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So close now…


View Mig-29 flight on bejjan's travel map.

For once this was not a long journey, neither in distance nor number of days. This was a four-day trip back and forth to Nizhny Novgorod (Russia) with a spectacular adventure just waiting for me over there. All planning and preparation began over 8 months ago with medical check-up and applying for Visa etc. All this with help from Andreas at Space Affairs, who helped with organizing and support both pre-, during and after the flight.

So departure day had finally arrived and I was for once finished with packing in time, which is unusual for me. But I had actually planned for only a carry-on bag to avoid having to bother with check-in of luggage, so then you do not have so much room to pack too much stuff. I even had time to download new playlists on my mp3-player. Before I left home I had time to check like 17 times that I had all papers with me… travel insurance, flight tickets, train tickets, medical papers and all other necessarily papers for my trip. With only a carry-on and a purse it was easy taking the bicycle to the train station. This morning it was chilly -3 °C so I got slightly hypothermic in the waiting for boarding the train. In the neighborhood city Borlänge I had to change train and imagine my surprise when it departed on time (!). But it was another 2 hours left to Stockholm Arlanda Airport so still anything could happen. And it was onboard this train it started to tingle in my stomach that it was so close now to fly the fighter jet… and not any fighter jet, but a MiG-29!

Disembarked the train at Arlanda Airport and rode the escalators up to Sky City and took the opportunity to exchange some cash (Russian rubles). Even though all my hotels, transfers, lunches and dinners, guide etc. was paid for in advance it’s always good to have cash for tips and so. Was in good time but still lined up for check-in. I could all stand a little after that 2 ½ hours train ride and soon another 2 hours onboard an aircraft. When the staff finally arrived at the check-in counters I was positively surprised that they were Swedish. I had expected Russians since I was flying Aeroflot. Got my boarding passes (window seats of course) and cleared security check easily, even though I was wearing in a large hoodie I wasn’t checked extra. Previously I have been forced to x-ray that very same hoodie but apparently not today. I bought a simple Caesar Salad Wrap for shameless 83 SEK (about €8). But you don’t have too many options at an airport.

The non-stop flight to Moscow was delayed by 15 minutes according to the information screen, which was fine as long as it didn’t get any more delayed than that. Since Russia doesn’t belong to European Union there were like a thousand extra passport checks before entering the gate. Eventually the Swedish staff arrived at the gate and let us passengers onboard the aircraft. But once on the aircraft I was greeted by Russian cabin crew in handsome uniforms. The Russian crew spoke very well English though so I had nothing to worry about. When boarding was completed the plane was only half full of passengers and the two seats next to me was empty. During the almost 2 hour flight to Moscow it was served both a huge sandwich and optional beverages along with wet wipe and toothpick. Was really impressed. The plane landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) just before 4pm. It was easy getting around at the airport since all necessarily signs texted in Russian (with Cyrillic letters) also are texted in English with Latin letters. Though I have studied some Russian years ago and still remember the Cyrillic alphabet and its pronunciation, so with nothing else to do before my next flight to Nizhny Novgorod I walked around and read different signs. So with knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet some words are understandable and quite similar to English and/or Swedish.

The passport control officer in the booth at Sheremetyevo International Airport was moderately interested in his work but checked my passport and handed over my tourist card that must to be returned when leaving Russia. To apply for Russian Visa requires some preparation with papers, but it was not as hard as I first thought it would be. But you must be prepared to pay a lot of money (€150).

Neither the flight to Nizhny Novgorod was fully seated with passengers when boarding was completed. Duration of flight was about 45 minutes but despite this Aeroflot offered both a sandwich and beverages during the short-haul flight. The aircraft landed at Nizhny Novgorod International Airport around 8pm. Since I didn’t have any checked-in bags I could go straight to the meeting point where the driver was waiting to transfer me to my hotel. The transfer was supposed to take about half an hour but due to roadwork it took an hour. At arrival at Hotel Alexandrovsky Garden I could just check in and attend to the dinner awaited in the hotel restaurant. Later in the evening it was not so easy falling asleep since I was quite excited about tomorrow.

