When the 728th was not flying three ship with Jerry’s kids and the 97th, the 728th was conducting its own bad ass airdrop program. Over an 8 year period, I would fly an airdrop mission almost every week. When the flying schedule came out, I would sign up for every JAAT or local airdrop I could. I cannot remember all the good trips I performed on. Only a few standout. Like when we had the opportunity to do an airdrop trainer for the Army’s Golden Knights paratrooper team. The Flying Knights would airdrop the Golden Knights. Hoo fucking rah…
This TDY particular mission was conducted at Laguna Army Airfield close to Yuma, Arizona. During the day, we conducted several sorties. The 728th had two really good airdrop pilots that had just gotten off Active Duty. Like NFL free agents, they became the core of the 728th JAAT program. I would fly with these guys at Laguna Army Airfield, and countless other airdrop missions. They were affectionately known as the haircut 100 because they resembled the band. The 728th Navigator looked like the drummer. The sax player looks like a pilot in the 730th that played excellent chess and was a John Jacob Jingle Heimer.
At Laguna, we would load up the aircraft with the Golden Nights. Once all checklist items were completed, we would take off at TRT and climb 75% flaps with only 40,000 pounds of gas on board. TRT is take off rated thrust. On a hot Arizona day, one would have to watch the engine temp limits closely even before the 5 minute TRT limit is reached. I did not understand how much of a performance machine the C-141 was until I was able to climb out with TRT and 75% flaps. Not only that, the pilots pulled the yoke back and climbed at an incredible climb rate. We would be at 10,000 feet within just a few minutes. The aircraft would then make a few right turns and fly downwind next to the runway. Meanwhile, the crew would quickly run all the appropriate airdrop checklists. The Load would stand them up, and when the green light came on, these Golden Knights would be shoved out the door.
Once all the jumpers were off, the pilots would force the nose down, and rapidly lose altitude while doing a spiraling descend to base leg and final. The aircraft would dump 75000 feet during one single 360-degree spiral. The rest would be dumped on a short final. This exciting event would be topped off with a perfect touchdown where one could not even feel the main gear wheels contacting the runway. The aircraft would be on the ground and taxiing to the staging area before the Golden Knights hit the ground.
We would load more Golden Knights and repeat the event several times.
When the training mission was completed, it was back to Yuma in the totally beater DOD Dodge van, and the nice hotel we were staying at. During the evening, it was all about Mexican food. I even had the pleasure of taking my crew to Chretins Mexican restaurant. My wife was born in Yuma and her family’s favorite place to eat was Chretins.. Diane grew up in Tacna on a cotton farm that bordered the Gila river and had Colorado river rights. Whenever the family went into Yuma, they would eat at Chretins. The owner was a Hispanic World War II U.S. Army veteran. They even made their own tortillas which were sold all over town.
The only bad thing about Laguna Army Airfield is that it does not have a low profile shit truck to service the aircraft latrine. Even Yuma Marine Corps Air Station does not have one. We had to pick up the Golden Knights from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On the way to Arizona, the Golden Knights availed themselves to crapping in the crew latrine en masse. By the time the 10-day mission was over, the smell from the crew latrine was intolerable. Ya gotta be tough to fly the heavies…..