The Edge of Space

 

Flying in the stratosphere right at the edge of space at twice the speed of sound was one of the most incredible and humbleing things I have ever done.

This is the blog  I wrote of the whole fantastic experience.

 

Image at the Edge of Space

 

To Infinity & Beyond!

Having tried lots of different adrenaline sports I have decided, for my 40th birthday, to treat myself to what has to be one of the ultimate thrills! Flying to the edge of space at over twice the speed of sound in a Russian Mig. Over the next few weeks I will be blogging about it and will drop my photos and any video here, so you can all see if I go green and reach for the obligatory inflight paper bag, or just scream.

 

The Video

So, after what feels like forever (only 9 days) the video footage from Sokol has arrived. The DVD’s had a whole heap of stills on them (some good, some not so good) which I have already added to this blog in the relevant sections.

I also got a DVD with footage of the flight which I have re-edited so it’s shorter and  I’ve taken out the cringe worthy transitions.

I have broken out the aerobatics sections and the flight into the stratosphere so that they are shorter and easier to watch but in reality the aerobatics bit is all part of the same flight, which is why, when you see the landing I look like I have been in a tumble drier. (I have!)

 

20m Low Level Pass

This was very cool. As the plane gets lower to the ground (we were at about 20m) you start to realise how fast you are actually going and get an amazing sense of how powerful the aircraft is. This came towards the end of the flight after all of the other aerobatics. Much more and breakfast would have been on the inside of the cockpit I’m sorry to say.

Flight to The Edge of Space

There is not a lot I can say about this, other than it was just breath taking and the view was stunning! This is what I went to Russia to do. The high speed and aerobatics were great fun but nothing in comparison to seeing the curvature of the earth. The whole experience is something I will treasure for a long time.

 

The Hammer – 6G Blackout

In the hammer the pilot takes the plane vertical and then slows to a stop. A cool but freaky feeling to be in a plane thousands of feet up but going nowhere. I think you can actually hear me swear when the plane stops! I pulled 6.5G at the bottom of this and blacked out

 

High Speed Loop

Pretty straight forward although the G-force as we start the climb was pretty uncomfortable (I am pretty sure watching it this is where we pulled 6 g and I blacked out at the start) You can see my breathing pattern change as I get the “stuffing” squashed out of me as we go into the climb.

 

Inverted Flyby

This was more freaky than the Hammer!

Dangling upside down by a couple of seat straps and looking straight down to Terra Firma through a clear canopy makes your heart pump. I was much happier once we had spun back around and my ass was back in the seat and not dangling in the wind. I did have a cocktail stick bouncing around though, which gave me something to focus on and raises the question “why did I not get an in-flight meal”? Obviously someone else did and did not clean up after themselves!

 

Barrel Roll

This is pretty tame, it’s over very quickly and the G-force on you is minimal but after a few of them you do start to feel a little queasy! Be warned!!!

 

Diary 

Below is my day to day diary of events as a I planned and eventually got to Russia to fly in the Mig.

 

The Plan

My trip is planned for early September and I have to say I am pretty excited by the whole thing. Ever since I was a kid I have wanted to have a go in a fast jet. The idea of travelling faster than sound over 20 miles up in the stratosphere, looking down on the earth and out into space has to be an incredibly humbling experience and one hell of a rush!

I have a packed agenda, when, over 6 days I will fly with some of the best Russian pilots in 2 different aircraft, travel over 800 miles by train and take a tour of some of the most well known and stunning places in Moscow.

Day 1 – Arrive in Moscow

Day 2 – Tour of Moscow and then travel 400 miles by train to Nizhny Novgorod

Day 3 – Briefing, training and then the “big” flight in either a Mig 31 or a Mig 29  followed by some aerobatics then back on the train and another 400 miles back to Moscow

Day 4 – Tour of the Kremlin and a well deserved rest to get my stomach back in place!

Day 5 – Travel to airbase number 2 for an aerobatic flight in an L-39.

Day 6 – Back on a plane to London – Hopefully with my lunch intact and some incredible memories.

I am pretty sure that my travel insurance does not cover a Mig should anything go pear shaped!

   

 

Visa – I Have It!