Posted by bejjan 14:09 Archived in Russia Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Time for flying!


View Mig-29 flight on bejjan's travel map.

And then the day had arrived, the Big day. Wasn’t able to sleep many hours during night, but got up and felt refreshed with adrenaline pumping. A small breakfast was eaten (not worth eating too much in case of air-sickness) and then it was time to meet up with my guide and interpreter Irina in the hotel lobby at 8am and transfer to Sokol Airbase. It was easy finding Irina in the hotel lobby (since she held a sign with a MiG-29) and she projected a calm, warm and professional impression. With very well English and a short presentation of herself, we joined Sergei, the driver, who began driving us to the airbase. The almost 30 minute transfer felt yet like an eternity before arriving at the actual base. Along the way Irina described what was going to happen during the day and how things work. To even be able to set your foot on the airbase requires minimum 2 months of paperwork and application needs to be done in time.

SokolNizhny Novgorod construction plant – was built in 1932 and is today one of the leading plants within the industry in Russia. From the get-go airplanes has been mass-produced here and over 40000 planes has since left the plant. But it was not until 1949 that the collaboration with Sokol and Mikoyan and Gurevich took place and the very first MiG-15 started to mass-produced and exported. Continued cooperation led to the jet aircraft MiG-17 before the first supersonic – MiG-21 – was produced which opened up a new path for fighter jets worldwide. While manufacturing the MiG-25 Sokol Airbase underwent a technical revolution and quickly became one of the most high tech manufacturers within the industry.
MiG-29, also known as the Russian Beauty, is one of the Russian Air Force’s most prominent fighter jet classified as a 4th generation combat aircraft. It was during early 1980ies that MiG-29 was designed as a powerful and impressive fighter jet with superior qualities of hunting and attacks with missiles. MiG-29 is one of the most known and advanced combat aircrafts in the world and its feminine shape has made it liked by not only men but also women. MiG-29, also called Fulcrum, are manufactured in many models and flies in over 25 countries where it often serves as light front-line fighter within the countries Air Forces.

We were met by representatives at the gate at the airbase. Level of security was high and multiple security checks of cars, passengers and passports were made at different check-points before we even had arrived at the control building where medical check-up, change of clothes and briefing with the pilot would take place. Before I even got out of the car the photographer and video maker had started their work; to document everything for me. Then I was received by personnel that had arranged and would make sure I had the experience of my life and the medical doctor that checked my blood pressure and pulse, and perhaps the most important of all – meeting the pilot. To honor the day Andrew Pechenkin had been appointed as my pilot, one of three test pilots at Sokol Airbase specially approved to fly civilians in MiG-29 UB. You do put your life in the pilots’ hand every time you fly commercially, but it gets a little more personally and up-close when you get to shake hands and talk to the pilot himself performing all aerobatics. Andrew gave a calm and stable impression and it felt right straight away.

After a short briefing of different aerobatics I got to tell what I wanted to do during the flight. “I want to try as much as possible” was my respond. I mean, if you have paid the money - why not? ;) Then came the first surprise of the day. Andrew handed over the blue flight dress I would be wearing during the flight but also as a gift for my birthday, which I could take with me back home. And this was only the first out of many birthday gifts given to me during the day. Soon thereafter it was time to change into more appropriate clothes. Fireproof underwear and the anti G-Force suit looking more like a body corset with tubes in it. Not only was it tight fitted, it was laced up tight on both arms and legs and torso for best fit and function. When the anti G-Force suit was tight enough I jumped into the blue flight dress. Then it was boots on and time for transfer to the apron where the MiG was.

