This page is my story of an adventure I had
flying jets in Russia and is dedicated to the memory of
Vladimir Danilenko who died in a training accident in the
Ural mountains in April1996. I had the privilege of flying
with him. I will have more of a tribute to him by the end
of the year. ~ Mike
Russian MiG-29 Fighter Aircraft
This is the Russian MiG-29 fighter aircraft I, Mike Saemisch,
flew as an adventure of a lifetime. Through a company in Florida
MiGs, Etc, now known as Incredible
Adventures), I traveled to Moscow in May of 1994 for a week
of pure adrenaline highs. The company arranged this adventure
to occur at the formerly secret Zhukovsky Air Force Base about
20 miles outside of Moscow. Each day, the others and I would be
picked up from our hotel near Red Square and taken to the base
("hide those cameras!"). The week started with medical
exams, ejection seat training and general orientation.
Before flying in the supersonic MiG-29, I took four flights
in a subsonic Czech L-39 jet trainer. Here, the pilot prospects/suckers
like me were subjected to various aerobatic maneuvers to establish
our capabilities for the big flight plus we were given extensive
time piloting the aircraft on each of the 40 minute flights. Maneuvers
such as loops, rolls, Split-s, Immelmans, Crazy Cubans, Hammerheads
and the famous Russian Tailslide are all performed if requested
(and can also be halted if requested). The customers are allowed
to try anything they desire. Plus, we flew inverted, chased a
Russian AWACS plane into the clouds, did four point rolls, and
I flew an ILS approach on the various flights.
A typical flight would be something like the following with the
Russian pilot's words in quotes. Take-off would be with mild acceleration.
We would fly about 30 km at about 300 feet off the ground. Gain
a little altitude and then:
"Roll. OK?" OK. Incredible!
"You OK?" I'm OK.
"Inverted flight." Wow!
"Are you Vell?" I am well.
"Loop, OK?" OK. The g-suit is really pumping. Hit the
100% oxygen switch for some 'fresh' air. Most of the time it was
very smooth flying (except for the g's); like watching a movie
out the cockpit. What a great view from this seat!
"Are you vell?" I'm vell.
your control". My control! OK, turn left. Wonderful! More
turns. Roll. How in the world is it possible that I am commanding
a Russian fighter jet, in Russia?! Quite a concept having grown
up in the cold war years.
"Are you vell?" I'm well.
"Hammerhead." Up, up, up, right to the base of a cloud.
Quiet. Still up. Then, as we feel like we are hanging from the
cloud, the plane gently rolls to the left. Then, straight down.
Heavy g's. Pull out.
"You OK?" Not so OK. Level off. Time to land. No puke!
On one particularly cloudy and rainy day, I asked to take my
scheduled L-39 flight anyway. After running into many clouds in
the aerobatic zone, Vladimir told me, "This is not so good,
I show you low altitude fly-ink." Or, was it NO altitude
fly-ink?! For about 5 minutes, Vladimir piloted the aircraft at
500 kmh (about 300 mph) about 12-18 meters (about 40 feet) off
the deck banking left and right, buzzing the formerly Soviet fields
and almost skimming the water of a small river! Talk about a sensation
of speed! I thought the wing tips would part the grass as we turned.
The altimeter was reading minus 50 meters. Nobody else in the
group would have this experience this week.
One morning, while in bed in the hotel in Moscow after a day
or two of flying, I awoke in a cold sweat. An imaginary voice
I hear says, "Good morning gentlemen. It's 65 degrees, fair
skies, visibility 20 miles. Today's hard deck is 1000 feet. With
only 2 days left, the Top Gun trophy is still up for grabs. 'The
Kid' and 'Iceman' are tied for the lead". (My helmet said
"The Kid" for some reason). The last hour of my attempted
sleep is dedicated to planning the day's flight. Sleep? Yeah,
these L-39 flight experiences, the students discuss and plan their
approximately 40 minute adventure in the MiG-29. As I got into
the cockpit, first things first, where's the barf bag? It took
the translators a while to figure that out but they got it under
control. The MiG-29 crew was large and very professional. In the
preflight check, I see the display go through several checks:
Flaps OK, Guns OK. GUNS!?! I had a lot of time sitting in the
cockpit and my pilot for the day, (Alexander),
explained things. They had no problems with us taking pictures.
Heck, they would probably have sold me the plane if I had the
My MiG-29 flight consisted of a high power takeoff and formation
flying with an L-39 with a photographer from a British magazine
in the other plane. Once the pictures were taken (and which I
never got - THANKS FOR NOTHING, Magnum Photos, London!), Alexander
hit full afterburners, pressing me to the seat and beginning a
vertical climb to the supersonic flight zone. Good-bye L-39. Good-bye
NOW! I bet you could almost see my smile from the ground!
After coming out the clouds vertical, Alexander leveled out and
accelerated and announced, "Mach .7, .8, .9, .95, supersonic,
1.1, 1.2. 1300 kilometers per hour". Then, it was back to
aerobatic flying. I took the controls for a while as we approached
the zone. Alexander did the big time maneuvers such as the Hammerhead,
Tail Slide and Split-s. I did a series of rolls and highly banked
turns. Afterburners now and then. The whole flight seemed to be
performed under acceleration. When the flight was ending, it was
time to buzz the field. Inverted, of course! A gentle roll was
performed for the others and the video cameras below. Afterburners
Time to land?! No! I want more! I need some new adjectives! It
was all over way too soon! I didn't get sick!
Afterwards, I was all excited as you might imagine. What I did
not realize right away was that I was suffering from 'sensory
overload'. I was overwhelmed with all that had happened and all
that I did. My mind did not sort it all until much later. As I
was sitting in the Bolshoi Ballet that night watching a wonderful
performance, my mind was finally able to replay all of what had
happened. I actually became more and more excited as I recalled
and re-flew the flight over and over. Of course, I was also able
to start to think about the things I would do.....next time.....
My adventure was also chronicled in Air
and Space Magazine by Bill Triplett who was there covering
the adventure as part of a larger article on this and other flight
adventures for hire, "Dreams
for Sale". We visited a Russian aircraft museum on
our day off and Bill wrote about this in "Inside
the Red Zone". (I am the "American visitor"
referenced in the article.) Also, KSL, Channel 5 in Salt Lake
City, covered the story after reading the article. They interviewed
me and used some of my and the MiGs, Etc. promotional footage.