I now have my Visa for Russia, so everything is now pretty much all sorted. The whole visa thing was pretty bizarre. For those of you who don’t know, to enter Russia you need to have an invitation from a company or organisation before they will give you a visa and getting that is not as easy as you would think. You then have to take this invitation with your form and passport to the Russian Embassy  at Kensington Palace Gardens for them to check and approve it. If, after all of the checks have been done you get a thumbs up, you get a lovely new sticker in your passport.

(The one below is obviously not the new shiny one I have in my passport but one I found compliments of Google)

Russian Visa

 

The Company

My thanks to all of you who have wished me well and to those who have proposed epitaphs – (obviously a lot of confidence there) 🙂

Not wanting to tempt fate too much, I will drop some of those on this blog when I get back in one piece!

(Catherine (my other half) has just asked how she can get onto the blog “just in case” – confidence all the way round it seems!!)

For those of you who have asked for more details on which crazy company would take me up in a very expensive plane to do this, then that would be a Russian company called Country of Tourism (catchy I know but very good at sorting it all out). They manage all of the logistics.

The pilots taking me up will be from JSC NAZ Sokol – the company who make the aircraft in Nizhny at Sokol

Sokol
Sokol

(That says Sokol by the way)

For the more geeky of you then you can get more info on the Mig 29 here http://www.sokolplant.ru/en/p_mig29.shtml

and the Mig 31 here http://www.sokolplant.ru/en/p_mig31.shtml

(This plane needs 1.2 killometers just to take off!)

 

T5 British Airways

So, this is my first posting on the go, testing the mobile software I have. Any spelling mistakes please forgive – I will fix these when I log on via my laptop.

I set off at 6 am this morning and had a surprisingly good trip. The sun was shining and my cab driver had a Russian wife who’s father used to work as an engineer, building Migs. What were the chances of that!

This is my first trip out of T5 and my first impressions are a little disappointing. It’s basically a huge shopping mall with pretty poor signs. At check in, every fast bag drop queue was bigger than standard drop off and check in – not that fast. I opted to use the first check in and that had 5 people on it and still it took an age.

Tired of standing here
Tired Of Standing Here

I am, at this moment, stood in a very long queue waiting to board the plane, having already waited for an age at the gate. The flight is already late – so much for the latest set of advertising about being on time…..

Ohoo! we’re moving, more when I land.

 

BA The Flight

We were due to fly at 8.55am. Having eventually boarded the plane at around 9.20am we then sat on the runway for another 30 mins before taking off, almost an hour later than scheduled!

The staff on the plane were, however, fantastic as normal. No matter how much you can criticise the logistics I have never yet had a bad experience with the cabin staff. BA have great crew!

After an uneventfull flight we landed about 20 mins late.

Getting through customs was an adventure, so many people, a cross between JFK on a bad day and a rugby scrum (but friendlier border people than JFK by about 200% – they actually smiled and said hello!).

Day 1

Introductions

I met up with Alexandra (my guide and interpreter) at the airport and Serge (the CEO of the company who organised the trip – Country of Tourism) at the Crown Plaza hotel.

Alexandra
Alexandra
Crown Plaza Hotel Moscow
Crown Plaza Hotel, Moscow

We then went out for dinner at a 17th century period restaurant. The meal was good but it was a little strange trying to make small talk through an interpreter, although Serge was a very good host and it turned out that he had been a Russian Diplomat in the past.

Very Good Salads!
Very Good Salads!

It seems just as in NY (a different adventure altogether) I have an innate ability to attract the police and this was no exception. As we drove back into the hotel entrance we were stopped by an officer of the Militia who was a large stern faced looking man. Serge had to produce his driving documentation and after a lot of talking received what looked like a “special” on the spot fine.

I am so glad that I was not driving and Serge was there to deal with it. I’m sure that situation is not covered in my iPhone Russian “get me the hell out of here” translation software. Maybe it’s in V2.0…?

After dinner it was back to the hotel and a stunning view of the city from my room!

Day Time View
Day Time View
Night Time View
Night Time View

 

 Day 2 – The Tour

 

Today was my tour of Moscow city with Alexandra.

I saw the home of the Bolshoi – it was closed. We then went to a famous museum whose name I cannot say let alone spell – it too was closed. Red Square…..closed (for a celebration at the weekend!) Having said that, I did get to see many other incredible things and see Red Square from different angles so I felt like the day was well spent.

