Eric and the MiG

I've always had good fashion sense... This was at the Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky, after my 14th and final mission on the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum while training as an experimental test pilot

LCol Eric Volstad , Commanding Officer 412 VIP Transport Squadron, Ottawa, provided his story as follows: “…As much as I enjoy flying the Challenger these days, I often miss the adventure of flight testing, and the MiG-29  was certainly a highlight for me!…during my 13-½ months with the International Test Pilots School in Woodford, Cheshire, I had the thrill of flying all kinds of interesting airplanes, with all kinds of interesting organisations.  I went to Russia twice on my course - first in November 1997, for a four-flight performance testing program with the MiG-MAPO company test pilots at their production test airfield in Lukhovitsy; and again in July 1998, for ten flights at the Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky.  From the first flight onwards, I had a blast.  In fact, that first flight is one I often recall, doing a check climb/level acceleration with afterburner from brake release to 10,000 metres/1.4 Mach.  Nothing out of the ordinary about that...except, the ceiling was 100 metres obscured in snow, 1 km visibility, with moderate rime icing up to 5000 metres – and the instruments I was flying on were so utterly foreign to me that I had to do a double-take just to convince myself I was right-side up in cloud!  ...The cockpit systems spoke of a very different doctrine from ours in the West – I couldn’t tune radio and navigation aids to different frequencies for different airports around the world; I only had three big pushbuttons which allowed me to choose one of three Russian airports to land at... One "significant emotional event" was deploying the drag chute the first time, the Russian way...while still airborne, two metres off the deck.  Other highlights included a flight devoted to cobra manoeuvres and tailslides to determine safe entry parameters, etc, and a level acceleration to 2.1 Mach followed by a climb to 21,800 metres (~71000 ft).  When I got a right engine overheat up there and had to shut the engine down, I was glad that I was wearing a well-designed Russian pressure suit and sitting on a legendary Zvezda K-36DM ejection seat, just in case things really started to go bad on me.  But apart from the odd snag like that, and the limited avionics, the jet was superbly well-behaved and a joy to fly.  Honestly though, the best memories were of the guys I worked with in Russia - confident pilots, stoic, smart, and very human. Had we grown up in the same neighbourhood, in a different era, we would have been best friends.”

- For this and more interesting stories by a handful of my colleagues who have had the good furtune to fly these legendary Russian aircraft, read Major Harold S Skaarup's excellent new book, Canadian MiG Flights (iUniverse, 2008), ISBN 978-0-595-52071-8.