actually banged their packing trays on the ramp, being as they were anticipating a normal (i.e. fast) pass since it was a fixed wing aircraft. Minor stuff, really. What I liked was the lack of turbulance and the nice, easy slow speed exit.

It was also the absolute only jump I ever made where was so little wind that the canopy dropped right down on top of me. Loved it.

Years later I met a guy who had married a woman whose maiden name was Caribou. Not thinking things through, I told him that I had once jumped a Caribou. To this day I remember his expression.

Just for grins, you can find some photos of C-7s here. I should warn you that the gallery contains one of the most searing photos of the Vietnam War as well. This photo is of a C-7 which had just lifted off after a resupply mission to a firebase when it was hit by an outgoing artillery shell from the firebase.

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