St Basil's Chathedral - Red Square
St Basil
St Basil Roof
St Basil Roof

(Some of the architecture in Russia is incredible and lots of colour, which is something I never expected).

St Basil Roof
St Basil Roof

Moscow is an amazing place. The people are all helpful and friendly. The buildings and architecture are vast and range from incredibly ornate to almost Bauer house utilitarian. What stood out most was how clean all of the buildings were, how big the space was and unfortunately, the size and number of new advertising hoardings. Some of them longer than a football pitch!

All that culture and history blotted out by a 300 meter wide advert for BMW.

Too Much Advertising!
Too Much Advertising!

Something not quite right there!

Parts of Moscow remind me of NY
Parts Of Moscow Remind Me Of NY

The city is an odd mix of old Stalin style architecture with very modern buildings and mixed in between it is hoards of cars and massive bill boards. Russia (or at least Moscow) is changing very fast. To think it was only about 10 years ago when the communist regime collapsed then it’s incredible to see how fast this country is changing.

Old Stalin Style Architecture
Old Stalin Style Architecture
Mammer and Sycle - Building Detail
Hammer Snd Sickle – Building Detail

All the way through the city you see amazing juxtapositions of culture and I found it quite amusing to see huge capitalist advertising next to an old communist building.

The old and new
The Old And New

I learnt a lot about Moscow and the people, then, after a great day, I jumped onto a train to travel first class to Nizhny Novgorod where I would fly in the Mig 29.

Day 2

The Train Journey

Culturally it’s SO different.

At the moment I am sat on a train going to Nizhny Novgorod. Now I have done a fair bit of traveling In my time but I have to say seeing a smart, silver haired business man take his Rolex watch off, turn his seat into a single bed (complete with sheet, pillow and duvet) and then see him strip down to his very smart boxers, did take me a little bit by surprise.

Clothes Neatly Hung
Clothes Neatly Hung
The beds were pretty big and perfectly flat though! – Maybe a whole new angle for British Airways – get “butt naked” sleeping rooms?

On that note I think it’s time to watch a film and settle down to my five hour journey and pretend that an “almost naked” man is not laid opposite me. The movie – Planes, Trains & Automobiles springs to mind!

The journey itself turned out to be very comfortable and the time flew. Looking out of the window – after I had seen an hour of trees go past, I realised that the view would be pretty much that for the rest of the journey ….and it was. Russia is HUGE!

When I arrived I was met by Serge (Country of Tourism), Oleg (Sokol Air Base) and Anna (another interpreter and guide who I had been speaking with while in London and who helped me to arrange the trip.

Serge and Oleg
Serge And Oleg

They checked I was ok and then took me to my new hotel the Alexandrovsky Garden  and helped me to check in. Unlike French, Spanish, Italian and German (and some American) you can guess what some of the words and conversations are about but I have realised that you have no chance in hell with Russian. You can’t read it, guess it, or anything in between and having a guide all along the way has been such a huge help.

Hotel
Alexandrovsky Garden Hotel

So the big day is tomorrow – Oleg’s parting words of advice were “have a light breakfast….”

Hmmmmm ….I am now full of confidence and raring to go!!

Sleep time…..ZZZZzzzzzzzz

Day 3

Morning

Well, it’s 8.30am here at the moment and I am due to meet Anna and Serge in 30 mins to go to the base to prep for the flight. The weather…sucks, it was raining 10 mins ago but there are hints of blue starting to appear so fingers crossed it perks up.

View from the hotel
View From The Hotel

Trip to the Base

A large black Mercedes with blacked out windows picked me up from the hotel this morning. The driver was a large stocky guy in a suit (who you would have to think twice about before upsetting) accompanied by a very well dressed young lady (Irina) who was to be my new interpreter and guide for the day. As well as knowing an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge on the city, she new more about weapons and tanks than anyone I have ever met.

Irina
Irina

The journey to the base was a little like the car chase out of The French Connection. I found out that the brakes on the Mercedes are probably the best in the world and Russian drivers enjoy speed…..a lot!

When we got to the base I was met by the Managing Director and head of security for the site. After the relevant security and clearance checks we then entered the base through the first of many security gates and drove to meet the pilot and team who would prep me for the flight.

The base used to be a top secret facility and security is still very high. I was not allowed to take pictures or use my phone while there but I did have my very own mini film crew provided who filmed and took pics. All of these have to have security clearance before I get them but as soon as I have them I will be uploading more stuff.

