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July 23, 1998

Out of Helsinki and on to Russia.  161 NM. to Saint Petersburg.  We took off at 9 AM local time, headed for the Russian border.  The first controller in Russian Airspace was very difficult to understand.  Nikki pushed the Clearance Recorder 10 times so we could play back "Report Gogla then Zadir".  Sure, whatever!  Took about 1 1/2 hours to get there.  Had to do the ILS on 28L.  In the clouds the controller said "Descend to 600 meters and turn to 180 degrees."  Nikki is constantly reading the conversion chart.  Then he says "Turn and line up on the runway, cleared to land."  Sure, line up on the runway while I'm still in the clouds.  Their localizer was out too.  But it worked out.  Rough runway.  We got a progressive taxi through Aeroflot's fleet and down 28R.  Finally to customs.   About 8 people looked at Mary Beth over and then us.  They knew we were waiting for Khalide and put us in a 1940's type crew-briefing room.  Khalide showed up an hour later.  There was a problem with our flight plan.  Seems part of ATC is on strike an they don't like to let too many at a time go through.  She straightened it out and we ran to the airplane to leave on a VFR formation flight of two.   Nikki was in the YAK-18 with Eugenia (friend of Khalide).  Talk about cool.   Sitting side by side on the runway at Saint Petersburg waiting to be cleared for a formation take off.  Then never climbing above 300 ft all the way over the city.   I have to say Formation Flying is probably one of my least favorite things, but this was certainly different.  It was a 3 1/2 hour flight to Tushino (Moscow).  About an hour and half into the flight, Khalide started arguing with a controller.  After about 10 minutes she said "turn around".  We had to go back to a town about an hour out of Saint Petersburg because the controller said we must go back and spend the night, we were tired.  Actually he was ready to go home.  Never have I had a controller turn me back because he thought I was too tired.  We landed, actually we made 3 approaches before landing.  One because the YAK didn't get off the runway in time and another because 100 ft above the ground, a truck pulled onto the runway.   Anyway, we went into a run down building and found the controller.  Khalide started yelling at him and picked up the phone.  She called Moscow and told them that we had been stopped.  After about 45 minutes and 3 phone calls from Moscow, he was made to stay until we got out of his region.  Amazing.  2 1/2 hours later, we arrived in Moscow.  (Still at 300 ft above the ground).  Tushino airfield is on the N.W. side of the city.  Grass runway.  The YAK buzzed the airstrip and we followed likewise.  When we landed, there were many people to meet us.  T.V. cameras, reporters, flowers, friends we met in April when we were here, and organizers of the flight.  It was pretty amazing.  They kept us at the airport for a long time before taking us to the hotel.  The customs agent pulled up in a little car and stamped our passports in the parking lot of the hotel.  Talk about service.  We are in Russia.....

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