Marking the runway
A “Hercules” dirt-landing at night
The landing unit soldiers watching the “Hercules” landing The soldiers of the Frontal Landing Unit are accustomed to upside-down days. Working at night—sleeping through the day. We joined the small, unique unit for an exercise and discovered: How do you build an airport overnight?
Michal Weissbrod | Translation: Karen Tocatly
A long night awaits the soldiers of the Frontal Landing Unit, who accompany “C-130 Hercules” planes and carefully make sure they land safely on ground. After a long and sleepy ride through the southern heat, they arrive at the fields and any vestige of fatigue disappears from their faces.
They swiftly exit the military vehicle and begin to unload the equipment. Boxes, rods, sleeping bags, communicators and hoes are passed quickly from hand to hand with an air of professionalism that only arises from soldiers who have done this dozens of times. Within several minutes, an improvised camp is set up and all that is left to do is mark runways before the night descends.
There is still a while before the giant, military-splotched planes take off. So meanwhile, Private Itamar and Corporal Dean take care of a meal for the unit. Dean, a non-commissioned officer of weaponry and instruction, is from a Kibbutz and heard about the unit during his pre-army Service Year.
“This is exactly what I was looking for”, he says, “a small unit with vast fields. In training we enter wide areas and prepare the ground for the “Hercules” planes. We take the jeep there, accelerate, check if the ground is suitable and finally decide if the plane will be able to taxi there. We have a good atmosphere, lots of cooking”, he says while peeling a potato. “I’m happy to be here”.
Today, the unit is practicing building a temporary airport in the open fields and is taking advantage of the opportunity to train the “Elephants” squadron in dirt landings.
Commander of the unit, Major Idan, who is used to batting for the other team, is also out in the fields: just a few weeks ago he left the “Elephants” squadron on his own and arrived at the landing unit. Today, Major Idan got the opportunity to taste some sand and see how his squadron looks from downward up.
“It’s fun to be out in the fields”, he says with a smile and lowers his night goggles. “It’s amazing to be here. When I arrived, I immediately saw that it’s a small, family-like unit that’s fun to be a part of. Everyone is friends with everyone. At the end of the day, it’s good to be in a place in which you feel the weight of responsibility on your shoulders. And everyone here feels it”.
“Thank you & Good night”
Toward sunset, the unit starts to lower its profile and each soldier resumes his specific role: Crew Commander, Earth Tester, Medic or Firefighter. A round moon watches them from above the Desert Mountains, the onions sizzle in the pan and shining red flashlights create a long, organized landing strip. The only thing missing is the “Hercules”.
Without special night-vision technology, it is hard to notice the “Hercules” planes arriving one by one in groups of four, galloping on the dirt runways and leaving behind them tremendous clouds of sand. Finally, the practice is over and the final plane leaves to return to Nevatim Airbase, taking off into the black sky. At midnight, like in a fairytale, the elaborate landing strip becomes once again nothing more than a field of sand.
“Thank you for the exercise”, the voice of the pilot erupts from the communicator. “Really, it was a good, elaborate exercise. Good night”.