We Are Not Amused.

April 12, 2012

After today’s issue I’ll stop going on about the Airborne, for a while at least, and devote this space to other happenings.

I think, I mentioned that the guys who trained us to parachute were fully trained physical training instructors, who had also qualified as jump masters or despatchers and were members of the Royal Air Force, and not, as in the case of the U.S.A’s military, Army personnel. Due to the normal inter- service rivalry that exists in all armed forces we were tailor-made as patsies for many of their pranks.

I also said in an earlier piece that I could laugh at all jokes, even if they were directed at me, no matter how cruel, provided there was humour or wit involved. Thinking back about these RAF types and what they used to get up to, I realise I lied. I thought their pranks were sick especially if they were directed at me.

 You’ve probably seen those movies in which the paratroopers, aboard their C130 Hercules, receive the order to stand and hook-up? Each trooper attaches a metal hook, which has a special locking pin, to a cable that runs the length of the plane, so that as the individual moves, in line, along the aircraft to the exit, the circle of steel formed by the closed hook slides along with him. This hook is attached at its other end to a long canvas strop connected, within the parachute pack, to the canopy. It is obvious that the connection to the cable must be secure because as the weight of the jumper leaves the aircraft it is this length of canvas that eventually causes the chute to deploy.

One of the instructors’ favourite wheezes was to have an identical hook attached to a short length of similar canvas, say eight inches, hidden in his hand. Then, in the safety check process, come up to a soldier and ask if he has secured his hook. Since the jumper has it in his hand, has tugged on it to test that it is indeed fast, at least ten times in so many seconds, and has eyeballed it frequently, as the moment of truth approaches, the victim answers in the affirmative. Therefore, when the prankster whips ‘his’ hook over the shoulder of the victim, who still has his own, visible in full view, and screams “What’s this then?” there should be no reaction, right? Wrong! I’ve heard a fully grown, hairy assed, tattooed Marine Commando yelp like a big girl’s blouse when it happened to him. I was a lot more mature than he was when it happened to me. Apparently, I didn’t make a sound, or so they told me, when they brought me round.

 Unbeknown to us, when we were doing this training, the Air Force was also taking the opportunity to use the occasion to provide additional training for its cargo plane pilots. Apparently, when seventy or so paratroopers exit a plane, the rapid loss of weight affects the equilibrium or smooth flight, and requires a measured response from the pilot.

These guys were also up for jokes at our expense and I remember one occasion when the jumpmasters dragged two babbling bodies, wearing flying boots, past us in the plane to the cockpit, where they just threw them in. On their way back to their jump stations they made loud references to their hopes that black coffee and aspirin would revive the two flyboys sufficiently enough to get the crate off the ground.  Not even remotely funny, I remember thinking, when they got me back on the plane.

One last story concerns a friend of mine called Taffy. On his initial plane jump, he was first in the stick to jump, and was already standing in the door, with the despatcher’s  grip tight on his shoulder. As the plane made a preliminary wide circle over the drop zone (DZ) the despatcher asked Taffy if he would jump if ordered. Taffy said he would, even though only the red light (get ready) was on. The instructor slapped him on the shoulder and jokingly shouted, “Go” but simultaneously tried to hold on to him. Unfortunately, the high-powered adrenalin rush Taffy was experiencing also heightened his reactions and he was gone.

Luckily, Taff did everything he had been taught and suffered no injuries when he landed on a tarmac road, running through a housing estate, in the suburbs of Oxford, right in the path of the local Bobby on his bike.

“Jesus, where did you come from?” asked the bemused policeman.

In the middle of dragging his chute together, an equally bemused Taffy looked up into the by now empty sky, and said simply, ” From up there.”


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