St. Petersburg to Moscow is a quick 2 hour flight. Once there we met Vladislav the owner of the Russian airline S7, and the chief sponsor of our little jaunt. Vlad invited us to another big celebratory dinner at the Four Seasons where we would get to meet some high mucky mucks of his company and 2 Russian Air Force test pilots. But first we got to visit his airline’s training center for to play with two of his 12 million dollar full motion flight simulators. And a right good time we had of it too. When it was my turn for the simulator I was fortunate enough to have with me in the cockpit three other professional pilots who’d been hired to keep the aircraft owners out of trouble. These guys are some of the best, most experienced pilots in the world and the four of us had a combined flight time of over 37,000 hours. So as each of took turns being Captain and co-pilot we handled each emergency situation with a calm, precise and professional manner that impressed the system immensely. Not. The four of us did nothing but screw around, rolling the big Boeing on final, buzzing the down town next to the airport, messing with the speed breaks of the guy trying to land and generally goofing off. Miraculously only one of us crashed (twice) and while my captain was backing up the big jet after landing by leaving the revers thrusters on after coming to a stop I jammed on the breaks to see if I could put us on our tail. I was successful and the simulator reared up and made a crunching noise. It was hilarious. That night at what felt like our 100th big fancy dinner party the C.E.O. of Epic announced that instead of getting up early and flying the next morning, we’d take the day off and enjoy another day in Moscow. There was much rejoicing.
With no official events or duties this day I joined up with another pro pilot and did a little sight seeing around Moscow with the highlight being my visit to the armory in the Kremlin. My wingman for the day was a retired Navy Captain, callsign Eagle. Eagle is and amazing character and I use the term character on purpose because even though he’s 73 years old, flew dozens of combat missions in Vietnam, ejected twice, and was the former commander of the aircraft carrier America Eagle is still a kid at heart and hilarious practical joker.
As you know there are many sayings that are true in life, “No good deed goes unpunished” “Never pet a burning dog” “Payback’s a bitch” and “ TANSTAAFL” “There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”
In order to make up for our day off in Moscow and get back on schedule we put in an epic day of flying. We flew 4 long legs across Russia spending over 8 hours in the air and crossing 5 time zones and ending up in Irkutsk. With the time zone changes and flight time it ended up being a 15 hour day. There were some tired pilots at the end but we were back on track.
A short one leg day to Yakutsk. Nothing special to report.
The first leg was to Magadan Russia where they parked all 6 Epics on a super rough taxiway and fueled us from an ancient fuel truck that had to be a leftover from the old Soviet Union daysThe next leg of the day was to Petropavlovsk. Also known as “Petro” for obvious reasons. The approach and Arrival into Petro was amazing with beautiful scenery all around and 2 active volcanos towering over the runways. There was also a ton of Russian Air Force iron scattered all over the airport. Fighters, transports, and were parked everywhere and even though they looked like they hadn’t flown in forever we soon saw one of those helicopters with the twin counter rotating rotors fly by followed by a big twin tailed fighter (Mig 25?) roaring off the runway leaving a trail of thick black smoke. It was almost like they wanted to prove to us that they could still put something in the air.
That night we once again went to dinner as a group, sitting at a long table passing dishes filled with local delicacies including tons of caviar. Our plan for the next day’s flying was to head to Adak Alaska, stop for fuel and then blast off for Anchorage but when we checked the weather Adak was forecast to have low ceilings and visibility. That was a problem because they didn’t have a precision approach into the airport and the island sits so far out at sea that there is no alternate airport available if you run into to trouble and have to divert. It was looking like we might have our first no-fly day due to weather.
I’m doing the best I can with posting but this trip is kicking my butt. The internet is pretty spotty in a lot of places so I’ve been falling behind. Here’s something to tide you all over for now.
Early morning slot times out of Italy mean early morning wakeup calls at the hotel. At least for those of us on the Epic World Tour that hadn’t had the foresight to rent a Lamborghini and were forced to ride the short bus to the airport.
We had another beautiful day for flying ahead us with clear skies on our departure from sunny Italy and only broken clouds and rain showers forecast for our arrival in Prague. Thankfully the clouds only covered the first half of the Alps so we got a good view of the mountains that were best crossed by plane rather than elephant. Once again the 6 Epics were spread out in trail only this time we were all at 27,000 rather than in staggered altitudes. This normally wouldn’t have been a big deal or even worth mentioning but the conditions were such that the Epic’s were leaving contrails and seeing that we were all flying on the same airways using the same GPS we all got the treat of flying through the contrail of the plane in front of us. Now I’m not saying that any of us did anything unprofessional like going off autopilot and weaving back and forth through those crisp white lines in the sky, but I’m not saying we didn’t either.
The descent and landing into Prague was uneventful and we were treated to what every IFR rated pilot loves to see, a nicely lit up runway appearing out of the gloom. There’s just something satisfying about making a successful approach in bad weather and seeing the runway pop out in front of you. After landing we were treated to another, ummm, “treat”. Ground control parked all 6 Epic’s quite a ways from the terminal and we were all towed to the ramp while still sitting inside. I guess that’s one way to do it. Especially if you want to be able to add a towing charge to each plane’s bill.
