Hey guys, long time stalker on here, thought I could finally lose my A.net virginity and post a trip report. Hope you enjoy.
This trip took place in 2019, and is written with the permission of the chain of command.
Being based at RAF Lakenheath, a leafy, generally quiet part of the English countryside, a life away from the downtown hustle and bustle I grew up in stateside, could be considered a luxury by some. I was stationed here in 2015 and have been here ever since, and I would never want to find myself moved to a different posting.
In early 2019, we found ourselves being deployed to FOB Fenty in J-Bad, Afghanistan. Usually, a troop transport would take us from RAF Lakenheath, however, for one reason or another, this wasn’t the case this time.
The trip started in the early hours of the morning, we said our goodbyes, and at 3:35am, we boarded 2 coaches from RAF Lakenheath, headed for RAF Brize Norton. Most of us managed to get some sleep during the 3 hour ride on the English “motorways”.
For some reason, the Royal Air Force/RAF Brize Norton require passengers to be at the airport 3 HOURS prior to departure, which I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t such an awful place to wait around, after check in and security, there is a handful of seats, a very overpriced convenience store and a couple of vending machines. Waiting here for 3 hours, one could consider very painful, especially with my phone battery draining at a pretty drastic rate. The departure lounge was pretty full too, there were flights to both Germany(Hannover) and Cyprus(RAF Akrotiri) operating this morning, both A330’s and both seemed full, so there was a few hundred people scrambling for what must have been no more than 40/50 seats. At around 0915, boarding was called for our flight, taking us to Minhad Air Base via Bahrain, this flight wasn’t chartered for us and seemed to have a mix of different NATO forces aboard. Fun fact, this flight was operated by AirTanker, a civilian airline(who lease aircraft to Jet2 and Thomas Cook), who operated on behalf of the RAF.
First, officers were called forward, followed by warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, then the remainder of ranks. I got my pass scanned, and walked across the tarmac to ZZ330, an Airbus A330MRTT, waiting for us, boarding through doors 1L and 4L.
I headed to the rear doors, upon reaching the top of the stairs I was greeted by 2 young female flight attendants, it felt very strange being welcomed onboard a military jet by civilians. I headed to my seat 33A. The RAF Voyagers are configured in a 2-4-2 layout, the legroom is fairly average, towards the rear the legroom does increase, and there are also 2 large parts of the cabin which cover the last 3 rows dedicated to carrying stretchers.
Unfortunately no IFE of any sort, not even magazines on these birds.
We pushed back from stand at around 1005, an automated voice talked us through the safety procedures, while the flight attendants performed the demonstration. After a short taxi, we found ourselves airborne at around 1020am. We departed on Runway 07 to the East, making a short right turn after departure, we flew over the North of London, passing just North of Stansted, making a few turns over the North Sea to bring us towards Eindhoven, and from then on it was pretty much plain sailing, straight to Bahrain.
Around 40 minutes after departure the crew came around with a bar service, no alcoholic drinks of course. I got a coke, and received 2 of the small cans. This was shortly followed by a lunch service, we actually got options! Those of you who have been unfortunate enough to travel on military aircraft or military charters will know the pain or having a lukewarm meal thrown at you. The choices were Chicken Stir Fry, Fish with vegetables or Beef Lasagne. I got the lasagne, and honestly it was actually okay, by far not the worst meal I’ve had on an aircraft. This was accompanied by a bread roll, butter, a small salad, cheese and crackers, and a kit kat.
This was cleared away about 30 minutes later.
Our actual flight time was 07:06, the remainder of the flight passed pretty smoothly, I watched a few movies on my iPad, and the flight attendants continued to pass through with bottled water periodically, we ended up arriving in Bahrain at 0730pm local time. We taxied to a remote stand, the door 1L opened up. The crew asked anybody disembarking in Bahrain to please disembark now, a handful of people got up and got off. At this point, the crew came through the cabin and asked us to identify our hand luggage. Any unidentified pieces (2 bags a few rows ahead of me were unclaimed) were swiftly launched out of the door. Shortly after, the crew also disembarked, and were replaced by an RAF Aircrew wearing flight suits, who would take us on the final leg to Minhad. Maybe AirTanker crews aren’t allowed into Military bases, I’m not too sure, maybe somebody can clear that up for me?
The whole ordeal only took around 45 minutes, and by 0830pm we were again airborne, heading northwest, we made a long right turn, taking us toward Dubai. For those unaware, Minhad is a NATO Airbase a few miles southeast of Dubai. There was a quick water, tea & coffee and snack service, salted potato chips or some sweet biscuits. Coffee and chips was good enough for me, since we still had quite the journey ahead.
Long gone are the days of the “Enduring Freedom” acclimatisation, where you sit in your ass for 3 weeks at Camp Bastion/Leatherneck, Kandahar or J-Bad, to acclimatise, no you pretty much go straight in nowadays.
A short 1 hour flight time later, and we found ourselves descending over Dubai which provided some spectacular views of the city. The flight crew buttered the landing into Minhad, and we were soon on a parking stand a few minutes later.
We disembarked through 1L and 4L, and walked across the tarmac to the processing facility where they checked our documents(travel warrants or whatnot), and we were free to pick our bags up from baggage claim, which is literally just a room where some grumpy airmen throw your bags.
After a quick stop at the PX, it was time for the next leg of the journey which would take us straight to J-Bad/FOB Fenty.
I was as surprised to see our next leg would take place on a C-130H of the Arkansas National Guard.
At around midnight, we departed from Minhad, strapped into the rows of seats which go from AC Rear to Front, instead of left to right.
No luxury service or pretty flight attendants on this one
The flight was surprisingly smooth, and a little over 3 hours later, just after 03:30am, we touched down at Jalalabad airfield, FOB Fenty.
After a number of months out there, it was time to come home. We would be heading back to Lakenheath before heading back stateside for some leave.
Depending on how well this goes, I may post that later on. I hope you enjoyed reading, please leave comments or any questions you might have. Stay safe.