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Rudolphs enjoy opportunity to fly former U.S. foe's aircraft
Daily News - Weekend.
Reprinted with permission.
Doug and Joanne Rudolph got high in December. "It was very addictive," she said of the experience that took her and her husband to more than 80,000 feet above sea level in the skies over Moscow, Russia, courtesy of a MiG-25.
The experience was a vacation of a lifetime for the Pullman couple who were looking for something more adventuresome than the traditional vacation.
"We decided to go for the ultimate", she said.
Doug Rudolph, 51, had the idea in the back of his mind since reading an article in the December 1995/January 1996 issue of Air & Space magazine. The story told of an entrepreneur from Sarasota, Fla., who teamed with the Gromov Flight Institute in Russia to offer flights on all manner of Russian aircraft. The institute, a test facility for all Russian-made aircraft, is located at the Zhukovksy Air Base about 60 miles from Moscow, the Russian capital.
Incredible Adventures, whose motto is "Life is either an incredible adventure or nothing at all," was born in 1993 and offers package flights on Russian planes.
The packages are not cheap, but neither are the thrills. "We figured we should do it soon," Doug explained. "The Russian government could shut the base down at any time if another faction would take power."
The Rudolphs opted for the "Right Stuff" package that included two flights in an L-39 jet trainer and one supersonic flight in a MiG-25. (The MiG-25 is the same plane U.S. fighters fired on in the no-fly zones over Iraq.)
The six-day, five-night adventure also included lodging at the five-star Metropol hotel in Moscow, continental breakfasts, transportation to and from the air base, security clearance, preflight medical check, a trip to the Ismailovo Flea market and visit to the flight museum.
The cost was $16,900 not including airfare. The flights to and from Russian and proper documentation were arranged by Departures Travel in Moscow, Idaho.
Most of the money goes to the Russians and some finds its way to help maintain the aircraft at the base. With the Russian economy in shambles, the extra money also helps keep the fuel guzzlers aloft. The MiG-25 holds 14 tons of fuel, about 5,000 gallons, enough for a 30-minute flight that includes a "zoom climb" to 80,000 feet.
Zhukovsky air base has one of the longest runways in Europe at 3.34 miles and has no weight limitations. The Russian space shuttle also is housed at the base.
Despite all the air traffic and a community of 100,000 outside the base, the airport does not show up on any maps, said Doug.
As he went through the gates of the former top-secret base Dec. 12, his thought went back a few years to the Soviet era. "if you even got close to this base, you would have been shot. Now I'm walking around inside," he said. "however, the guards are still a little skittish about cameras."
The pilots at the base are all professional test pilots and fluent in English, which helps if you need to tell the pilot that you are getting air sick. "They don't like it when you throw up in their planes," Doug said with a straight face.
Luckily, the Rudolphs did not need to communicate that to their pilots. In fact, Doug felt better after his flight than he had before. He was nursing the flue and some of the food did not agree with him, he said.
Most of the flights were 30 minutes and worth every penny, the couple agreed.
Joanne's flight on the L-39 was an unbelievable rush, she said. Her 100-pound, 45 year old body was made to feel as if it weighed more than 650 pounds as the jet's maneuvers created a G-force of 6.5.
When it was all over, "I keyed my mic and told the pilot it was incredible...before he could say anything," she said.
Joanne's reward was a big hug from her pilot, Ildus Kiramov, once they were on the ground. That's how the whole trip went. Everybody was professional and accommodating, they said.
The couple even ate lunch with their pilots at the air base. "It was like eating grandma's cooking - Russian style," said Doug. "The chef was excellent."
When not on the base, the Rudolphs had some time to see the sights of Moscow.
"The people are either very rich or very poor," they said.
The Rudolphs brought souvenirs of Moscow, Idaho, on the trip. The little trinkets were appreciated and prized by the Russian people, he said.
The Rudolphs sought a little piece of home when they ate at a Moscow McDonald's. "The food was the same but the price was lower," Doug said.
When Doug was flying in the MiG-25, he asked the pilot to turn the heat down as the cockpit was getting a little warm. The pilot replied that the heat, about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, was a result of air friction on the cockpit's canopy.
The MiG-25 is capable of flying at Mach 3.2, or 3.2 times the speed of sound. On Doug's trip, the jet flew at Mach 2.5 or about 1,800 mph. He also attained an altitude of 83,640 feet, more than 15 miles above the Earth's surface.
"Above, the sky was black and loaded with stars," he said. "Below, the cloudy sky was blue...that's the closest I'll get to outer space."
To make the adventure complete, Joanne and Doug flew the planes. They each completed aileron rollovers using only the control stick. Neither had previous experience as a pilot.
"We can now say we flew the planes," they said. They returned to the United States Dec. 19 with their memories and mementos of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
It was so much fun that Joanne jokingly said that they would have to join aviators anonymous. While Joanne's day job as office manager for Pullman Disposal may help quell the urge to seek the wild blue yonder, it may be too late for professional intervention. The couple is returning to Zhukovsky in June for another go, this time with the MiG-29.
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