Thrill of a Lifetime (continued, page 2)
by Jack Lythgoe

The classroom
A little book larnin' precedes the flight.
Photo: Personal collection of Jack Lythgoe

The next morning we were back on base early to receive our flight schedules, be assigned in the area in which we were to fly, and to go through our flight profiles which would be different for each pilot.

Next, out to the flight line, where the flying started with Ingrid in the SU-27, a fly-by-wire top of the line heavy fighter which is capable of the cobra maneuver, something very few planes can do. Others, like me, started their primary flight in the L-39 Albatros, which is a two-seater, single engine trainer from Czechoslovakia--a beautiful little plane with exceptional aerobatic performance.

Finally they called my name and I was introduced to my safety pilot, Serge (pronounced sir gay). he seemed like a nice man, but he did not speak English. Would there be a problem with that? I was assured that there would not be. if Serge were to say "my control," I was to take my feet off the rudder pedals, my left hand off the throttle and my right off the stick... no follow through, but completely away from all controls. When he said, "your control," then I would be fully in control of the aircraft. Seemed simple enough to me--let's do it.

In front of the L-39 Albatros
About to enter the L-39 Albatros.
Photo: Personal collection of Jack Lythgoe.

I checked to make sure I had everything: pressure suit, life preserver, helmet over the helmet liner, oxygen mask, throat microphone...yep, all together.  Though a little larger in bulk than most fighter pilots, I truly felt like a fighter pilot as I proudly walked out to my plane and climbed up the ladder to insert myself into the cockpit.

Two Ukranian technicians were to assist me in entering and getting everything settled, strapped in and hooked up to oxygen, pressure source for the suit, radio, etc.  Wow, it was actually going to happen.  I was going to get to fly this baby!

As I was being plugged into everything and strapped down, I was aware of the plane being started, the engine turned up and checked as I watched the gauges in front of me.  Shortly after they plugged in my communications I heard a raspy sound followed by the word "Chock!" This is as close to "jack" as Russian will permit.  I responded, "Da," in my very best Russian.  "Okay?" from the front cockpit, and again the same response, "Da." The canopy started to descend smoothly, and the plane moved forward on its way to the active runway.

Jack in the cockpit of a L39 Albatros
In the cockpit of an L-39 Albatros.

Then came instructions which almost floored me, "Your control, take off!" I glanced down at my flight profile to see where it said that I was supposed to put this thing in the air, and tried to remember if anyone ever said anything about how to take off in an L-39.  They had not! But then that is where American thinking excels.  We Americans think we can do anything...the "if it has wings, I can fly it" syndrome.

I recalled reading in one of the manuals where you were supposed to rotate an L-39 at 195 kph and then lift it off at 225 kph.  I took one deep breath, eschewing the use of flaps, pushed the throttle full forward and the plane leaped forward like a horse hit with a whip.  We were at 195 before I realized it, so I gently applied light back pressure to the stick.  The nose jumped up, eager to be airborne.

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