July 31, 1998
Tomsk to Nijneudinsk !
Off we go again. Escorted to the airdrome. Lights, sirens, the whole shebang! Yesterday, the cutest guy from Novosibirsk came to help with ground operations. He was here again this morning. He said he worked for Streamline Ops. They are one of the Russian’s sponsors. He decided we didn’t need any help. We had good support. (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 a large education in communication. Since the three planes were in formation, we had to separate a little. Remember, no radar. One An-2 and the Maule started doing 360 degree turns. After five of these, Natasha and Nikki headed out. We did 10. Then we headed out.
Well, we were talking between the 3 planes and the controller. Each plane trying to keep up with each other. Khalide said “More turns, can we do in clouds”. Sure, no problem. 8 more turns. Should be space enough. OK, think about being in the soup with a Russian Co-Pilot (speaks marginal English), Russian speaking controllers, very few navigation aids and two AN-2’s in front somewhere (and slower). I would say “What did they say?” She would say “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).
Another thing, everything in the plane has to be converted. Speed from knots to kilometers, altitude from feet to meters, distance from nautical miles to kilometers, and then there’s the 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. Pressure changes every 20 kilometers it seems. Not just a smidgen either. I learned real quick to ask for “pressure” (a word we agreed on), all the time after a change from 30.13 to 28.04 in a space of 10 minutes. I knew they were just randomly giving me altimeter settings that they pulled out of their hat. When we popped out of the clouds, 50 foot off the right wing was a mountain.
So, you can understand the reason I jumped when they asked if we wanted a Siberian Sauna after we landed.
Now, if anyone knows Nikki, you will understand how hard it was for her to sit in a sauna, wrapped in a little sheet with 3 other females. Never have I seen correct posture like hers (in a sauna). I wish you could have seen her eyes when they brought out the wet leafy branches they use to swat your “NEKKID” bodies. Eyes like silver dollars. Then to have her sheet taken away. I cracked up. Then after the swatting, having cold water poured on you as you stand naked in the Sauna. We all laughed like kids.
When Nikki opened the door up, all the men were sitting outside waiting for their turn. She was so embarrassed. (It was so bad that we all went back for seconds the next day in the Village of Kirensk. Fantastic (P.S. part of this is filmed). I was so tired that I went to bed at 9 PM while the others went to eat in the Village and watched dancing girls. Everyone is having new experiences every day. Jeremy (my son) 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 him at 18 years old.