Flight Prep

On arrival a very nice doctor gave me a medical and told me I was fit to take my life in my own hands and sign it away.

Quick Medical
Quick Medical

Following the relevant scribble on the documents I was then taken to meet the pilot who I would be flying with.

...good to go
…Good To Go

Andre Pechionkin had been a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Airforce and was now flying as a test pilot for Sokol. I think to say he was pretty good at what he did would be an understatement.

He talked me through what the flight programme was going to be, covering off the altitude, speeds and the aerobatics we would do during the flight.

Briefing
Briefing

This was then followed by training on the ejection seat position I had to be in and how to use it should things go “pear shaped”. At this point I started to ask myself if I had bitten off a tad more than I could chew!

Andre told me not to worry and that if one of us went then we both would (I’m not sure that did the trick). He also told me that I would have duel controls for everything and that I should not touch anything painted red as this would be very dangerous. (Little did he know I had no intention of touching a god damn thing! There was no way I could afford to break a Mig 29!)

After this it was time to suit up and two guys helped to squeeze me into my pressure suit. This is a cross between a fabric wet suit and a corset – very attractive.

Lots of Laces
Lots Of Laces

If you have to eject at high altitude, or the plane depressurises, then just as in diving the air in your blood expands causing your blood to fizz and you get the bends. (This can kill you). The suit is tight to keep your body under pressure to stop this. At the end of a lot of pushing, squeezing and lacing I was in it and left feeling a little like a “green ham soprano”. (As soon as the pictures have been cleared through the security checks I will post them and you will see what I mean).

And here it is!

Tight is not the word!
Tight Is Not The Word!

Over this then went my very own custom made flight suit, into which they stuffed a sick bag and asked me not to vomit on the controls. (Everybody it seems wants to be a comedian).

Squeeze....!
Squeeze….!

Then the boots, gloves and finally the helmet and oxygen mask, which I then trained how to fit and adjust without a mirror. In the movies it all looks so easy!

Mask On
Mask On

Several security gates and checks later we arrived at the runway with the Mig 29 fueled and ready to go.

I was later told that the flight technicians had been prepping the plane from 5.30am for this one flight! 127 people were involved from checking the electronics, avionics, engines, fueling etc through to the fire crews, air control, medical staff etc etc the list goes on.

 

Digital Hell

At the moment I am in digital hell!

Getting network connections is very hard so uploading my notes and pictures is very adhoc. Most of the time I am having to do it via my phone, which is going to (I’m sure) leave me with a big phone bill when I get home.

Having no connection to the Internet is a very strange and nasty feeling 🙁

Good god…….. Maybe I am addicted?!

 

The Flight

Andre showed me around the outside of the Mig 29 and ran the pre-flight checks and then we climbed in.

Plane Inspection
Plane Inspection

Once I had been hooked up to the air and pressures systems I was shown all of the controls, dials, knobs, switches and what I could touch and use (like the pure oxygen system) and the things I could not touch under any circumstances…. the red bits! I was also shown how much fuel we had – 3300 litres!, sounded at the time like a lot.

Touch that...you die
Touch That…You Die

Then a check with the tower, the canopy came down and we were away.

Ready to go
Ready To Go

As we taxied down the runway I had a big smile on my face. Then the jets kicked in and I have never felt acceleration like it! It got very serious very fast – Boy it was quick!!!!!

Mig 29
Mig 29

Up we went through the clouds at a few hundred miles an hour and leveled out as we headed towards the designated flight area. When I checked the instruments we were a hundred and forty kilometers away from the base!

It was very different to traveling in a commercial plane. First of all it was very fast but also very smooth with hardly any bumps or turbulence. It also felt like the difference between driving in a car and riding on a motorbike. In a car you are enclosed in the machine. In the Mig it was more like sitting on top of a whole lot of power, where you see everything passing you by on both sides and feel all of the curves through your body – just like on a fast bike! But this one goes almost twice the speed of sound!

Once we reached the flight area Andre told me that he was about to engage the after burners to take us supersonic, so that we could climb to the desired altitude. As they kicked in you could feel the increase in speed as we shot forward. Within a minute we had gone through Mac 1 and at Mac 1.84 (that’s about 1,400 mph) he pointed the plane up and we were climbing very fast, reaching over 65,000 feet, which is over twice as high as a commercial jumbo jet goes!

