Monday 31 March 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, Hercules C130, Kabul, Kandahar, AMAB, Easter

Day 21: up, up and away

Today we said goodbye to the magnificent mountains of Kabul and flew back to AMAB (Al Minhad Air Base). We were supposed to be going to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, but the flight was cancelled.  I was a bit disappointed not to visit Kandahar, once the capital of Afghanistan and now the second largest city, but not much.  If you’ve seen Ben Quilty’s painting of Kandahar, you’ll know why.

On the trip back to UAE, we were visited by the Easter Bunny!  Loadmaster Tim “Chief” Winship hopped along the rows delivering little eggs and making us smile.  That’s if we weren’t asleep like G2, aka Dr Steve Bullard.

Tim "Chief" Winship handing out Easter eggs on our flight
Tim "Chief" Winship handing out Easter eggs on our flight
G2 takes a nap on the Hercules
G2 takes a nap on the Hercules

“Chief” is the creator and editor of the “Spew Bag Times”, the in-flight magazine for the Hercules’ he works on. Each issue is hand-written on a motion sickness bag and reports “the chunky news” such as the colour of the pilot’s underpants, and other more useful information such as altitude, flying speed (about 520km/hr), outside air temperature and time of arrival at destination. He’s donated a couple of “issues” to the War Memorial.

Our co-pilot enjoys some Italian pizza (on right) at 28,000 ft
Our co-pilot enjoys some Italian pizza at 28,000 ft

For the second half of the four hour flight, I was able to sit in the cockpit and watch and listen to “Ayresy” and “Flippy” fly the Herc. This is John Ayres’ first deployment as a Pilot/Captain, although he has flown many times as a co-pilot. He’s one of the subjects in our portrait commission (see day 1). He says the Herc is designed by pilots, so it is simple enough for them to fly.  Other planes are designed by engineers and are much too complicated. Even so, the array of dials, knobs, buttons and screens looked quite bewildering to me.

Pilot John Ayres in the cockpit
Pilot John Ayres in the cockpit

The pilots guide the Herc the long way around Iran, so as not to intrude on their airspace. The Pakistani Government is happy to share “their” atmosphere with Aussies. I listened to the pilots communicating with other pilots and air traffic controllers via shortwave radio. Fortunately the language of the skies is English.

In between the radio calls, the air crew, who are all on “comms”, engage in a lot of banter and do the daily quiz from the Sydney Morning Herald. They download it to a tablet before they take off for the day and do it as part of their in-flight entertainment. It reminded me of my Photographs Team at the Australian War Memorial who do the quiz from The Canberra Times each day. We needed the help of the brainiacs in Photos!

One of my favourite signs from Kabul
One of my favourite signs from Kabul

Even though we were flying at 28,000 feet, the visibility was very poor due to the dust. Still, watching the plane descend and land on the runway was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was something that John Ayres experienced when he was seven years old, and from that point, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO.  In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.

These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.

I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.