Thrill of a Lifetime (continued, page 4)
by Jack Lythgoe

Tail slide in the L-39 Albatros
A tail slide in the L-39 Albatros.
Photo: An illustration.

Just as I was starting to gently guide the stick into a left roll a transmission came over the intercom, "Chock, loopa!" It took me a moment to decipher "Chockloopa," or "Jack, do a loop." I applied back pressure and did a great loop, feeling the G-force as we leveled at the bottom of the loop, and just before leveling off another instruction, "Repeata!" Uh oh! Did I do something wrong? What was the problem? This time I will be more exact.  I checked my altitude and started into my second loop, watching carefully to be sure I did not "fall off" in either direction or overshoot.  I came right out on my entering attitude and was quite happy with the maneuver.  Evidently Serge was not: "Repeata!" So "repeata" I did for seven consecutive loops.  (I have since concluded that Ukraine pilots enjoy doing loops more than anything else.)

At the conclusion of the seventh loop Serge gave me another three "Goot's," and then said, "Chock, go home!"  This I interpreted to mean back to Kirovsky, not establish a heading for Idaho.

I put the plane into a left turn which put the Black Sea to my right, and once sighting the small sea-side town where we were billeted it was quite easy to spot Kirovsky AFB.  I throttled back and started to descend in a long left turn to put us into the landing pattern, on which we had been well drilled.  I thought Serge would take over when we entered the downwind leg.  I waited for instructions.  Nothing!

As we paralleled the field, I eased the throttle back a bit, dropped the gear and dialed in a bit of flaps.  Another triad of "Goots" from up front.  As I turned crosswind I started to wonder how much longer he was going to let me fly before he took over and landed.  I knew he would take over before I turned for the final approach, and I didn't want to overfly the turn, so I banked into it and increased my flaps.  Still nothing from Serge.

The outer marker's beep startled me as I concentrated on speed, attitude and rate of descent, not really remembering anyone saying anything at all about landing one of these.  My God!  There goes the inner marker--he must think I know what I'm doing and is going to let me land this thing.  (I wonder if Allstate will cover this.) The plane was settling nicely with only a slight crosswind from the left and as I started to flare I realized that this was really going to be a very good landing in spite of me.  We flared and I added a little more back pressure, waiting for the plane to settle to the run way.

Cockpit of the L-39 Albatros
With Serge after emerging from the cockpit of the L-39 Albatros. "Chock, you have the ... the ... you have the ... Touch!"
Photo: Personal collection of Jack Lythgoe.

It was then I received my first comment since "Go home!" Another trio of "Goots" and "My control" just as we touched the runway in one of the best landings I think I've ever made--soft, gentle and no bounce.  As I withdrew my feet from the pedal stirrups and relaxed my grip on throttle and stick I realized that I was not as uptight as I might have been had I known ahead of time that I would be landing the plane.  (I was glad I did not have to taxi it though, as russian planes do not have the toe brakes most planes have; they require a combination of hand and foot pressures.)

When I descended from the cockpit one of our pilots ran up and asked me if I had made the takeoff.  I responded proudly that I had, and that I had also landed it without any help from the front seat.  I asked him how he knew.  Apparently, Tom had said that no respectable Ukraine fighter pilot would climb out at the shallow rate I did.  I knew Tom had seen the "adjustment" Serge had made.

I walked over the shake hands with Serge and thank him for such a fabulous flight.  He hesitatingly give me a compliment that I shall remember as long as I live, though it did take him a while to get it out in English.  He said, "Chock, you have the ... the ... you have the ... Touch!"

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