Saphire Blue
Sapphire Blue

As we went up the sky went from stunning sapphire blue to almost black. You could not see the stars because the background light was too bright but you did know that you were in a very inhospitable place, with nothing else above us only darkness. Miles below you could see the clouds which had lost almost all of their texture and now looked like virgin snow with the earth curving away.

On The Edge
On The Edge

It was breathtakingly beautiful! Something that I will remember for a very long time.

View From
View From The Cockpit

All too quickly it was over and Andre pointed out that we only had a thousand liters of fuel left (2300 was used amazingly quick), so he pointed the plane (literally) down and we fell from the sky at an amazing rate of knots. That was a very odd sensation, to be nose down diving back towards the earth and I had a real sense of speed as the clouds raced back towards us. If you imagine the scene out of Star Wars with the X wings flying down the Death Star and you get an idea of how fast it felt.

What a Rush!
What A Rush!

Andre explained that we did not have enough fuel to do a full programme of aerobatics but he would run through what he could. Looking back, I’m so glad because I would probably have lost my breakfast if he had done much more.

So we started of with a corkscrew which is a vertical barrel role – which was not that bad. He then followed this with a Split S, an Immelman, dives, a loop a half loop, inverted flight (dangling upside down from your seat looking through a glass cockpit and thousands of meters of nothing keeps the heart racing believe me). All that followed with some high speed rolls.

Split S
Split S
Immelmann
Immelmann

Somewhere in amongst that cocktail of maneuvers we went into a turn so fast that we pulled 6 g!

For those of you that do not know what that is, then it’s like 6 people sitting on you. The blood is dragged from your brain down to your feet and the pressure suit squeezes your legs to try and stop it. It does not hurt but it is very uncomfortable. Just before we came out of the turn the pressure on my body was so much that I blacked out (which was an odd sensation). First your vision starts to narrow and goes from colour to grey, then you get tunnel vision then it fades to black and after that you drop into unconsciousness (G Loc – G Loss of Consciousness).  Just for the record I think that I have found my limit in a fighter jet! As we came out of the turn everything came back to normal and I was fine but it’s a very uncomfortable sensation not being able to move and slowly feeling yourself passing out.

One of the coolest maneuvers we did is called the “hammerhead”. The plane goes vertical and then slows to a complete stop and is held balancing at 0 speed just on the jets before it stalls and goes into a dive. It shows the incredible skill of the pilot and was a very odd sensation for me as a passenger to be mid air and not moving.

After a few more less energetic maneuvers I then got the chance to fly the plane and try some turns 🙂

As we got closer to the base Andre took back over and took us on a low pass of the runway 20 meters up. At this height the sense of speed is unbelievable as the ground screams past!

Low Level Pass (20m Up!)
Low Level Pass (20m Up!)

One more turn and we came back in to land and I had a huge smile on my face – it was an incredible ride!

Mig Landing
Mig Landing

At the end of the flight I was exhausted, something I never expected. The stress placed on you by high speed turns and g forces feels like working out for 3 or 4 hours with weights. I’m sat here a day later with pretty much every muscle in my body still aching.

...breakfast in tact!
…Breakfast Intact – JUST!

I have a lot of respect for all fast jet pilots who are able to fly like this and also be able to fight as well. Amazing how they can do it.

Thanks to all involved!
Thanks To All Involved!

Sokol has a museum on the history of the factory and the aircraft they develop. After the flight I was given a personal tour by the curator and the MD of the plant. The history is fascinating and there is obviously a lot of pride in the engineering history and the development of the fighter jets.

Tour of the Museum
Tour Of The Museum

One of the stories I was told was about the Mig 25. Most planes are made of aluminium but the Mig 25 (Foxbat) is made from steel and titanium. This makes it incredibly strong and with 2 huge engines it’s capable of Mach 3!

Missle Pod
Missile Pod

The curator took great pleasure in telling me that this scared the “hell” out of the USA when it was first built.

Mig 25 Foxbat
Mig 25 Foxbat

You can almost stand up in the back of the jets on that thing – it’s huge!

Day 3 – Gorky…Nizhny Novgorod

The schedule was pretty full on and following the flight I was taken to Nizhny Novgorod for a tour of the city.

