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July 27, 1998

OH MY GOSH!   The Big Day that we have worked almost 2 years for is here.  Put everything we had into it, heart, soul, bucks, tears, laughter and sweat.  Lots of people didn't understand us.  Some gave emotional support, some didn't.  Hardest thing I've every done.  Nikki too.  Now, here we are in 2 buses on our way to the Tushino Airdrome in Moscow.  CNN is waiting, Russian friends and pilots are there.   Sitting on the grass are 2 Anronon 2's and in the hangar is Mary Beth.  We pull up at 8:30 AM for a 10 AM departure.  What a sight.  I bet there are between 8 and 10 professional camera crews.  People with video cameras, still cameras, flowers and hugs and kisses. 

We start preparing our planes and have a tough time getting everything done because of the interviews and pictures.  I try to leave that part to Nikki but the Flight Safety Foundation won't let me.  Khalide and I are a lot alike in this.  Get the airplane ready and fly.  But it doesn't' work.   One of the officials come up and says we have to have a Russian medical to fly this flight.  The doctor is on the way to the airport.  Now, I know that in Lebanon, I have had a broken foot treated, a tooth problem, and bronchitis treated all at the airport, but, how am I so lucky to have a flight physical on the ramp at a Russian airport.  Well, in comes a beat up red Fiat with a woman doctor in the back.    One by one, we crawl in the back seat while she checks our pulse.  She asked us what our blood pressure is (low or high), asked how we felt.  Then we signed our names and she stamped our medical.  Off she flies in the back of that Fiat.   Incredible!  Well it is 20 minutes till departure.  Finally the old military fuel truck is here.  Mikey starts fueling but the nozzle is too big for my tanks.  Khalide had called me under the wing to show me some paperwork at the same time Mikey was having problems fueling.  Fuel spilled down the wing and yes, right on me.  Cameras everywhere.  The pilots of the support plane started calling me Benzine Head.  We started fueling the ferry tank and between an old sticking handle on the nozzle, cameras shoved in our faces, and a guy changing pressure on the fuel truck, the ferry tank spewed fuel out into the plane.  So now I have Benzine in my hair, on my clothes and in the plane.  I was daring anyone to light a match.  Now about this time Nikki is perched in the right seat of the AN-2 smiling and waving.  Got the picture.  Anyway, we straightened everything up and Khalide and I crawled in our flying fuel tank and started out with Mary Beth in front and the AN-2's behind.   FANTASTIC  Here it starts.  The Commemorative Route.  For 4 and 1/2 hours we flew from Moscow to Kazan.  The 2 guys in the support plane, and Natassia and Nikki will probably have an easier time flying.  I feel like I am flying an over gross airplane in slow flight, in ground effect...  I'm heavy and have the power pulled back (way back) and we are flying about 200 feet off the ground.  Anyway, everything was great.  I just keep outrunning the AN-2's.  Go Mary Beth Go!

When we landed at Kazan, I noticed men on the sides of the runway.  I landed 3rd.  While slowing down, a man ran in front of us with a camera.  I had to dodge.  As we pulled up, we noticed a ton of people.  When we shut the engine down, we heard (OH MY GOSH) a brass band playing Chattanooga Choo Choo and 1940's tunes.  We were given flowers and 2 girls dressed in traditional Kazan costume, brought champagne and some kind of food to try.  There were so many people there! The mayor gave a speech and we were presented a model of a Russian plane.  After the ceremony, a large bus pulled up to take us to our hotel.  "Hey Waylon, we have our own tour bus."   (Pictures are coming)  A second bus picked up Doug Dawson, Terrie Lawrence, May Adair Kizer and the camera crew (Uri and Demetri).  They were taken to the other airport to catch a plane back to Moscow.  Tomorrow, I will list everyone on this flight.  It is amazing.  We are really not worried about anything...  At dinner tonight Khalide told Nikki (here it goes again) that the pilot of the support airplane would like Nikki to fly with him tomorrow.  He thought she might like the change.  (We've been gone 1 day)  I must say, her choices are getting better looking though.  He really is nice and knows that airplane.  I'll end a picture later of the whole crew.  So now we're in our rooms.  (The ones with oscillating air conditioning).  Our bathroom is the shower.  Just stand by the toilet and spray yourself off.  But don't get the seersucker toilet paper wet.  Tomorrow we have a choice.  Low altitude or higher altitude.  Low- Russian controllers, High - English speaking... We'll see.

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