Friday, July 18, 2008

The Earth's Curve

A quick view from near max elevation.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Beginning

Back in September 2005, I traveled from my home in Southern California to Moscow (Russia as opposed to Idaho). Once there I went by car to Zhukovsky Airbase about 50 Km outside of Moscow. A bit of orientation in the morning and early that afternoon, into a Mig 25 for an incredible ride over 80,000 feet straight up to the very edge of space. Mach 2.4 on the way, viewing the curve of the earth with the black of space above and the round blue and white earth below.

This trip was probably to adventure what buying a sports car is to mid-life crisis. I didn’t have to do it as much as I wanted to do it. So I guess that makes this a blog about a mid life, sports car, Mig, adventure kind of thing. At any rate I have time at night and a lot of pictures that can just as easily not be seen in my blog as on my computer.

If by chance you have found this and even stranger, decide you want to see where it goes, be patient. My plan is to post little by little but laziness and a fairly robust business travel schedule means things will not move quickly.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How It All Began

Ironically, my trip to the edge of space began with a lower altitude but nonetheless thrilling flight albeit in a completely different way. My nephew Ryan and his wife Amy gave me an aerobatic ride in a WWII T6 as a Christmas gift.

There are many who offer rides in vintage airplanes but I strongly recommend Kevin Kegin’s American Warbird (American Warbird) if you have interest in such things. Great to simply cruise along enjoying the view or, as we did, to do a variety of rolls, loops and dives in a 60 year-old open cockpit piece of history.

Prior to that flight, I was searching for Kevin’s site to finalize a few details and accidentally came across the Incredible Adventure site (Incredible Adventures). IA offers a variety of programs including mine, “The Edge of Space”. At any rate, with not a whole lot of thought and no discussion with those who might not see the attraction as I did, I was signed up and anticipating my September 05 trip to Russia.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hotel Metropol

There are many first rate hotels in Moscow. I stayed at Metropol, actually for the second time. I stayed there a few years earlier although I had not recalled that when booking this trip. It was just one of the options offered by Incredible Adventures.

Very “old school” Europe including WWII damage to the building, but first rate in terms of accommodations and literally 100 yards or so from Red Square and all the surrounding things to see. For example the Bolshoy Theater is directly across the street.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zhukovsky Air Base

Monday morning September 19, 2005 at Zhukovsky Air Base about 50 Km outside of Moscow. Zhukovsky is a former, very secret base that is now open to adventure tourists like me looking for something different. This picture was taken just outside the building where I would have my medical exam, be fitted in a flight suit, briefed on the flight and given instructions concerning the helmet, oxygen and assorted other things that only barely registered at the time.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Medical Exam

I was required to have an EKG prior to going and to have a doctor verify my health. Since I had only recently completed a physical, the EKG was no problem. They also wanted a signed doctor statement and rather than go to the trouble of seeing my doctor again, I simply signed my brother-in-law’s name and sent that. I don’t see why not. He was an air force medic in the early ‘70’s. No problem.

The lady in the picture was my Russian doc and other than a blood pressure test and eye chart exam along with a few questions, I was deemed good to go.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Flight Briefing

My pilot Leonid fully explained the specifics of the flight including what we do at each elevation, what to expect, what to do if my oxygen was not working, if I did not feel well; literally everything I can imagine and much I couldn’t.

At the time I did not appreciate all the detail and only later realized that if nothing else these were good prompts as to when to have my camera ready. But there was more to it than the tourist part. Like any flight he approached it in a very military (he is ex Russian Air Force pilot) and professional manner.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Putting on the Flight Suit

I was told to dress comfortably; jeans and a sweatshirt with boots. After the briefing it was time to dress beginning with what felt like silk long underwear over my clothes followed by the G suit which the ladies in the picture helped me to put on. I suppose I could do it myself but only to a point. Once on, the outside laces need to be cinched tight and there is no way I could do that myself, nor could I tuck the pants legs into the boots followed by tying the shoelaces. I don’t believe they spoke English, at least they didn’t to me, so the instructions concerning what they needed me to do were mostly communicated with gestures.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mask Fitting

They spend a fair amount of time fitting the oxygen mask and instructing about the visor relative to the mask. The mask is supposed to be secure but comfortable and when it is the visor may not lock in place. Unfortunately I missed that in the instructions and when we took off and I discovered it would not lock down in place, I continually fiddled with it attempting to make it secure.