Nizhny View
Nizhny View

Nizhny, I was told, was a closed city during the soviet era and was called Gorky after the famous Russian writer. In the 90’s the city was opened again and given back its original name.

War Memorial Nizhny
War Memorial – Nizhny

The Sokol base I had been on was one of a number of top secret facilities in Nizhny, including a tank and submarine base. No one was allowed in or out of the city without official clearance and written permission. Nizhny is Russia’s 3rd largest city after Moscow and St Petersburg and is much calmer than Moscow but just as much history and culture. It even has its own Kremlin, which I found out means fort and quite a few cities have them.

The tour was great and I saw a whole new side of Russia, less commercialised and a greater sense of the “real people” rather than the tourist one in Moscow.. After a quick bite to eat, Anna (my other translator) took me to the local airport for a flight back to Moscow on Siberian Airways. So much easier than the train.

Anna
Anna

 

Siberian Airways
Siberian Airways

 

Day 4

Culture Day

I was so glad to get a rest this morning. Yesterday was pretty full on and I’m still exhausted by the flight in the Mig. I was due to get a tour of the Kremlin but it seems I am destined not to see the “standard” tourist spots as, once again, this site is closed due to the celebration preparations.

I did, however, get to go to a little less visited museum by one of Russia’s top artists Zurab Tsereteli, and one of the staff there (Anastasia) kindly offered to give Alexandra and I a tour of the museum and the background on the work.

Anastasia
Anastasia

His work can be seen at The Dolgorukovs’ House which is at 119034, Moscow,  and I can honestly say it’s worth a visit. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

His work ranges from sculptures of many different types and styles through to fine art painting.

Paint Close Up
Paint Close Up
Enamel on Copper
Enamel On Copper

Some of his sculptures are huge, including a massive apple that you can walk inside and one of his fairly recent ones is a massive statue of Peter the Great, located in central Moscow.

Apple
Apple
Statue
Statue
Peter The Great
Peter The Great

Early night and tomorrow it’s the L-39!

Day 5

Flight In The L-30

Today was my second planned flight, this time in an L-39 with the specific intention to do some aerobatics.

We set off early from Moscow because it was a two and a half hour drive to the base, along a huge long straight road with no bends in it. There just seemed to be trees on either side for miles, punctuated with the odd petrol station, monument, shop and truck stop.

Unlike Sokol, when we arrived this base had many L-39’s and helicopters and is used to train pilots every day.

Air Base
Air Base – Google Maps

 

The Base
The Base

I had the obligatory medical with yet another very nice doctor and then had to once again sign my life away and accept that what I was about to do was dangerous.

Medical
Medical

Next came the briefing on all of the systems in the aircraft and details of what I could and could not touch. All of this was done in Russian and I hoped that Alexandra (my translator) was explaining all of the details I needed to know. The last thing I wanted was to drop the landing gear instead of turning on the oxygen – that would be bad!

Finally, I was taught how to use the ejection seat in a simulator.

Ejector Seat Training
Ejector Seat Training

This was great fun to have a go with and to see exactly how it worked. The first couple of attempts nothing happened. It turned out that the lady doing the training had forgotten to plug it in (which was a little worrying).

Pull the handels and kiss your ass goodbye
Pull The Handles And Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!!!!

Third time it worked fine and I kept my fingers crossed that the one in the jet would work FIRST TIME if I needed it. (In the unlucky event you have to eject for real then the seat pushes you out so fast that you can pull 17.5 g and be a tad shorter as a result of your spine compressing).

So thats how it works...
So That’s How It Works…

Next I was introduced to the pilot whose name was Savluk, he would be taking me on the flight .

Savluk
Savluk

He was a very experienced pilot and a member of one of Russia’s aerobatic teams called (can you believe it) RUSS.

(RUSS were the early East Slavic people from which Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians are descended).

Pilot
Pilot

Savluk ran me through what the flight plan was and explained all of the aerobatics that we were going to do, then we geared up ready to go.

L-39
L-39

The L-39 is very different to the Mig 29 as it’s primarily used as a trainer plane and is not as big, or as fast but what it does have is a huge cockpit where you get a great view of what’s going on.

