August 5, 1998
We’re at the final stop on the commemoration! In two hours and 40 minutes from Ayan, we were landing on the dustiest runway I have been on since I was back on some of my dad’s crop-dusting strips in Arkansas. You can’t imagine the dust that an AN-2 can kick up. It was like sand in my teeth.
The local townspeople and news media from Khaborask were waiting for our arrival.When we crawled out of the airplane, a group of little kids crowded around Khalide and I to ask questions. A little blond haired, blue eyeed, freckled boy was so serious while asking his question. Khalide looked at him and laughed loudly before translating. He asked, “How did Nikki and Rhonda come all the way from America without a MAN?”
An AN-28 pilot traded a tour in his airplane for one in ours. The pilots we come in contact with are great and they call us on the radio and wish us a good flight. A helicopter pilot wanted to know how we had been treated along the way, as he was concerned about us. We told him that we had been treated very well. An air traffic controller said it was so nice to talk to females where he was, since all he ever saw were bears.
It was an emotional landing and the best thing for us was another visit to the banya, because we have to get the dust off.
August 6, 1998
When we woke up, the realization that after two years of work, we have completed the commemoration. It’s amazing and well worth the struggle, stress, tears and financial strain.
There is a monument by the hotel for the Flight of the Rodina. The townspeople met us there and then took us to a museum dedicated to the three pilots of the 1938 flight. These women are huge aviation heroes in Russia. We met the daughter-in-law of the man who found the Rodina when it crashed due to fuel starvation. On the steps of the town hall, a choir sang to us before they took us inside for Q&A’s.
While we sat on stage and answered questions, the room was silent. Our interpreter was having problems with my Southern English. I was told earlier in the flight, by a Russian, that I didn’t speak proper English. I don’t understand!
After a concert in the town, they shuttled us back to the airfield for departure back to Ayan for fuel and Okhotsk for the night.
There is a little sadness of knowing the rest of the flight is to get back home and not a part of the commemoration. But, there is a warm feeling knowing that we have accomplished what we set out to do.
WE COMMEMORATED THE 1938 FLIGHT OF THE RODINA and now we must go home.