Today was my second planned flight, this time in an L-39 with the specific intention to do some aerobatics.
We set off early from Moscow because it was a two and a half hour drive to the base, along a huge long straight road with no bends in it. There just seemed to be trees on either side for miles, punctuated with the odd petrol station, monument, shop and truck stop.
Unlike Sokol, when we arrived this base had many L-39’s and helicopters and is used to train pilots every day.
Air Base - Google Maps
I had the obligatory medical with yet another very nice doctor and then had to once again sign my life away and accept that what I was about to do was dangerous.
Next came the briefing on all of the systems in the aircraft and details of what I could and could not touch. All of this was done in Russian and I hoped that Alexandra (my translator) was explaining all of the details I needed to know. The last thing I wanted was to drop the landing gear instead of turning on the oxygen – that would be bad!
Finally, I was taught how to use the ejection seat in a simulator.
Ejector Seat Training
This was great fun to have a go with and to see exactly how it worked. The first couple of attempts nothing happened. It turned out that the lady doing the training had forgotten to plug it in (which was a little worrying).
Pull The Handles And Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!!!!
Third time it worked fine and I kept my fingers crossed that the one in the jet would work FIRST TIME if I needed it. (In the unlucky event you have to eject for real then the seat pushes you out so fast that you can pull 17.5 g and be a tad shorter as a result of your spine compressing).
So That's How It Works...
Next I was introduced to the pilot whose name was Savluk, he would be taking me on the flight .
He was a very experienced pilot and a member of one of Russia’s aerobatic teams called (can you believe it) RUSS.
(RUSS were the early East Slavic people from which Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians are descended).
Savluk ran me through what the flight plan was and explained all of the aerobatics that we were going to do, then we geared up ready to go.
The L-39 is very different to the Mig 29 as it’s primarily used as a trainer plane and is not as big, or as fast but what it does have is a huge cockpit where you get a great view of what’s going on.
After take off we headed quickly over to our flight area and Savluk ran through some of the aerobatic programme, doing loops, dives and roles all of which were fantastic fun. One minute we were level, the next diving or spinning, just like an untethered roller coaster. Watching the sky flip around and the earth whizz by upside down is great fun, if not a little disorientating.
After a few minutes he then asked if I would like to try… at first I wondered what he meant by “have a go” but it quickly became very clear he meant I would have the chance to try some of the aerobatics myself! I remember thinking, “who the hell is going to believe I flew this thing and did tricks?!”.
He explained what I needed to do and said that he would correct any errors I made and not to worry.
The first maneuver I did was a role, nice and simple in both directions – this was such a buzz, actually flying the plane!
I then moved into dives, loops and then finally I got to do more complex maneuvers like a Split S and an Immelmann. Both of these maneuvers involve a loop and then rolling the aircraft at the top or bottom of the loop.
The Immelman felt fine, I accelerated into the climb to the top of the loop and then rolled the plane over – all relatively straight forward with Savluk correcting the drifting as we went (like having your own on-board “don’t screw it up system”). I got a real sense of how much these guys have to do when performing. You have to watch so much stuff and execute the maneuver accurately, it’s mind blowing that they can do it and make it look so easy.
When it came the the Split S for me it was a little different…
Rolling at the top was just like I had done before and not an issue. As you go into an inverted dive the plane gets faster so at the bottom you are subject to quite a lot of G-force. As we hit the bottom of the loop and I began to pull back on the stick to come out of the dive, I started to loose my vision, until eventually everything was black and I could not see my hand, let alone the controls! Even though the plane was slower than the Mig 29, because i did not have a pressure suit on, then I was more susceptible to blacking out. Even though we were only pulling about 4 g, my vision, just like in the Mig, started to disappear as my body got more and more stressed with the force of the turn.
Luckily on the control column was an intercom button so I was able to tell Savluk that he needed to take back control as I couldn’t see – which, thank goodness, he did.
As he pulled out of the loop my vision again came back very quickly. It did make me realise how easy it would be to make a huge error with fatal consequences if you were not paying attention when flying on your own.
This was the end of the time so we then headed back to the base to do a final low level, high speed pass of the runway and then Savluk brought the plane down for a perfect landing.
The whole experience was fantastic and if you get the opportunity, have a go, you will love it!! I can’t rave about it enough!!!!
This is a video I found on You Tube of the same guys I flew with performing aerobatics – all of them incredible pilots (and a little crazy). This gives you an idea of some of the aerobatics that we did during the flight and is exactly the sort of view from the cockpit.