On board the British plane dropping aid to Iraq's stranded refugees

On board the Hercules transport aircraft. Credit: ITV News

By Geraint Vincent: Middle East Correspondent

I travelled on board an RAF Hercules transport plane as it made the long and perilous overnight journey from Cyprus to northern Iraq to deliver aid to refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar.

2300: Take off. It's dark and deafening. I sit next to 14 tonnes of painstakingly packed water canisters and temporary shelters, all on pallets attached to parachutes, which are primed to open as the packages leave the plane.

2330: It's a long way to northern Iraq. An RAF Voyager aircraft carries out in-flight refuelling. I watch the other Hercules through a night vision lens. An awesome sight.

The 14 tonnes of aid parcels are strapped into the plane to hold them in place.

The Hercules transport aircraft takes off from its Cyprus base. Credit: BFBS

0230: We're into Iraqi airspace. Delivering aid to a war zone is dangerous. The crew break out ammunition for their personal weapons so they are prepared for the worst-case scenario - being shot down by IS fighters. Tornado fighter aircraft are ahead and above, providing watch.

Crew members get their ammo ready in case they are attacked as the aid is delivered.

0300: We are over the drop zone. This is what the last 24 hours of relentless preparation have been about. On the signal, the packages are released. They are away cleanly in seconds, due to hit the ground over an area about 500 metres long.

The crew take up positions at the back of the aircraft looking out for hostile activity on the ground - ready to release chaff and flares in response to missiles launched at us.

0330: It's all quiet, apart from the ceaseless roar of the Hercules engines. It's three hours back to Cyprus. The loading crew use the time to sleep - they will be back to work very soon after they land.

More: UK delivers water and shelter to Mount Sinjar refugees