My fascination for airplanes goes way back in time, when I was a little kid. Every day I saw these, to me, gigantic airplanes with a double tail, flying in final approach over our home. With heavy droning noises, they disappeared behind a block of houses. I was fascinated by them. I don’t recall exactly on how many occasions I’d run outside the house whenever they flew over. Seven-eight times a day at least.
No matter what I was doing, in the middle of a meal, watching a TV show or pulling up my pants, I’d be outside with my binoculars. Then one day my parents took me to a local airshow and I witnessed a mass drop of parachutists from the back-end of that particular airplane, a C-119 Flying Boxcar. Now I was really hooked. Because of the military draft system, there was an open door for me to do this, if I volunteered for the airborne. From that moment on, I couldn’t wait to grow up!
Years passed before I found myself wearing ODs, doing a 4 month, rigorous and grueling training.
Then one day, I sat with 35 others in a grassy field, parachute strapped on. All of us were infatuated with the spectacle that was taking place in front of us. We were staring up at an old English barrage balloon, suspended by a 300’ cable and hooked to a heavy truck. Soon it would be my first parachute jump from its gondola and one step closer to get my first ride in an airplane. More important the Flying Boxcar!
When that moment arrived and I entered the bus shaped fuselage, it was surreal. There was a waft of oil and kerosene and the interior was very Spartan. The seats were made out of webbing and it was very dark. C-119’s had tiny porthole windows. We had a stick, if I remember correctly, of 36 troopers of which one had to sit on the toilet. Since I was the lightweight of the Battalion, that honor was bestowed on me! After about 30 minutes or so and everyone got situated, the dispatcher yelled some last-minute instructions and the doors closed. Than a loud bang and with lots of smoke the left engine started to roar. Same scenario for the right one, seconds later. Minutes went by and it started to get warm and uncomfortable.
The fuel smell worsened and some other “organic” odors started to get into the mix. Since my seat was blocked off from any view by a partition, I felt isolated and there was nothing else to do than to think about the jump. With trembling hands, I touched all the hardware of my parachute, making sure everything was still connected and in place. Then the Boxcar started to move. Creaking, shaking, vibrating and with a painful metallic noise, the C-119 started to roll. Again, I could not see anything, I only had the feel of movement. It took forever and I was wondering if we would ride to the drop zone instead of flying.
Then a stop and a half turn. Thirty seconds went by and suddenly all hell broke loose! Engines roared as if there was no tomorrow and slowly the Boxcar moved forward, picking up speed. Everything shook heavily and I expected that at any minute, every rivet would come undone and the plane would disintegrate. For what seemed to be an eternity, the C-119 Flying Boxcar suddenly became airborne and most of the vibrating stopped. There I sat in the dark, strapped to a parachute on a toilet, with a wide grin on my face. I was flying! Couldn’t see a darn thing but my childhood fantasy was in the middle of fulfillment! I was airlifted in the airplane of my dreams!