Flt Lt Caz Leavey, C130 pilot "The time I get up depends on my duties. It could be 2 or 3 in the morning. Im bleary-eyed and carry all my stuff from my tent to the bathroom, dropping things on the way. I then shower and get ready basically by scraping my hair back in a scrunchie. We have breakfast I eat Alpen, hurriedly. Then we get our rations for the flight sausage rolls, biscuits and fruit and fill our canisters with hot water for tea and coffee. I call being in Iraq my fat camp, as I always lose about a stone. I think: Okay, Im stuck out here, I might as well glean a detox out of it. I wear a green flying suit for normal operations but I also have a warm-climate, sandy-coloured one I tease the blokes its actually pink. If we got shot down and captured wed immediately be identified as RAF crew and tortured, as wed have the most information. Now theyre designing fire-retardant combats for us that blend in with the rest of the troops; then well all get tortured equally! After breakfast we collect a rifle, pistol and ammunition. Im not a good shot: in training, target practice wasnt my top priority. I guess I was concentrating on flying planes. We then get the tactical information for the day, and set off on a standard route: Baghdad-Kuwait-Baghdad, mainly, or around Iraq. Mostly we collect troops or ferry them around in theatre [the theatre of operations]. My parents were both cabin crew, so I practically grew up in the air. My sixth birthday was spent in the cockpit of a 747, gaily munching cake on the captains knee. My original dream was to be a doctor, but I fell short of the three As and ended up doing biochemistry. I was pretty despondent, so my brother, whos a commercial pilot, suggested joining the University Air Squadron. It was exhilarating. I could fly a Bulldog before I got my degree, but long-term I had no idea what I wanted to fly, and my decision was based on location, location, location. Im a southern girl at heart, so that ruled out Nimrods because theyre based in Scotland. That left Brize Norton, with its VC10s, TriStars and C-17s, or Lyneham, where the Hercules are based. Ive been to Iraq seven times in the last couple of years, and its always been hairy. But its even more dangerous now. In Basra Im supposed to shack up in the womens tent, but they get up at random times for less stringent duties. If they have a disturbed night, they might drop a pencil but I could crash an aircraft. Im not supposed to sleep in the tent with the guys, but I do. In theatre I need to be with my crew constantly. We sleep, eat and work alongside each other. When rain floods the tents its bad. The guys mock me for bringing a Samsonite suitcase with me, but when their Bergens are soaked through and mine is bone-dry inside, theyre begging to put their mobiles and laptops in it. I have to put up with a bit of a hoo-ha when Im lugging it off the aircraft, but you wouldnt be a woman in the forces if you couldnt take a bit of stick. The first time I made a night approach into Basra, rockets were exploding on the runway. Id been through the ropes in the simulator, but a real explosion is something else! I had to fly into Kuwaiti airspace while they checked the runway for damage. About two hours later we landed fine, but I felt bad for my 80 troops on board. Its like: Welcome to the base its under fire. Our day can be 18 hours long. Lunch depends on when well be at a certain air base at the American ones theres Burger King. But I feel safer in the sky. When youre being rocketed on the ground you feel completely helpless. You just repair to your tent and hope. You hear a whooo before a rocket lands, then the ground shakes and the tent sucks in and youre frozen as you feel the vacuum after the blast. My boyfriend was in the RAF for 10 years, and he once said: If the rockets got my name on, my time is up. That calms me down. The Hercules can carry 120 people and has four engines. Once, a warning came up saying engine vibration high. I reduced the power but it didnt go away, so I shut that engine down and returned to base. It wasnt a panic, just something I had to do. But once I buggered up a landing, and the crew were like: What the hell was that? It isnt always your fault: the wind might change, and a Hercules hasnt got air brakes, so you may have to break off the approach. Ive never done serious damage to an aircraft, but I expect Ive caused bruises. We get basic escape and evasion training, but in my view if you cant limp to a runway, youre a goner. A Hercules went down between Balad and Baghdad two years ago. The co-pilot was a close friend of mine. I was at a panto at Brize Norton when we got the news. It was devastating. Some of my colleagues went to 10 funerals. When I joined up there was no war and I didnt think about that side of things. But when Im flying, no emotion interferes: I remain cool, detached and professional. Its on the ground I run round like a hot potato. After the final flight of the day we return all our kit, check the plot for the next day, then head for the mess. I have a light supper and, if Ive got the energy, go to the gym. In the evening, DVDs are the main form of entertainment except I cant persuade the lads to watch the movies I like, so I take my laptop and watch Pride and Prejudice, or whatever, by myself on my camp bed. I read a lot too. Then, as long as there are no sirens or rockets, I go to sleep. I always pray that I dont get mortared that night. In my dreams I always survive."