Takeoff: A Once in a Lifetime Experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rachel Martinez
  • 319th ARW/PA
As I sat in the seat, my right leg twitched up and down. Usually, it would be my left leg twitching, but there was no solid floor beneath my left leg, just an iron grate opening to the ground below. Not trusting the grate, I settled for twitching my right leg instead. 

My hands were folded together with my thumbs winding around each other. 

It seemed that I couldn't sit still, most likely it was from nerves. 

When I looked around, I saw all kinds of levers and buttons, screens and gadgets. I couldn't help but think at that time everything surrounding me is supposed to make this metal and steel contraption fly. 

I was sitting in the jump seat inside the flight deck of a KC-135 Stratotanker. It was my first time being aboard a military aircraft, and it was also my first time in a flight deck.
Around me, I saw the pilots getting ready for takeoff. They were checking their checklists, reading manuals and relaxed as can be. While the pilots were relaxed, I was full of nerves and butterflies. I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect. 

One of the pilots saw me sitting in the jump seat and offered me a headset so I could hear what was being said between the pilots and the control tower. Being able to hear the conversations and not just see mouths moving, calmed my nerves and made me more anxious for takeoff. 

Since I had never ridden in the cockpit of an aircraft before, I fumbled with attaching the harness together and had to ask for help from the boom operator. The boom operator understandingly gave me a quick "how to" lesson. 

Somehow, I missed hearing that the aircraft was ready to start the process of turning on the engines for takeoff. One by one, the pilots turned on the engines. It seemed to me the pilots waited until the engine reached a certain speed of rotation before turning on the next engine. 

The noise was something I really wasn't prepared for. In a commercial plane, the engine sound is muffled to a low hum, but on a military aircraft, there is little to muffle the sound.
I couldn't help but think that the whole process of getting ready to takeoff and starting the engines was done like a movie. 

About 10 minutes later, after all four engines had been started; the aircraft began to taxi down the runway. I gripped my hands together even harder because I was expecting a rough takeoff. Instead, the takeoff was one of the smoothest I had ever experienced. It didn't even feel like we had left the ground. 

In a commercial aircraft, as you look out the window, you can see the ground falling away from the plane. In the flight deck of any aircraft, the view is very different. All I could see was bright, brilliant --almost blinding-- light streaming in from the windows. 

The pilots had on sunglasses when I first boarded the plane and I couldn't figure out why, I learned soon enough it was due to the brightness of clouds in front of them, where there was nothing to block the sunlight. 

There was a mix of white then blue -- an alternating pattern streaming past the windows as the aircraft ascended into the air. 

After a couple rough patches of minor turbulence, the aircraft reached its desired altitude. I unfastened the harness, walked to the back of the jet and settled in for the rest of the flight. 

The mission for the flight that day was to refuel a B-52 Stratofortress and four F-16 Fighting Falcons. 

Along for the flight that day were high school students in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Although the students were on the flight and probably would have loved to ride in the flight deck as well, the pilots choose me to sit in the jump seat so I could see the mission of Grand Forks AFB. 

The flight was smooth and went as planned; soon, it was time to prepare for landing.
I sat in the back of the aircraft for the landing, looking out the window. I saw GFAFB approaching and braced myself again for a rough landing. Once again, I had unfounded notions of what to expect. The landing was just as smooth as the takeoff. 

My experience that day is the first of many I hope to have as I continue on in my military career. I don't think that I will ever forget my first time aboard a KC-135. It was an incredible ride, in the flight deck, instead of being in the back of the jet like the rest of the passengers.