RAAF C130H Hercules aircrafts flies over Canberra
RAAF C130H Hercules aircrafts flies over Canberra to mark its retirement later this month. Photo: Jay Cronan
I had the great misfortune of experiencing the phenomenon they called "counting rivets" more than once in my time as a paratrooper in the then airborne 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in the 1980s.
It happens the split second you exit the side door of a C-130H Hercules at 1000 feet if you haven't projected yourself into the slip-stream with enough purpose.
Your helmet (sometimes your face) can ever so faintly clip the side of the plane.
The sight of a bloodied nose (or on one occasion smashed glasses) on the drop zone was always a sure sign that someone's eyes had come close enough to "count the rivets" that help keep the aircraft's side panels together.
Unnerving stuff – but not my worse memory of the C-130H – the quad-engine turboprop bucket of bolts that I had the displeasure of leaping out of dozens of times in my short and otherwise uneventful military career.
I travelled some distance (usually in a fear-induced slumber) in the blood-red, hammock-like webbing that lined the plane's insides – to Coen in far north Queensland; to a small, wind-swept island off the north-east coast of Tasmania; and on countless aerial laps of the Richmond, HMAS Albatross and Williamtown airbases. I rarely landed in one.
The memories are as clear as day – summoned occasionally by the smell of aviation fuel as I pass an airport, or the smell of one of my children's vomit. Yep, tactical flying over Bass Strait for a couple of hours will test the strongest of constitutions.
It's not just the bumpy ride – it's enduring it while buckled under the weight of a loaded pack and rifle - clipped to the front of an over-tightened parachute harness – attached by a yellow chord to a long string of thick wire above your head.
It would have been torturous enough had the thing not been moving - let alone flying under an imaginary radar.
I've jumped out of a Hercules at first light, last light and in the dead of night, on to land and into water, into trees (thanks L-plate RAAF pilot) and even squre on top of a barbed wire fence in a paddock at Camden.
Though young and relatively fearless, I never really enjoyed the experience – and my memories of those lumbering warhorses, those snub-nosed elephants with wings – will forever be defined by the lasting vision of blurred rivets, blood noses and the stench of warm, wet, vomit-covered boots.
As you flew farewell over Canberra today, C-130H Hercules, I said goodbye .... and good riddance!