My worst is probably more than most have ever experienced. Brake fire.

Rewind to 2009 I think. Bagram AF, Afghanistan. My unit is in the middle of a stage where we move one Army unit worth of Helicopters into theater and for everyone that goes in, one comes out. Pretty simple. Not this day. This day sucked.

We alerted and stepped to the jet, a big beautiful C-5B, my first love. We load and secure our cargo for the day, two Chinooks and two passengers. Everything went well. Fast forward through engine start and taxi and we’re now getting ready to take off. I’m standing at 7R (one of the troop doors) so that upon takeoff I can scan for threats and call out flares if needed. All standard. Throttles get pushed forward and the pilot is calling out speed checks as we rumble down the runway. Go speed that day was something around 140 knots. At 120 knots I hear words I’ve never heard before, “REJECT, ENGINE OVERHEATING”.

At this point I’m confused but I’m smart enough to somehow bear hug the door bar and hold on because what happens next borders on violent. Pilot slams the two outboard engines in full thrust reverse and hits the brakes, HARD. Thank god I was holding on because I swear I went horizontal. After we stopped and turned off the runway I grabbed my backpack and ran forward to meet the Flight Engineer at the crew entry door. He hands me a pair of wheel chocks and says, “chock the nose, the brakes are over 900°” we never chock the nose wheels but it made sense because I don’t want to get anywhere near the 900° brakes.

So I run out the door and chock the nose. That’s when I feel it. The heat. So much heat. I turned and looked back, all of the wheels are cherry read and a select few are on fire. At this point my passengers are coming down so I grab them by the collar and quickly escort them away from the potential fireball.

Needless to say our flight back to Spain was delayed.