Natalya “Natassia” Vinokurova was born in Yoshkar-Ola. She spent most of her childhood and youth there. The Vinokurovas’ have two daughters and both dedicated their lives to aviation. Olga became a flight attendant and Natassia always knew she wanted to become a pilot. First steps in aviation were made in her hometown where she made her solo-flight in a Yak-18. She could have become a good sports pilot. But she wanted to fly big jets.
During that time, the USSR did not accept women in flying schools. But, because of her love of aviation, she was persistent and they eventually allowed her in for basic flight training.
As an aviation club graduate, she was able to meet the Minister of Civil Aviation. He felt very positive about women in aviation and made sure that Natassia and forty other women were accepted to Kremenchug flying school.
After her training, Natassia was able to start her flying career in her hometown, of Yoshkar-Ola, as a co-pilot and then as a Captain of an Antonov-2. She was skilled in landings in the most extreme circumstances and became known for this.
Natassia continued her education with training in the Civil Academy in Leningrad. She wanted to fly more sophisticated aircraft and retrained on the Antonov-24 for Magadan Civil Aviation Department.
During the Bridge of Wings Commemorative Flight, Natassia was employed as a First Officer for Mavial Airlines on a Tupolev-154.
Natassia is very well respected in the International Aviation community and was fortunate to have spent time with Valentina Grizodubova, one of the original three Soviet women of the 1938 flight. The meetings she had with Valentina are forever etched in her memory. She felt very fortunate to be chosen to represent the Russian women in the Bridge of Wings flight.
Natassia is retired and living in Minsk, Belarus now.
Khalide Makagonova was born in Moscow and dreamed of flying since she was a child. Khalide started with gliders and on one flight in a Blanik sailplane, she realized her life could not be without the sky. She quickly became anxious about learning to fly powered aircraft.
Khalide soon exhibited an ability for aerobatics and started flying the Yak-18a.
In 1975, she was invited to the USSR aerobatics team. She embarked on intensive training with the world’s best pilots and participated in international competitions. In 1984, Khalide became the absolute world champion. She also took Manifold World and Europe Championships.
Khalide took part in International airshows in England, Emirates, France, Germany, Australia and other countries.
She trains other aerobatic pilots around the world. Khalide is well known in the international aviation world and was a perfect choice for the Bridge of Wings flight.
Nikki Mitchell was captivated as a child by the stories of two people. The first was her father, a C-130 flight engineer with a 23 year career, four tours in Vietnam and more than 550 combat missions. The second was a “flying doctor” who came to the U.S. from East Africa to upgrade her aircraft ratings. She lived above Nikki’s grandmothers home and told stories of her adventures. Because of these two influences, Nikki picked up the dream of flying and earned her pilots license in Abilene, Texas in 1978.
Nikki moved from Abilene to Nashville, TN and started her career, in the music industry, warming up the audience for the Crook and Chase Show. She began working for Legendary Waylon Jennings and eventually became the President of his company. Waylon and Jessi Colter loved Nikki as family and she returned the feelings. She was with them for 22 years.
Nikki’s adventure spirit took her down many avenues of history. While researching the WWII WASP, women airforce service pilots, she started seeing a few Russian names show up. Marina Roskova was one of the names that caught her eye. Marina was instrumental in convincing Stalin to start an all women regiment of combat pilots in WWII. These women became known as The Night Witches and were feared by the German troops. Marina and two Soviet women had completed a record breaking flight in 1938 and captured the respect of the Soviet Union. That flight was “The Flight of the Rodina”. It was a chance meeting with fellow pilot, Rhonda Miles that set the stage for the recreation of that historical flight.
Nikki said in an interview in 1998, “In the summer of 1996, I saw a girl come out of a hangar carrying an iron and a 12” needle. She had been patching some damage on her J3 Cub. I knew she was the real deal. Her name was Rhonda Miles and she was exactly the instructor that I needed to make the transition as a pilot in my newly purchased Maule M-5. The Maule has a wheel in the back (taildragger) instead of what I was used to with the wheel in the front (tricycle gear). Since that time, we have been flying together and preparing for the 1998 flight”
Over twelve years after the 1998 flight, Nikki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rhonda committed to be her caregiver and was with her when she passed away on July 9, 2013, after a 31 month battle.
Rhonda Miles love affair with flying began at home. Her Dad was a crop-duster in Arkansas and introduced her to flying at the age of 3 months in a Cessna 195. Some of her early memories of aviation were when her Dad would put her in the chemical hopper of the ag-planes and fly her to the fields he would work on. When she was able to walk a straight line, carry a 6 foot flag, count, and dodge airplanes at the same time, he put her in the field “flagging” for the crop dusters.
At the age of 16, Rhonda soloed a plane with her Dad as her instructor. Her first child was nearly born in an airplane later in 1977. She was overdue, when she and her Dad decided to go up and do some aerobatics. Two hours later, she was in labor and had to undergo an emergency caesarean.
After the death of her brother in a plane crash, Rhonda moved home to help her parents with their business, even trying her hand at some ag flying. She starting obtaining all her flight ratings and even got involved in other aspects of aviation, such as searching for the remains of a crashed WWII pilot in the South Pacific jungles of Vanuatu, in 1990 and 1991.
In 1992, Rhonda moved to Nashville, obtained her flight instructor’s rating, bought a 1946 Piper J3 Cub and started teaching tailwheel flying. This uncommon type of instructing led to her meeting Nikki Mitchell, who came to her for instruction.
While teaching Nikki, Rhonda was also flying jet aircraft, Hawkers, for a restaurant company based on the airport, along with Country artists Reba McEntire and Hank Williams Jr. Rhonda is typed on 3 different aircraft, Hawkers, LearJets, and KingAirs. She holds an ATP rating, along with the certified flight instructor, Seaplane, and glider. She owns a Cessna 180 Skywagon named Jezebel and her husband flies for Delta Airlines.