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Together with the photographer, video maker, Irina, Andrew and some more people, we drove out onto the apron where the MiG-plane was waiting. On sight, Andrew performed a visual inspection of the aircraft to check up fundamental things like the aircraft not leaning (due to low pressure or inflated tires), the bolts are in locked position, air inlet, turbofan engines, landing gears, and wings and so on are okay. Thereafter it was time to climb up the ladder and be seated in the cockpit. A service man followed me up the ladder and helped buckle me up with all belts and buckles for the parachute, ejection seat and oxygen. Instrument panel in the back seat, where I was seated, was equipped with meters for most things; speed, altitude, G-Force, gyroscope, oxygen etc. Andrew climbed up the ladder and explained most of the meters, how to use the communication button to communicate with him during the actual flight and which buttons not to touch. And most important of all; handle of the ejection seat... only in case of.

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Put the helmet on and after the anti-G-Force suit had been connected and oxygen mask switched on, I gave thumbs up and waited for Andrew to be seated in the pilot seat in front. The sound of the two RD-33 turbofan engines firing up sounded nice to my ears and Andrew started the system check of things like stabilizers, rudders and the wings flaps and slats. For the second pilot (me) there is tandem configuration with like control stick and pedals (just as first pilot has) since The MiG-29UB is a two-seated combat trainer to prepare and train MiG-29 fighter pilots. After the canopy was lowered down and in locked position Andrew taxed out to the runway for takeoff. When in position and cleared for takeoff by the control tower, you could just ride along ;)

I will stop writing now and let all pictures talk instead.

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When the plane landed on the runway again after all aerobatics (different rolls, loops, inverse flights and hammer among other things) I didn’t feel all that great but it wasn’t until the very end of the flight that I felt my brain lost orientation and of course vertigo came instantly. But I got out of the plane on my own and became very happy when Andrew announced I just had experienced 7.0 G-Forces. Like, little me?
When back in the control building it felt good to lie down for a while and just let the brain unwind and realize I was back on mother Earth again. The whole experience ended with a finishing ceremony with receiving a diploma and greetings from the pilot and the team behind whole experience. Since it was my birthday I also received a huge bouquet of roses and received congratulations and even more gifts. But it didn’t end there, no, no. Once back in my hotel room, the general manager at the hotel had sent up bottle of wine and a fruit basket to my room along with a letter. This day is by far the best experience and birthday in my whole life and to subsequently see all photos and videos from this day makes me re-live the flight all over again.

It’s difficult to understand how many people who actually are involved in an experience like this. Of course the pilot himself has a key role, but there are so many other people that you never get to see, whom are very important; firefighters, ground people, technical personal and people working with security, radio communication in the control tower is just a few. Without them this would never had been possible.
And many who are asking me about the price for this experience has been chocked over the cost. But what do they expect the price to be to refuel a machine like that? It is not free. Though the MiG-29 is designed for unique maneuverability and high speed and especially superior in short range combat, but it still was necessarily to refuel over 3000 liters of jet fuel just for my flight.

Posted by bejjan 14:12 Archived in Russia Tagged adventure fighter_jets mig-29 Comments (2)

Back-up day


View Mig-29 flight on bejjan's travel map.

This day was back-up day in case the flight yesterday would not have been implemented as planned due to technical problems with the actual aircraft or weather conditions etc. So instead there was a guided city tour in the city of Nizhny Novgorod together with my guide and interpreter Irina. Together with the driver Irina showed up in the hotel lobby to pick me up, just after hotel check-out. It was more chilly winds today but we defied the cold and started walking through the city.

Between 1932 and 1990 the city was known as Gorky, named after the writer Maxim Gorky who was born here. Thereafter the city was re-named Nizhny Novgorod (meaning “lower new city”) since the city is downstream of the city Novgorod (“new city”). Nizhny Novgorod has long been the place for a military base, why the city was closed for foreigners and tourists but in May 1991 the city was opened and tourists were welcome again. The people and the city have since slowly adapting for tourists.

