Jim and Paula's Vichy Trip Log

Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009

Safe in the Loving Arms of the Air Force. Right now, 0345MDT, we are in the Gateway Inn, on Fairchild AFB in Spokane. I expect we will remain here until we give up on sleeping and drive home. We should be home before noon, I expect. I don't know when we get over jet-lag.

Getting through the passenger terminal in England is harder than flying on the plane. They try to copy everything that is done in the civilian airports, but their heart isn't in it. They saw Paula's water bottle and made her pour it out until she got through the magnetic gate, then she refilled it at the water fountain. My three water bottles were enclosed in my backpack and remained undetected by the x-ray machine. My guess is that they were required to put everything through the x-ray machine, but they weren't required to spot anything, and they didn't. That's the way I remember the army long ago.

One of the babies had one of those tactical baby carriages with the cup holders and the large tractor wheels. Ground personnel gave up trying to x-ray that.

The flight back was uneventful. There were 22 of us on the tanker, including 3 infants, two mothers, and 15 AF people going on leave in the states. There was also some sort of supernunnary captain, but he stayed on the flight deck, so I expect he was a pilot or something coming home on leave. And us old folks, of course.

The airplane flew high over the north pole and took a long time doing it. Anyway it seemed that way. Actually, it took exactly took 9-1/2 hours. We all had box lunches, and the AF people brought on enough food for several days. They must have brought a ton of bottled water from Kurdistan. They shared it with everybody and I have a couple of empty water bottles for souvenirs. Now be honest--How many of you knew that Coca-Cola had a bottling plant in Kazakhstan?

So we all rode home in on our little canvas camp seats with our feet propped up on the lashed-down cargo and had a picnic. The main drawback is you have ear-plugs in your ears because of the sound of the engines and they are very effective. There isn't much conversation during the flight. And there weren't any ants, of course. The airplane, by the way, is very clean inside. You put all your litter in the plastic bag hung next to the wing exit door, on the other side from the inflatable life rafts. Emily would be proud of the Air Force.

You also have to bring on your own lights if you want to read. There aren't any windows and the lighting, while perfectly adequate for moving around and seeing, isn't bright enough for reading. Paula and I had our little miner's lamps and read most of the way. The troups watched a lot of videos on their little DVD players, and played cards by the light of a blank laptop screen arranged on some cargo. I sat next to an E-4 who had received $35,000 as a sign-up bonus 4 years ago. She was the one who made sure all the civilians had lots of water. The flight crew stayed up front, except for a couple of times when the co-pilot walked purposely through the aircraft from front to back and back again immediately. Was he checking to see if the tail was still attached? He couldn't have been visiting the facilities, they are up front.

The last place we stayed in England, RAF Mildenhall billets, was as nice as I ever will need. It had an electrical bath towell dryer in the bathroom. Just hang your towels over the chrome tubing and they will soon be warm and dry.

England was wet. It rains continuously. When we first got there it was warm, muggy, rain. When we left it was cold, dark rain. But it was always rain. You get used to it.

Paula is so much better that I fearlessly call her recovered. All in all, I would make the trip again in a minute, minus the food poisoning.