Reporters on the Job

In the Cockpit: Correspondent Ann Scott Tyson wasn't completely sure she'd land a seat on the C-17 transport plane until about three hours before she took off (page 7). But with last-minute clearance, she hopped aboard and got a close look at a plane that was ferrying about 170,000 lbs. of cargo - and Ann - from Charleston, S.C., via Germany to Bagram, Afghanistan.

"You walk in and it's all metal and wires," Ann says. "It's like a gutted plane with little jump seats on the side."

Passengers were free to move about the plane as they saw fit - though hanging onto something is a good idea, Ann says. Like others on board, she caught some shuteye on the floor of the cargo area. But she also spent time in the cockpit, where she got a bird's eye view of takeoffs, landings, and a carefully calibrated refueling over the Black Sea (see photo, page 7).

From start to finish, the journey took about 24 hours, with some brief stopovers. It finished with a dark-of-night landing at Bagram Air Base that made it clear there was nothing routine about flying these missions.

"Before we landed, we had to put on helmets and gear, in case anything happened. As the pilots come into Bagram, which is surrounded by mountains, they try to disguise their plans as much as possible. So they come in at an angle and then make a sharp turn. They also don't make contact with the control tower until the last minute."

Without the benefit of night-vision goggles, it appeared to Ann as if they were just flying into blackness. Then, very quickly, they were on the base. "On a daily basis, these guys go through some fairly tense times," Ann says.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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