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Nizhny Novgorod is geographically on that spot where tributary river Oka meets Volga. This place has historically contributed to a strong economy for the city since trading stopped here to trade goods at the Novgorod market which during 19th Century was the main trading center in Russia. During this era Nizhny Novgorod turned into an industrial city with focus on ships that used Volga and Oka. The industrial part of the city is flat and it’s when you come to the city centre when you can see Kremlin, the oldest city centre, situated on a hill with beautiful view towards the place where Oka and Volga comes together. Kremlin is surrounded by a fortress with a high and wide wall protecting the city from attacks. The guards let the main gate opened and if the deer, in the forest just outside, ran through the gate all scared, it was an important sign that the enemy probably wasn’t that far away and the soldiers had time to prepare for battle. That’s why the city symbol of Nizhny Novgorod is a deer.

Kremlin is considered to be the best preserved medieval fortress in the central Russia, and according to experts it might be due to its location on top of a hill and therefore more difficult to attack or damage it unseen. Irina and I made a walk inside the fortress’s walls and Irina told the city history. Many memorial sites are to be found all around the city tribute the victims of the World War II, in which Russia was involved in between 1941 – 1945.

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Even a tank (Tank T-34) and other combat vehicles were at display.

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The oldest remaining church in Nizhny Novgorod is Archangel Michael Cathedral originally built in wood during 16th Century. The church has since been restored several times and has today a lower half made of bricks and wooden roof. The Russian-orthodox cathedrals are – compared to Swedish churches – colorful and beautifully designed with their onion-shaped domes. The roof of the church gets its color after whom it’s dedicated to; Jesus, Virgin Mary etc. Also the design and shape of the roof cross has significant meaning. For example, a half moon under the cross symbolizes a bowl where the blood from Jesus collects after the crucifixion. Nearby the Archangel Michael Cathedral is the Eternal Fire that burns in memory for all heroes of World War II.

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On the other side of the cathedral there is a square with a statue of the founder of Nizhny Novgorod. According to the books the city was founded in 1221 by Duke Yuri Vsevolodovich which later was honored with a monument along with Bishop Simon, Yuri’s spiritual leader. There is an interesting story which Irina, my guide, told me about why Bishop Simon’s right hand is raised. According to the legend Simon was decapitated at the square and his head was attached at the tail of a horse. Then they rode around on that horse with the head hanging and bouncing. When this finally was interrupted by a man who later restored the head to the bishop’s body, it’s told that Bishop Simon’s right hand was raised – as a sign of gratitude. Whether this is true or not, I leave unsaid. But it’s an interesting story.

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Nizhny Novgorod’s oldest house is still there and has been renovated. The house consisted of three stories, the first two built with bricks and the third out of wood. Since the third floor was made out of wood, no one knows how it was designed since the wood has been damaged. But people have rebuilt it how it might have been built. First floor was only used by the servants while the lord and his family always entered the second floor by staircase where they spent their waking hours. When the family would go to sleep they did on the third wooden floor.

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Opposite this nice house is a beautiful church, which the communists built a huge brick house in front of. All in purpose of tourists and traders not to see this beautiful church from the river and therefore not stop by for a visit.

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My city tour ended with a visit in Stroganov Church, or Rozhdestvenskaya Church, with unique architectural style compared to other churches in Nizhny Novgorod. My aesthetic mind was triggered immediately by the Stroganov baroque (or pseudo-Russian style) as the church belongs to. The church has many amazing colors (gold, red, green, blue) on its bulbous domes and the handmade golden crosses that decorate the roofs are very skillfully made.

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And not to mention the amazing ornaments surrounding the windows which all had been meticulously made by hand. Inside the church was beautifully handmade decorations painted in gold and yet another proof of thorough handiwork. And yes, according to the story this Stroganov family (French - Stroganoff) contributed to the name of Beef Stroganoff, but I can’t say whether it’s true or not.