Prague was amazing. We did a walking tour in the rain and learned all about the history of medieval Prague and if you’re interested, you can find all kinds of information on the subject, somewhere else. The next morning we met the owner of the glider company Blanik who took us out to a local airfield and treated us all to a free glider ride! The day was a blast. Everyone got to go up for a 20 minute ride and if aerobatics were your thing you definitely got a hell of a ride. I’d been watching the three pilots who were giving the rides, trying to get the best one, and finally made my choice. He was an older guy, with a belly that looked like it wouldn’t fit in the tight cockpit, but after watching him do low level loops, rolls, and hammerheads I knew that he was the guy for me. We got towed to altitude by a gangly looking tail dragger that sat on two unusually main landing gear struts called a Wilga. I’d told the interrupter that all I wanted to do was aerobatics so once we released the tow line it was game on. We did loops that pulled 3-4 Gs on the bottom, rolls where all the loose dirt and grass in the cockpit fell into the canopy and almost zero airspeed hammerheads. The topper of the ride was the series of loops that ended with a hammerhead at only 600 feet at the top. He pointed the nose vertically at the ground just off the end of the hangers and then proceeded to buzz the flight line about 3 feet off the grass before pulling up and entering down wind. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that much fun! One thing that really struck me was just how well the glider maintained it’s energy. We’d do a maneuver and end up losing very little altitude. It was amazing. We were the last flight of the day so the glider pilot ended our flight by landing on the grass taxiway and rolling all the way up to the hanger, coming to a stop only feet from another glider. What a pro.
We topped the day off with another fancy dinner with the owner of the company and lots of distinguished guests. It was another Epic day.
We left Prague behind and headed northeast to St. Petersburg Russia. One again we got lucky with the weather and didn’t have anything more than a few light rain showers to deal with. It was a short flight (they all are in the Epic LT) with only one little hiccup. As each Epic got within 25 miles of the airport they all lost the GPS signal in their panel mounted Garmin G1000. Losing the GPS isn’t, or shouldn’t, be anything approaching an emergency but in this particular system if you lose the GPS signal th4e auto pilot doesn’t work and that means………hand flying!!!!!!! BUMM! BUMM! BUMM! Now, personally, I love hand flying, especially approaches. I don’t get to fly enough approaches as it is and I’m sure as hell not going to give any away to the damn autopilot. That’s MY approach! But these days I’m in the minority. Most pilots with glass cockpits couple the approach to the auto pilot and let the machine do the work. And that’s all fine and dandy until the autopilot breaks or the GPS craps out, like today. Then the pilot is forced to move the controls with his hands and feet, like a savage. Interestingly, my ipad’s GPS held the signal far longer than the panel mounted Garmin that had a hard wired antenna. We all got the GPS signal back just before landing leading us to speculate that for some reason the evil Russians were messing with the signal on purpose. Damn commies.
Once we got on the ground we got another treat. Apparently when the CEO of Epic, who was flying one of the six planes, squawked about the outrageous fees the handling company was going to charge us the company decided to show us who’s boss by leaving us stuck out on the ramp for two hours before fueling our planes and giving us a ride to the terminal. This treatment really pissed us off and when the owner of Epic found out what happened he was furious. And when a Russian, who also happened to be the owner of one of the biggest airlines in Russia, and a billionaire, gets mad heads will roll. Apparently the guy who made the call to disrespect us is now looking for a new job. The delay at the airport put us behind schedule so we only got to see the second half of the Russian/cassock dance show they took us to. Oh darn. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool seeing them doing their traditional dances but we were all so tired most of us slept through at least some of it.
The next day we took a hydrofoil up the river to Peter the Great’s palace and took the grand tour then had a bus tour of St. Petersburg. And of no evening on this trip would be complete without an amazing dinner and too much wine. It’s been a rough trip so far but somebody has to do it.
Normally the follow me car is what a pilot follows to parking after landing at a major airport but today the follow me is a link to the Epic LT company website where you can follow the Epic team as we fly around the world. Check it out at
Day 6 was a non-flying day that we spent enjoying Italy. Most of us walked around some and hung around the pool drinking ans talking smart. One couple rented a Lamborghini and spent the day terrorizing the local villagers. He told me that he got it up to 170 mph at one point and seeing him zoom past me at one point I believe him. I tried to get a picture but the whole fast cars and point and shoot camera thing doesn’t work so good.
So when I left off I was kneeling in-between the pilot and co-pilot of an Epic LT while they were doing a missed approach during bad weather in Wick Scotland desperately trying to keep my mouth shut and not tell them what to do. We blasted back up away from the runway and the controller said to prepare for an immediate return for an approach to runway 13. Now normally a pilot will take a few minutes to pull up the approach plate (chart) study it, set up the frequencies, dial in the approach on the auto pilot, and make sure he’s ready for it. Having a controller switch runways on you like that is crazy. As we banked away from the airport I looked back and could see the runway in a break in the clouds. “Runway in sight! Ask for a quick visual approach!” I’d managed to hold my tongue for almost ten minutes, a new personal best. The owner steepened his bank, cranked the big Epic around, dove through the crack in the thick clouds, and put her on the runway. Nice.
After we landed the next plane in our group shot the approach but was forced to go missed due to low clouds. Then the rest of the group showed up and were stacked up every thousand feet in a holding pattern over the runway while the plane tried to land a second time. 35 minutes later the last of our Epics were on the runway after another of our planes was forced to go around when a VFR plane landed ahead of him but didn’t clear the runway in time. Why was a VFR plane landing in such horrible conditions you ask? Because the Europeans charge huge fees to fly IFR and some guys just fly in the clouds and lie. The whole thing was kind of a cluster but we managed to get everybody on the ground and didn’t bend any airplanes. Twenty minutes after the last plane was on the ground the first one was back in the air and on the way to England.