After take off we headed quickly over to our flight area and Savluk ran through some of the aerobatic programme, doing loops, dives and roles all of which were fantastic fun. One minute we were level, the next diving or spinning, just like an untethered roller coaster. Watching the sky flip around and the earth whizz by upside down is great fun, if not a little disorientating.

After a few minutes he then asked if I would like to try… at first I wondered what he meant by “have a go” but it quickly became very clear he meant I would have the chance to try some of the aerobatics myself! I remember thinking, “who the hell is going to believe I flew this thing and did tricks?!”.

He explained what I needed to do and said that he would correct any errors I made and not to worry.

The first maneuver I did was a role, nice and simple in both directions – this was such a buzz, actually flying the plane!

I then moved into dives, loops and then finally I got to do more complex maneuvers like a Split S and an Immelmann. Both of these maneuvers involve a loop and then rolling the aircraft at the top or bottom of the loop.

The Immelman felt fine, I accelerated into the climb to the top of the loop and then rolled the plane over – all relatively straight forward with Savluk correcting the drifting as we went (like having your own on-board “don’t screw it up system”).  I got a real sense of how much these guys have to do when performing. You have to watch so much stuff and execute the maneuver accurately, it’s mind blowing that they can do it and make it look so easy.

Immelmann
Immelmann

When it came the the Split S for me it was a little different…

Split S
Split S

Rolling at the top was just like I had done before and not an issue. As you go into an inverted dive the plane gets faster so at the bottom you are subject to quite a lot of G-force. As we hit the bottom of the loop and I began to pull back on the stick to come out of the dive, I started to loose my vision, until eventually everything was black and I could not see my hand, let alone the controls! Even though the plane was slower than the Mig 29, because i did not have a pressure suit on, then I was more susceptible to blacking out. Even though we were only pulling about 4 g, my vision, just like in the Mig, started to disappear as my body got more and more stressed with the force of the turn.

Luckily on the control column was an intercom button so I was able to tell Savluk that he needed to take back control as I couldn’t see – which, thank goodness, he did.

As he pulled out of the loop my vision again came back very quickly. It did make me realise how easy it would be to make a huge error with fatal consequences if you were not paying attention when flying on your own.

This was the end of the time so we then headed back to the base to do a final low level, high speed pass of the runway and then Savluk brought the plane down for a perfect landing.

Backing up
Backing Up
Getting Out
Getting Out

The whole experience was fantastic and if you get the opportunity, have a go, you will love it!! I can’t rave about it enough!!!!

This is a video I found on You Tube of the same guys I flew with performing aerobatics – all of them incredible pilots (and a little crazy). This gives you an idea of some of the aerobatics that we did during the flight and is exactly the sort of view from the cockpit.

Day 6 – My Last Day

So, this is my last day in Moscow.

Serge and Oleg took me on a late night car tour of the city, which at night is lit up like Manhattan and takes on a totally different feel. Just like in NY and some European cities, there were lots of people out having dinner and drinks and getting ready to party.

The last adventure of the trip was the Demedodovo Airport! The airport, unlike Nizhny Novgorod, is very modern. However, when I got in the queue just to get through the door, it must have had over 300 people in it.

A Very British tradition
A Very British Tradition

As I practiced the British tradition of queuing, it turned out that the delay was being caused by Security checks.

Every single person had to have all of their bags x-rayed and then pass through a metal detector. High security indeed you would think. Unfortunately, even though the metal detector consistently beeped as people strolled through, I didn’t see a single person stopped.

Probably because the guard was too busy chatting to the woman scanning the bags. The upside was that the queue moved fast.

Once through this security check I was amazed that my passport and documents were then checked a further 7 times as I moved through to the gate.

One of the checks was in a very cool “sniffing device”. You walked into it, held your arms up and it blew air over you and sniffed for anything unusual. First time I have seen anything like that and I think a little better than the ones in Heathrow that scan through your clothes – at least you keep your dignity intact. I have seen the pictures taken of me before and they are not pretty and not something you would want to end up on You Tube or the web (This is an example of the type of image that you see from one of the new scanners)!

The airport (unlike JFK) had lots of great shops so there was plenty to look at and do while there and the return flight was fine – not quite the rush of a Mig.

The whole thing was an incredible experience and has left me with some lasting impressions of how small the world actually is and how incredibly fast we can move, in the engineering sense and in the cultural one, if we put our minds to it.

Russia is an incredible place!

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