July 31, 1998
Tomsk to Nijneudinsk !
Off we go again. We were escorted to the airdrome with lights, sirens and the whole shebang! Yesterday, the cutest guy from Novosibirsk came to help with ground operations and was here again this morning. He said he worked for Streamline Ops, one of the Russian sponsors. He decided we didn’t need any help and we had good support. We ought to, there are 17 of us at this point.
We headed out to our next stop. About 100 NM into the flight it became IFR. This is where I got another education in communication. Since the three planes were in formation, we had to separate a little and had radar. One AN-2 and the Maule started doing 360 degree turns. After five of these, Natasha and Nikki headed out. We did ten.
We were talking between the three planes and the controller and each plane was trying to keep up with the other. Khalide said, “More turns, can we do in clouds.” Sure, no problem, so we did eight more turns and figured there should be enough space. Think about being in a tiny plane with a Russian co-pilot who speaks marginal English, Russian-speaking controllers, very few navigation aids and two slower AN-2’s in front somewhere. I would say, “What did they say?” and Khalide he would respond, “It’s all right.” Famous phrase. Khalide is a terrific person and an even better pilot, but I goofed up and only learned the dirty words in Russian. And trust me, I was using them.
Everything in the plane also has to be converted: speed from knots to kilometers, altitude from feet to meters, distance from nautical miles to kilometers, and barometric pressure from inches to HP’s. We have conversion charts stuck everywhere.
I have never seen a place that changes the altimeter so often. The pressure changes drastically every 20 kilometers, it seems. I learned very quickly to ask for “pressure” (a word we agreed on), all the time after we experienced a change from 30.13 to 28.04 in a space of ten minutes. I knew they were randomly giving me altimeter settings that they made up. When we popped out of the clouds, there was a mountain 50 feet off the right wing.
You can understand the reason I jumped when they asked if we wanted a Siberian sauna after we landed.
If you know Nikki, you will understand how hard it was for her to sit in a sauna, wrapped in a little sheet with three other females. Never have I seen correct posture like hers. I wish you could have seen her eyes when they brought out the wet leafy branches they use to swat your “NEKKID” bodies. Her eyes looked like silver dollars and then they took her sheet away. I cracked up. After the swatting, they poured cold water on you as you stood naked in the sauna. We all laughed like kids.
When Nikki opened the door, all the men were sitting outside waiting for their turn. She was so embarrassed. I was so tired that I went to bed at 9pm while the others went to eat in the village and watch the dancing girls. Everyone is having new experiences every day. My son Jeremy has eaten tongue and caviar, flown an AN-2 for 2 hours in Siberia, been naked in a sauna with a bunch of men and swatted with leafy branches. Wow, what a summer for an 18 year old.