By Richard Clements
A recent Friday was like an old fashioned field trip. I got to take a break from my normal routine. My normal routine is delivering panels of concrete to buildings under construction. I have four trucks including a cascadia evolution working this job on a steady basis. The construction of these buildings is precise, accurate and fast.
Delivering units to Havre de Grace water treatment plant
Delivering wall panels to apartment building in Bronx
I received an order that got my interest to assist in the retrieval of a commercial satellite. It seems that the launch facility was a little rough in handling the satellite and banged it around so much it was now an insurance job. I can’t understand how this could have happened.
I arrived at the contracted hour before 12 p.m. on Friday at Dulles Airport. After looking all over the place for a rep from the freight company, I finally found some folks, rocket scientists, from Orbital Labs which is also in Dulles Va. I was given directions by them collectively, to the area of operation, that turned out to be wrong, than a second set of directions from a guard that turned out to be wrong, then, finally, a third set of directions that was correct. With that I finally met an air strip escort. I was brought in to an area on the tarmac next to the plane. This beast is a Russian built Antonivich 124 and was copied from our C5 Galaxy. This plane and its crew are as close to privateers as it gets.
This plane regularly carries 2 to 4 million dollars for fuel, fees and expenses all paid in cash. There were even customers who wanted to reload the plane dealing directly with the crew on the tarmac. One thing I must note is that everyone involved was in good humor and relaxed to an unusual level. I guess all that cash does that.
Now that the plane has done the customs thing and the air in the cargo hold is checked, it morphs to another form for self unloading. The rear has gantry cranes to load trucks and the front opens to facilitate “roll on roll off” cargo with ramps.
The rest is kinda routine except that no one was in charge and trucks were all over the place. It was kinda like watching 6 chimps hump a beach ball. All the while we were kept amused with stories of the incompetence of the satellite launch facility in Kazakhstan. I did learn one thing. If I’m ever going to launch a satellite I’m going to do it in French Guiana verses Kazakhstan.
After loading and securing we embarked on our 8 mile journey through rush hour traffic. We arrived safely and than it happened, the highpoint of the day, all I can say is that there is nothing like watching two rocket scientists with combined 12 years of college and another 10 years of graduate school try to figure out how to operate a cargo strap and roll it up. It seemed the rolling up part was the most difficult.
It was a good day and I must say those rocket scientists sure know how to have lunch catered. I asked them if they could use me on their next Kazakhstan launch, they said NO. I also asked them numerous times if they would be interested in abandoning their Northern Virginia 125,000 foot facility and moving to Havre de Grace at the intersection of Rt 155 and I-95, they said NO.