Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back on the Vodka Express

Russians don't invest a lot of money in air conditioning. I venture to say many of them have never seen it. But summer has now smitten them with a terrible resolve, and there go I into the furnace.

found Moscow hot in ways other than the thermometer can measure.

The heat was utterly appalling. A Southerner, I'm used to wet heat, but I loathe dry, sauna-like hotness that, as opposed to steaming you, parches you. As I strolled about Red Square and its environs I sweated torrents and watched many Russians walk about in shorts, tees and sandals, a rare sight.

The smoke added more misery. Russia is literally burning up. Great plumes of smoke are hanging across Moscow and the surrounding prairies. You could see it even inside buildings. You could smell it―Russia aflame. The drought is their worst in decades and now a world-wide wheat shortage looms because of it―or at least that's the wheat futures peddlers say.

My two F/Os, Mike and Andy, wisely napped through the parching afternoon and took their walks after we had dinner―which BTW was unremarkable. After three trips there I've decided to abandon my plans to open a fine Russian cuisine restaurant in Alabama.

But their desserts can be appealing to some. Mike and Andy reported great “eye candy” in Red Square on their walk. Much to their delight the Russian ladies had retrieved tiny thin garments from their closets, things they probably hadn't worn for seasons. Andy, a bachelor, described one girl as so gorgeous he could have died at her feet happy and fulfilled.

We were equally happy to get away from that miserable air. The air conditioning aboard the 767 never felt so good. We got there early to make ready for the dreaded first ten minutes out of Moscow. But no matter how hard you prepare for that Byzantine departure, it's never enough. It goes like this:

You let go the brakes and start the 7,000 foot roll. The sun is hot overhead but you can't see the end of the runway for the smoke. You go solid IMC seconds after liftoff, and the gear is hardly in the wells when the radio erupts with a cacophony of croaking, spit-spewing Russian commands. Your arms and hands poke and stroke the panels changing frequencies, course, speed, and altitude.

“WHAT DID HE SAY?” Andy, the pilot at the controls, shouts.

“I DON'T KNOW!” I shout back.

From the jump seat Mike shouts “I THINK HE SAID GO DIRECT WHISKEY TANGO...I think.”

We're shouting at each other. The radio is shouting.

The Russians give us altitudes in meters. Mike and I must consult charts to convert to feet. They give us a climb to flight level 1500. I convert that to meters. Andy yells, “THAT's NOT RIGHT! HE DIDN'T SAY 'FLIGHT LEVEL.' HE SAID 'ALTITUDE'.” (It can make a big difference.)

“NO,” Mike admonished. “HE SAID FLIGHT LEVEL!”

Two to one, “Flight Level” wins.

The distraction causes us to miss another Russian command. The radio blasts a rebuke. We humbly comply.

The radio is a hotbed of shouting Russians. The controllers' accents are so thick and their English so limited you can hardly tell when they switch their attention from their countrymen to you. You expect Vodka and spit to drip from the speakers and headsets.

God forbid you ask them to repeat a clearance. By the time they realize you need clarification you're past the fix, or through the altitude; they've got other customers to shout at. While you're trying to figure it all out, the 767 is moving like a missile across Moscow. Hell, it is a missile. Our job is to keep it from hitting anything. Things are happening so fast your senses go into maximum buzz. You're so far behind the jet, it's towing you. Then suddenly, it's over.

Just like that, the dreaded first ten minutes are done. You wipe sweat and slump back. You take a long pull from the water bottle. You're out of Moscow. Ten hours of listening to calmer, less frequent, and certainly less demanding voices lay ahead.

“What was that temperature in Washington?” I asked Mike as he started to leave for his break. He tossed the ATIS down. “Ninety-seven degrees. But we've got air conditioning.”

Makes one think there's a new kind of cold war going on.

проклятье, он горячий!
Stunning sunrise over the GUICK Gap. The eye of God.

St. Basil's Cathedral. I sat down in a grassy, shady spot
and just gazed at it for a long time.

A smokey Domodedovo Airport (pronounced Domo-de-dev-e-ya)

Like me, Mike couldn't resist snapping shots of a rare, clear Greenland coast.
In his "other job" Mike is an F-16 squadron commander.

Stunning sight. Greenland glaciers forming a cross-flow pattern.

Greenland crossing video

Quote of the post:
Man is not as good as a black box for certain specific things. However he is more flexible and reliable. He is easily maintained and can be manufactured by relatively unskilled labour.
— Wing Commander H. P. Ruffell Smith, RAF, 1949


George said...

Did you bring any floor sweepings back for Stack Doll?

Lakotahope said...

Oh I needed to read this post before I hit the bunk...I needed a good laugh....Thanks for the pics!!!

Anonymous said...

So right you are, the departure from Moscow is "limbs akimbo". One way to get ahead of the jet is to have the frequencies all printed out ahead of time and have the relief pilot pretune the radios and handle the meters to feet business. The one good thing about Moscow is that the controllers are predictable and not likely to stray from simple ATC clearances.
And if you get bored you can ask the ground crew to say "moose and squirrel".

Erik. said...

Check this out,

GreenPilot said...

spectacular photos. and great writing, as usual!

D.B. said...

What is the difference between "flight level" and altitude in Russia? I know in the USA, that flight level means altitude with the Kohlmann window set to 29.92, and is used in class A airspace above 18000. But I have frequently heard FL used in Europe well below that. Does a flight level ALWAYS require 29.92 to be set, regardless? When Russian ATC says "Altitude", do they mean QFE (AGL in the USA) or QNH (MSL here)?

Alan Cockrell said...

D.B. is right. 29.92 is used above 18000 in the USA and lower in Europe. Russia's transition is usually 1500 meters. Below that you set QNH or QFE. They could give you either one. If they give you QFE you have to convert to QNH. The purpose of flight levels is to eliminate the need for planes flying at high altitudes to adjust for local altimeter variations.

Moving Companies said...

wow great pic's ...

Anonymous said...

It was great to read your post, since I just came back from DME. I arrived 8/9/10 in the thick of the smoke with a return 8/20 (IAD). How nice it is to have a direct IAD-DME

Thanks for writing...really great to read after just coming back

Danny said...

Russian people like traveling and by the nature lovers
Thank for sharing your some beautiful images is very rare , thank for it.