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Canadian cargo pilots encounter different kind of enemy during Afghan mission


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Canadian cargo pilots encounter different kind of enemy during Afghan mission
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KABUL, Afghanistan - Maj. Paul Anderson has probably seen more of Afghanistan than most people in the country, although he usually sees it from 6,400 metres above the ground.

"That is the main and only highway between Kandahar and Kabul," he says, pointing at the tiny line of cars and trucks barely visible from the cockpit of his Hercules C-130 transport plane.

The view out the window closely resembles a giant, coloured three-dimensional map. There is little to break up the monotony of sand and mountains except patches of green in some of the deeper valleys, the occasional silver thread of a river and a rare expanse of white cloud.

"I think Canada's north will eventually look like this if they continue with all the mining that is going up there right now," he noted.

While ground forces get the lion's share of attention in Canada's military mission here, the job done above the ground can be equally important and just as dangerous.

The hulking C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop cargo aircraft and the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. You could almost consider it a semi-trailer with wings. There are more than 40 models and variants of the Hercules serve with more than 50 countries.

With its rear loading ramp and door, the Hercules can accommodate a wide variety of oversized cargo, including everything from utility helicopters and six-wheeled armoured vehicles to standard loads of cargo and military personnel. In an aerial delivery role, it can drop loads up to 20,000 kilograms.

It's the airdrops that are the most satisfying part of the job for Anderson.

"We'll drop anything the army needs, any coalition member anywhere. We'll gladly drop bags of rice to the ANA at their forward operating bases. We'll drop stuff to Americans, we've dropped lots of ammunition and that sort of thing to guys who can't take the road for fear of the IEDs," said Anderson. "We try and take the risk away from those guys and we've done lots and lots of resupply over the last 16 months."

"It uses most of our skill set to do that. We love doing it because it is the most rewarding thing to realize you are making a difference to the boots on the ground."

Although the risk of enemy attack for these flying behemoths are slight, there is danger any time one flies into a war zone.

"I had a couple of mountain drops last year where we were flying into some blind valleys dropping to American special forces. It was very interesting drops... not particularly dangerous on account of the enemy although we were flying over enemy territory," Anderson remembered.

"However when you're down low in the rocks, cumulus granite probably has a kill rate of 100 per cent," he chuckled. "So you really gotta know what you're doing. At this time of year the weather and the rocks combine to give you a lot higher risk than the enemy for us."

The C-130 continues to be the workhorse of the Canadian forces. Capable of short takeoffs and landings from unprepared runways, it was originally designed as a troop, medical evacuation and cargo transport aircraft.

The versatile aircraft has been used in a variety of other roles, including airborne assault, search and rescue, aerial refuelling and firefighting.
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