Ekaterinburg, Russia
Richard Mornington-Sanford reports on the delights of backwards autorotation's with a poor non-flying Russian interpreter in the back seat.

Without doubt one of the great parts of my involvement with Robinson Helicopters is that they send me on missions to some very unusual places.

Like Ekaterinburg Russia and no, I had never heard of the place either. But after consulting my Boys Own Atlas I found it tucked away in the Urals... in other words, Siberia. and it was February!

The area in which Ekaterinburg is situated has only been open to the 'outside' for the last eight or nine years.

Ekaterinburg is famous for being the city where the Russian Tsar and his family were murdered during the revolution. The Surface-To-Air missile that shot down the American U2 spy plane was launched from there, and the first Russian jet aircraft first flew from what is now the international airport – and I'm sure it has many more claims to fame.

My mission... should I choose to accept it, was to travel to Uralhelicom (a new helicopter company) who were attempting to become a Robinson Service Centre and Dealer. I was to finish the training of their engineer, issue a maintenance certificate and approve their maintenance facility.

Mission accepted... I flew from London to Frankfurt and then on to Ekaterinburg. Once through immigration and customs, which was not as traumatic as I thought it might be, I was greeted by Irina and Vladim who were going to be my translator and driver respectively.

Uralhelicom has a facility that is approximately a 50-minute drive outside of Ekaterinburg. Now I say 50 minutes as this was the time it takes Vladim to drive there. However, mere mortals would take at least three times that.

So let me tell you more about Vladim: every day Vladim would pick me up from my apartment wearing an open-neck short sleeve shirt. Strange? Well, not if you were in a warm environment - but what about when the OAT is around -14 to -22 C?

As one would expect the roads were covered with snow and ice, but Vladim only seemed to know stop and 140 kph. For the first half hour I thought he was trying to kill me, but I soon realised he was more than just a professional.

He also seemed to have a problem with joining the back of queues of traffic. When confronted with one he would just drive up on the pavement and join the front of the queue.

Without doubt Irina had been given the worst job. She had to try to make sense of what I was saying, which if you ask anybody that knows me is not the easiest job at any time, in any language.

However, between us we managed to conduct a very successful course, which enabled me to issue an R22/R44 factory maintenance certificate.

Job done? Not quite. The company pilots Pavel and Oleg, who had been sitting in on the course, were very eager to have me present the pilot's safety course. Unfortunately, time being short I was unable to run a full course so we spent a few days concentrating on critical flight manoeuvres and did a long brief on autorotation's.

training course
  • Richard explains the finer points of operating R44's while Irina translates

Both Pavel and Oleg are very experienced Mil helicopter combat pilots, but autorotation is not something Russian pilots are very familiar with – you don't have to be when flying twin-engine helicopters. They also had very little experience in flying light and relatively low inertia rotor craft. This all led to some very interesting flying.

When I said that Irina had the worst job, I really did mean just that, as now she had to sit in the back of the R44 and translate during the flights.

Unfortunately for Irina, who had never flown in anything in her life before, all the flying would be autorotations and practice force landings.

Bless her, she was a bit green after the first flight, but again did a fantastic job. That's not to say that all things went perfectly in the cockpit all of the time.

These combat pilots may have combat experience and had missiles fired at them, but zero speed autos and flying backward in auto was a new and un-nerving experience for them.

training course
  • Richard had to dress Russian style for a flight in the Mil

On my last morning I was taken to see Russia's own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, based upon the world's first steel structure, and also Russia's first steam train, which looks identical to Stephenson's Rocket, I was also introduced to a Russian version of breakfast, which consisted of (you guessed it) vodka!

What a fabulous group of people, I was so well looked after by Dmitry (the owner of Uralhelicom), Oleg (the manager), Irina (translator), Vladim (driver), Pavel and OIeg (the pilots), Andrei, Vladim and Alexander (the engineers).

If these are typical Russians, why have we been enemies for so long?

I am so pleased that my first visit to Russia was to a place that has not yet been heavily influenced by the west.

MI 6
  • Our autorotation training by a Mil
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