He is a former military pilot with more than 10,000 hours and has flown the Tupolev 95. Nikoli, a civilian pilot, has more than 14,000 hours and has flown cargo, aerial applicators, and crews of geologists to northern Russia. But to have so much flight experience, both have to undergo a 24-hour process now every time they want to fly.
They must submit an application for their flight 24 hours in advance. Then, they call to see if the application has been received. They call again two hours in advance of the flight to see if they have been granted permission to fly. They’ve been denied many times. If their flight is approved, the calls don’t stop there. They must call every hour in addition to announcing their departure and landing times. They have to do this every time they fly.I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d still be flying if I had to go through that process day after day. Then, Nikoli explained to me why he keeps flying, “It’s a kind of drug.” Alexander added that “after the stress of earth, it is relaxing” to be in the air. When they can’t be in the air, building aircraft serves as a release. “Making our own airplanes brings us joy,” Alexander told me, adding that it is exciting but scary during those first test flights. But how many times had their anticipation of a test flight been delayed because their application for a flight was denied?
However, as we continued to talk (with the help of an interpreter), I noticed the same familiar bond that I have with other pilots in the United States who don’t face these same restrictions day in and day out. The twinkle in their eyes as they talked about flying made me realize that, if I had to, I would endure those same hardships for the same reason they do…for the joy of flight. I’d venture to say that many pilots, worldwide, are the same. Once we’ve tasted flight, we can’t turn back or give up.