The White-Knuckle Way I Discovered I Will Never Be An Army Pilot
A Black Hawk helicopter takes off from the ground like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle.
One moment you're on solid earth, the entire cabin shuddering as vibrations from the huge overhead rotor blades pulse through the skeleton of the army helicopter.
The next, the frame of the heavy hulking beast shoots into the sky as if yanked on a rope, jerking perfectly vertical, blasting anything unlucky enough to be in the range of the blades -- sand, grass, even unsuspecting journalists -- away as it hurtles heavenward.
We're at a football oval opposite HMAS Penguin, a deceptively cute name for a facility housing highly-trained and vital personnel including the Australian Defence Force's diving school, the Royal Australian Navy's hydrographic school, and submarine units.
It can be found at the picturesque and leafy Mosman, the 'middle head' of Sydney Harbour -- although we're not here to focus on what's below the water, but instead to soar high above it.
Touching down on the footy field, right around the spot where the ball would be bounced to start an Aussie Rules match, are two Black Hawk choppers.
The (perhaps silly) first thing I notice? They're not black. Daubed in traditional military camouflage, black and green and mottled brown, the stripped-down aircraft are built for speed, for high-risk and high-pressure missions.
The back of the choppers, where 10 daily's video editor Myles Davies and I will soon be clinging on for dear life, is even less fancy than your traditional used car. It comprises of a few seats, a complicated seatbelt, and not much else.
That's the reason we're here. The Department of Defence has offered a rare look inside the army Black Hawks, as they reassure the public there's nothing to worry about, ahead of high-visibility military training over coming weeks.
The 6th Aviation Regiment will run counter-terrorism drills for special operations personnel across greater Sydney, as far west as Bathurst and Orange, for the next six weeks.
"The aim of these particular activities is to ensure the ADF is prepared to respond to potential terrorist attacks," said Major Warrick Talbot, executive officer of the 6th Aviation Regiment.
"You can anticipate activities by day and by night that will include up to five aircraft flying at low level, blacked out, in a range of built up locations."
"We apologise in advance for any disturbance but please don't be alarmed."
To give us an idea just how loud these activities might be, 10 daily was invited onboard. Named 'Patriot' -- with its name curiously written on its body in a jovial Comic Sans font, in contrast to the sans serif stencil and block letters across the rest of the craft -- our camouflaged chopper leaps into the air.
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The momentum feels like a heart-starting theme park ride, the speed of the helicopter itself and the thrumming wind pounding through the open cabin doors combining to keep you pinned back against your seat.
In seconds, we're out into the bay, whipping through the heads and back into the world's most beautiful harbour.
But it's the pure experience of sitting in this military monster, a brief 10-minute taster of what these highly-trained defence professionals do as part of their daily jobs, that makes me realise I'd never be cut out for a life flying choppers.
For one, the sheer power of the wind at this height, your body unguarded by doors or walls of conventional aircraft. With the bay doors flung wide open, and only a seat belt or hand-hold to prevent you tumbling headlong into the sea, the wind whips and pounds like a hurricane.
My slim wire sunglasses, great for walking around the city, are literally bending against my face as the force of the rotor blades smacks into my body -- I'd turn my head so the wind isn't hitting me full-force in the face, but I'm sure my glasses would be simply picked up and blown off at another angle.
It's all I can do to simply clutch my phone -- to grab a few photos, naturally -- like grim death, grimace and contort my face in some vain attempt to give the little nose pads of my glasses some wrinkle to cling onto, and try to appreciate the stunning view.
So residents of Sydney, when you see these brutal looking pieces of machinery hurtling through the skies in coming weeks, don't be alarmed. They're conducting drills, with the aim of keeping people safe in the terrible event that the skills of the Army are needed -- skills that, I now know, I'd have very little possibility of ever possessing myself.
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