Air Transportation: Into The Valley of Death


November 28, 2007: The war in Iraq, and particularly Afghanistan, has been particularly hard on C-130 transports. These four engine propeller aircraft are particularly well suited for moving supplies around the combat zone, and are being used extensively. Especially in Afghanistan, where Special Forces and commandoes often spend weeks out in remote areas, the only way to resupply them is via air drops, often at night and in mountain valleys. This is pretty hairy stuff, as it requires you to get in and out of the valley without hitting any of the surrounding mountains. Even during the day, clouds and mist make navigation a tricky business.

The high altitudes and dust are additional problems in Afghanistan. At higher altitudes, the aircraft doesn't handle the same as it would in the denser air down below (where pilots have to do a lot of maneuvering during a landing.) The dust makes maintenance more difficult, and huge dust storms not only make flying difficult, but can cause engine problems.

The heavy use of C-130s has made the aircraft less available for training new pilots. That has shifted a lot of flying to simulators, which can replace a lot of the air time in real aircraft. Some pilots, headed for their first tour in Afghanistan, have asked to use simulators to practice those misty midnight mountain valley runs. Can't be too careful when the chances of hitting a mountain are so great.


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