This went on for a few minutes with me wondering what it would be like to bail out at 80,000 feet with it not secured. And then I wondered what my source of oxygen would be were that to happen. And then I decided these were all questions best not asked at this point as we began the accent. I never did get it locked and it was only after I got home and looked at the instruction part of the video that I realized what I was supposed to have done. Pay attention Bill.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Plane: Mig 25 "Foxbat"

The Mig 25 is an awesome plane up close regardless of the fact that it is over 45 years old. The size of the engines is enough to make you think of it as little more than two seats attached to two rockets.

We drove out to it on the flight line and parked 30 feet or so away. When I got out of the van and began to approach it, the fact that I would soon be sitting in the front seat going up 15 miles, literally to the edge of space, hitting Mach 2.4 in the process, started to become real. Up to that point it really wasn’t.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Getting Ready

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I don’t need to say much here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Settling In

After climbing the ladder and getting in the cockpit a crew member followed to strap me in the ejector seat, attach the oxygen, adjust the restraints and shut the canopy. This took quite a bit more time than this description suggests and while it was happening I was aware that my pulse had noticeably quickened. Things were getting real, real fast.

I was fine all the way up to closing the canopy but all at once, sitting there breathing through the mask, everything became seriously tight, an unpleasant feeling made even more so by the closeness of the cockpit and the fact that the restraint straps allowed for little movement. Ironically I was not afraid of the flight but came close to panic about panicking. I could just see myself pounding on the canopy trying to get out. Fortunately I talked myself down concentrating on the instrument panel.

At first the wait seemed interminable and was, in fact, a good 10 minutes or more before anything happened. Finally they attached us to a pulling frame which in turn was attached to a truck. The truck pulled us from the staging area out closer to the active runway.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Take Off

All the waiting, anticipating was finally over as I heard the engines begin to spool up, feeling the power rise both audibly and by touch until we finally began to roll slowly away towards the runway. Once there I could hear Leonid talking with the tower not understanding a word of his Russian of course. And then, all at once (although probably another 5 minutes) and we were moving to the point that the in-cockpit video clearly distorts with vibration showing me forcibly pushed back into the seat. Once clear of the runway, the vibration stopped and we were a rocket climbing at a 45 degree angle towards the sun.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mach 2.4

If you look carefully at the meter with the “M” on the dial you will see it is pointing to 2.4 as in mach 2.4 or about 1,700 MPH, maximum velocity for this flight.

As Newton and Einstein predicted, there is no obvious sensory indication that you are traveling this fast. In fact, the only time in the flight that speed was apparent was on takeoff when I was momentarily thrust back in the seat, and even then only for the first few moments.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

80,000 Feet Max Elevation

The ride was exactly what Leonid said it would be in the briefing right down to each turn and twist.

I listened as he described what we would do but I didn’t think it would be as literal as it turned out to be. I suppose there can’t be too much precision in things like this.

The pictures of the earth curve give you some idea of the view from the higher elevations. Spectacular and the point of the trip.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Final Thoughts

About a half hour after we took off we were back down; the ride of a lifetime now over.

Thinking back I see that adventures like this are as much if not more about the anticipation of what will be rather than the event itself.

The idea to do this first came about the previous spring, which meant I had a good four months to contemplate what would be.

At first it seemed so far off but as the day to leave for Russia came nearer so did thoughts about what I would be doing. As you might imagine, a lot of imagining what it would be like including what I hoped would be the very slim chance something would go wrong.

I think about it now and see little correlation between what I thought it would be like relative to how it actually was.

First of all it was probably the fastest half hour of my life. Second there was not as much sensory “drama” as I had assumed there would be.

80,000 feet and 1,700+ MPH notwithstanding, I felt more riding in Kevin Kegin’s open cockpit T6 than I did in the Mig.

But that’s OK. As I said the experience is much more than that half hour. It is everything leading up to it and all the thinking about it since.

All told, an Incredible Adventure.