San Diego Personnel Air Drops
Every once in a while, a trip comes down the pipe that you must get on. It is a moral imperative. Missions are picked up by Current Ops from out in the system. These missions could be any DOD, Department of Defense, “client.” As a C-130 unit, we’re either hauling stuff or drop it out the back. If it comes out the back, we are at a thousand feet AGL or so, going 130 or 140 knots. Some trips are ball busters. Like doing drops at the Army’s basic airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. The days are long and hard. Each flight is only about fifteen to twenty minutes, but it is nonstop. That mission is a real test of the FE, Flight Engineer. The FE is pretty much running the show.
And some trips are a piece of cake. I got on a five day trip to San Diego to do personal drops. I had lived in San Diego for eight years, needless to say, I was going to be the tour guide. That is if we got any downtime. We were hoping for at least a day off during the week, we got it. It was pretty much (almost) five days of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
The trip started on the wrong foot. We flew into Brown Field, a small general aviation airport south of San Diego 15 miles. It’s also about a mile and a half north of the Mexican border. We were planning a downwind leg that would put us south of the field. As I looked over the pilot’s shoulder, I could see we were on the wrong side of the fence. I asked the Nav if we were in Mexican airspace. He assured me we were not. I asked him then why were we south of the fence line. He guaranteed me that the fence was on our side of the border. As an enlisted flyer, I knew when to make a point with an officer and when not too. This one wasn’t worth discussing until we got on the ground. It was a Saturday afternoon and there were five light aircraft in the pattern beside us. Most of them either new pilots or still with an instructor. We have TCAS, Traffic Collision Avoidance System, on the C-130. It is a 5” diameter green LCD screen that shows aircraft that are close to us and whether they are a factor or not. That is, it lets us know if we are heading towards the same piece of sky as another aircraft and how quickly we will get to that piece of sky. The warning sound was blaring before we got into the pattern. Just as we de-conflicted with one aircraft, another would be an issue. Arguing with the Nav whether we were in Mexican air space or not was the least of my worries. I didn’t want to have a mid-air collision with a general aviation pilot who was soloing for the first time, then crater into Mexico before I got a Machaca Burrito from Roberto’s.
We did personal drops the next day. Our client was very easy to work with. The first day they didn’t want to start too early. We were okay with that. The first drop was a low level through the foothills south and east of San Diego. Then pop up to about 800’ AGL, open up the ramp and door and out go some of the guys in the back of the plane. After the aircraft is cleaned up, the ramp and door are shut and all appropriate checklists compiled with we started up to 13,000’. The next drop was a HALO. As we climb, the crew gets on oxygen. We check to ensure we are heard and can hear with our helmets and masks on. I, of course, I had trouble with my comm connection. I performed the Lockheed fix. Turn whatever I could in the affected system on and off a few times. That fixed it.
Most airfields were named after someone who died on or near the airport in the early days of aviation. Sometimes the person was from the local area and killed in a war or conflict. Brown Field is no exception. Named after Commander Melville Brown, in 1936 he was killed in an airplane crash. The airfield was built by the Navy just after WWI. The field bounced back and forth between the Navy and the City of San Diego several times before the city took possession for the last time in 1962. The Mexican border is about a mile and a half south of the airfield. We might or might not have crossed into Mexican airspace a time or two while there. Unlike other countries I might or might not have flown into, the Mexico government didn’t seem to mind, or they didn’t know we were there. That was a bit different than the time I might have been in a crew that might have flown into Pakistani airspace. The Tijuana Airport is about a mile and three quarters to the south. Right on the border. And to make matters more interesting, the runways at Brown and Tijuana are very similar in heading. I’m sure more than one pilot has landed at the wrong airport. It’s bad enough to land at the wrong air but when that airport is in another country I’d think the paperwork is crazy. I’m sure a C-17 crew has done it, maybe even more than once. Just kidding 17 drivers.
We stayed downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter. It was about a twenty-minute drive to the field, that is when there’s no traffic. We got lucky most of the time. Our hotel was right on the boardwalk. The crew would have been okay with just staying downtown, but I had other ideas. I love shows like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I wanted to show them where the locals go in addition to a few of the touristy places. I also wanted a bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. By the end of the week, there were no unhappy faces. Even though it rained a day or two in paradise, it was a great trip.
I think this most of what we covered in our off time:(We did have a little downtime)
San Diego Air & Space Museum
San Diego Zoo
Point Loma Seafood
Saffron Thai & Gelato Vero Caffé
Roberto’s Mexican, several locations throughout San Diego
Torrey Pines Glider Port
Drove PCH from Solan Beach north to Oceanside
I might’ve missed a thing or two. I’m sure someone will chime in and correct me if I did.
The San Diego Zoo ruined me for all other zoos. For a couple of years, I lived right outside the front entrance to the zoo and would spend a couple of hours most Sunday afternoons photographing. Just down the street from the zoo in Balboa Park and the San Diego Air & Space Museum. I could do an entire blog post about all the shops, small museums and places of interest in the park. If you’ve stayed downtown, you know about Sea Port Village, probably walked right through it. The LaJolla Cove is way more interesting than the shops just up the hill from Girard Avenue and Prospect Street. When we were there the beach was occupied by seals. Not SEALs but seals. The rest of the list are the hidden gems.
When I first moved to San Diego, I thought Taco Bell was good Mexican food. Then a girlfriend introduced me to Roberto’s. I thought I died and went to heaven. I kind of knew what some of the things were on the menu, but most I had no clue. We would get rolled tacos with guacamole, machaca burrito, and a quesadilla to split. It was crazy good. Prior I would’ve never stepped foot in a dirty, rough looking taco shop. Now I search them out.
The 130 crew is small, only six of us usually. There are some high maintenance folks sometimes. There’s an AC who will only eat at Wendy’s. Another who will only eat at BWs, Buffalo Wild Wings. I’ve been on the coast of Scotland in Ayr. Home of the best seafood Shepard’s Pie in the world and someone will have to find a McDonald’s. Not this crew. There was no whining about where we went. Every day I cranked it up a notch, and they loved it.
I’ve been on some pretty crappy trips. Living in a glorified cardboard box that was held together with black mold. Then there were the trips to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean or Germany. This was one of those trips. There was no black mold or cardboard boxes.
It is fun, and very rare, to share like that. In all my time, I only got a trip into my Home Town once.