City tour finished with lunch at a local medieval restaurant. Cozy furnishings and atmosphere and tasty food. On the way to Nizhny Novgorod International Airport I requested a stop-over in a store to by another bag which I could check in for my flight. Since I had traveled to Russia with only hand luggage I had absolutely no room what so ever to fit all my birthday gifts in that small bag. Well at the airport in the queue for check-in I noticed the time for my flight did not match the time in my papers. Irina, who was still with me, asked the staff behind the desk about it. And sure, it was delayed by 2 hours. Hmm… considering the duration between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod being only 45 minutes and they already know it will take at least 2 hours… in other words, something’s wrong with aircraft itself and it needs to be fixed before takeoff or they need to call in another aircraft (which could take up to 2 hours). Well. Luckily, I did not have any connection flight to be worried about until tomorrow morning. So all I could do was to be seated and wait.

After security check for Terminal 1 there were not many things to do or spending you time doing things with, so I was glad they had free WiFi at the Airport. But when time struck 7.30pm (new time when the plane supposedly would have taken off) there was still no information about which gate to go to. But just after 8pm we found out the gate number. All people rushed over there, but there were no staff there. Nope? And a few minutes later they called out that it was the gate downstairs instead. So everyone rushed downstairs and boarded a apron bus. There was only one aircraft in sight and was just a little further out on the apron and waited. Well, that was a little over the top, I thought for myself. When all people had boarded the apron bus it started to drive pass the aircraft I was sure were ours. But instead the bus made a huge circular turn around that aircraft and another one further away just to drive back to the same gate we just had gone through… ONLY difference was that the bus stopped maybe 5 meters closer to the aircraft than the position the bus had started from. It was yet another 20 meters left to the actual aircraft. But at that time I did not had the strength to think about anything else than hurry up onboard the aircraft to get to Moscow. But now thinking about it afterwards, it had been 10 times faster if we did not have to board the apron bus (that only took us 5 meters closer to the aircraft) and walk on our own directly to the aircraft… *sigh*

Well onboard the aircraft the captain announced that the delay was due to technical problems with the plane (as I predicted) and those people who had missed their connection flights that due to this delay cold contact Aeroflot personal at Sheremetyevo International Airport for assistance. And to be honest it felt silly to fly commercial again after the experience yesterday. Though the short-haul flight to Moscow we passengers were offered sandwiches and beverages, great service by Aeroflot. Something other airlines could learn a lesson or two from, in my opinion. Well at the hotel in Moscow I had no trouble sleeping.

Posted by bejjan 14:19 Archived in Russia Tagged cities traveling Comments (0)

Returning home


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Repacking my bags now when I’m “only” flying back home. Breakfast was served at the hotel and free transfer back to Sheremetyevo International Airport. My advice to you who are flying from Sheremetyevo International Airport is to be well in time, at least if you are flying internationally. I waited in line for about an hour for check-in. The problem was that they had only one queue to ALL international flights with Aeroflot. I’m not sure that’s 100% effective though. The line for only baggage drop (when already checked in online) was just as long and had definitely not been any faster. And after that I spent another 15 minutes in line for passport control where I returned the tourist card (received at entering Russia). But after that you can take it slow, check out the tax-free and buy something to eat.

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The queue was even longer when my flight was cleared for takeoff.

Once onboard the aircraft and it had been pushed out from the gate and taxing towards the runway we ended up in a long queue. Obviously it was rush-hour at the airport and it was probably 10 aircrafts waiting in line just for takeoff, which got me thinking if they only have one runway for takeoff at such a big airport as Sheremetyevo International Airport? The queue contributed to the smell of jet fuel from the front plane into the plane behind. But who doesn’t like the smell of jet fuel in the morning? ;) So my flight got delayed due to the queue to access the runway but they made it up by flying somewhat faster during the almost 2 hour flight back to Stockholm Arlanda Airport.

Posted by bejjan 14:27 Archived in Russia Tagged traveling Comments (0)

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