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Despite its size, Globemaster proves a nimble bird

By Dean Irvine, CNN
February 18, 2012 -- Updated 0342 GMT (1142 HKT)
On the flight deck of the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster "Hickham." On the flight deck of the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster "Hickham."
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Riding a big bird in Singapore
Riding a big bird in Singapore
Riding a big bird in Singapore
Riding a big bird in Singapore
Riding a big bird in Singapore
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Air Force's Pacific crew go through their paces in the C-17A
  • Crew recently used sharp maneuvering to escape enemy fire in Afghanistan
  • Less hazardous missions have included transporting a killer whale

Editor's note: From high-flyers to mega-deals, CNN International will be bringing you all the latest news and buzz from the Singapore Airshow.

(CNN) -- Among all the aerobatic display teams across the world, the U.S Air Force's C-17A Globemaster III "Hickam" isn't the most graceful.

"But it is pretty nimble," says Anthony Gurrieri from its flight deck moments before hitting the thrusters and executing a tactical descent that dropped the plane 20,000 feet (six kilometers) in just over a minute.

Feeling like the most exhilarating roller-coaster ride for those onboard, it is not so spectacular for those watching on the ground at the Singapore Airshow, although it is a maneuver that he and other member of the flight team need to use regularly.

"We're often in areas that you just need to get out of quickly," says Major Mike Pasquino, another of the four pilots of the Hickam. A steep take off and turn was used by the crew recently to escape enemy fire in Afghanistan. "You just think about your training and nothing else in those situations," says Pasquino.

Part of the U.S. Air Force's Pacific crew based in Hawaii, the Hickam's other less hazardous missions have included transporting dolphins and even a killer whale in the plane's voluminous cargo hold. It's been joined in Singapore by display teams from the home nation, Australia and Malaysia, but with all those Type A personalities looping through the skies in national colors, does it lead to competition among pilots?

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"No way," says Lieutenant Colonel Mior Nor Badrishah, commanding officer of the Malaysian Air Force's Smokey Bandits display team. "Shit happens if you push it."

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And he should know. Badrishah gained the nickname "Ghost" after a near-fatal training accident over the Malacca Straits. He and other pilots from the Malaysian Air Force were on training maneuvers with the Royal Australian Air Force when an Australian jet clipped Badrishah's Russian-made Mig 29, forcing him to bail out at 13,000 feet from the burning jet.

"I blacked out for a few seconds when I ejected. I came to and pulled the parachute and landed in the water. It took over four hours for them to get me out."

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Just two years ago at the same event in Singapore a South Korean pilot was forced to cut short his aerial display after getting too close to the crowd. The organizers emphasize the safety measures in place at these displays, but accidents do happen, most tragically at an event in Ukraine in 2002 when 77 people died and hundreds of people were injured.

Badrishah's accident "was an expensive mistake," he says with heavy understatement, but it certainly didn't put him off flying. "I had two weeks off and was then back in a plane."

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