OK guys ... here it is ... For all of you who have specific technical questions (the answers to which you may not get here) ... please email me ... and I will get them for you.
For starters ... I was not supposed to fly the MiG-35. About a week or so prior to that I had flown a sortie on the MiG 29UB trainer at the Gromov Flight Centre at Zhukovski near Moscow. On that occasion, I had asked for permission to be given a sortie on the UB since the pictures I would collect would make a huge difference to my story. Which it did.
The Russians were obviously impressed and they approached me about the possibility of a MiG sortie at Yelahanka and asked me to pen in a request. I DIDN'T do this since, frankly, I was not certain my editors would be too keen on yet another `Vishnu goes flying' story on air. Besides, I would already be flying the F-16.
Anyway, about a day or two prior to the show beginning .. MiG got in touch with me confirming the possibility of a sortie. I didn't want to look a gift-horse in the mouth ... and since Ratan Tata's sortie had generated enough attention ... I felt that it would be possible to do this story as well. Just about. As it turns out ... we aired the story on the day Tata flew the F-16. So at 8 pm, we had two back to back stories ... `Tata flies high' and `Vishnu flies high !!'
At the onset ... let me tell you ... and this is true ... that while the MiG 35 sortie was a high ... having the opportunity to sit down, eat lunch and have a couple of drinks with the great test pilot Pavel Vlasov (a Hero of the Russian Federation) ... and Mr. Byntin, the Chief Designer of the MiG 35 was wonderful. In fact ... I had had the opportunity to meet Pavel in Moscow as well, also at a lunch shortly after he flew the MiG-29KUB at its media debut (incidentally, the actual first flight of the KUB of which I have footage) took place two days prior to the media debut ... so the Russians, no fools, knew the thing flew before they brought in the international media.
Anyway ... lets fast forward to Yelahanka. My pilot would be Mikhail Belyaev who spoke reasonable English .. though with a heavy accent. We both realised the importance of keeping our conversation to a minimum ahead and during the flight so that we could get the pre-flight basics right. Later on, I would discover that Belyaev was an absolute clown ... supremely confident as a pilot with a sense of humour to match.
For starters the g suit. BRfites will be happy to know that after all these sorties ... I am confident about strapping onto a g suit all by myself !! But even before we got started with the g suit ... there was a problem ... flight overalls .. the Russian flight overalls were too small for me ( I am about 6'3) ... so ... we went to plan b ... I pulled out my own Boeing provided flight overalls ... and voila we were set to jet off. Alas, the MiG guys didn't provide me a pair of proper flight boots ... so my formal pair of black shoes remained. I am a bit of a sticker about uniforms ... and it just didn't feel right. Anyway.
As we approached the Fulcrum ... a senior Communications person at Boeing (who I have worked with extensively on my Hornet sortie last year) came up to be a touch irritated. "Vishnu, you'll fly just about anything won't you?" she asked. She had obviously noticed my Boeing flight overalls (which didn't of course say `Boeing' anywhere). I let go a sheepish grin ... she already knew the answer ... and for those of you out there who don't ... in one word, the answer is `Yes.'
We were now next to the Fulcrum ... and I was given my bone dome ... and a cloth head cover (typically Russian) just before I got into the jet. A couple of points here ...
The Russian pilots helmet is the real deal. This one was obviously compatible with the IRST system. It was considerable heavier that the American/French/British helmets I have worn in the past. It was also, much, much, much more comfortable. In the American helmets, the sun visor is attached to the outside portion of the helmet. On the Russian ones, it is located inside ... and you need to push a release on either side of your eyes with both your hands to bring it down. It fits perfectly with the oxygen mask ... and the clarity is perfect. Belyaev later told me ... "We take our helmet to American .. and tell them ... `this is helmet for fighter plane. Your helmet meant only for small scooter." I must also confess, the Russian flight gloves (black leather) are far trendier than the heat resistant and loosely fitting American flight gloves but I am being superficial.
Russian step ladders to their jets also have a small upward facing brush (just like a broom brush) attached to the lowest step. This is meant to dust off snow from ones boots prior to boarding the jet.
The MiG 35 cockpit is considerably larger than the F-16 cockpit. Getting into the rear of the F-16 is quite difficult ... and as my pilot Paul Randall had told me .. there is no graceful way of getting in. Not so in the Fulcrum, you step off the ladder to the LERX just away from the gun exhaust and step right in ... one leg at a time. Guys, I am not wasting words here ... the act of stepping in and out of a fighter, as I have come to realise ... is a major issue.
The first thing I noticed on sitting down ... and being strapped in ... was the quality of the cockpit. For those of you who ogle at the cockpit of the Rafalle (I actually sat in one on the Charles DeGaulle carrier) ... let me be quite clear: this cockpit is as good ... for the following reasons ...
(a) Space: Because there is no clutter in the cockpit .. there is a sense of space ... Also, the new, broader canopy on the MiG 35 gives you a roomier feel as compared to the MiG 29 UB I flew.
(b) Cockpit ergonomics and configuration: There are 3 huge MFDs in front of you and a small one that serves as the HUD repeater.
(c) There are minimal switches under the arms of the pilot ... this is an out and out HOTAS fighter.
(d) Forward vision (HUD repeater) ... and this is an important point ... if clarity and depth perception is the priority ... the HUD repeater on the MiG 35 is state of the art ... streets ahead of anything I have seen on the other fighters. (Note, however, the Sea Harrier trainer, which I flew, has perfect forward visibility and does need a repeat of what the pilot in front is seeing ... It does, however, have a repeat of the HUD symbology.) My only ... small complaint about the MiG 35 rear HUD repeater is that the screen ... mounted along the pilot's line of sight ... is slightly small but considerably larger than the weird mirror image the periscope provides in the MiG 29UB trainer.
Oh yes, prior to the flight ... Mikhael asked me what it is that I wanted to do ... I was consistent with what I had told the other pilots ... `Mikhael ... the F-16 pilot took me to 8 g. Can we do the same?' Prompt came the reply .. `No problem ... we do 8g, Cobra and tail slide. OK?' I could only mumble a muted `da' in reply.
Anyhow, engine startup was like the other jets. I had been briefed on the emergency O2 system ... and the position of the intercom switch (which was on the throttle ... like the 29UB ... just where I like it). I was also shown the position of the hot switch in case I wanted to permanently keep on the intercom ... which is irritating since you hear the other pilot breathing loudly in your ear. This is where the Mirage 2000 is streets ahead of the other jets I have flown. It has a wonderful voice activated intercom ... no buttons ... no heavy breathing sounds.
As we rolled down the taxiway ... my focus was on the MFDs in front of me ... the INS display on the extreme right, engine parameters in the centre and the artificial horizon, AOA, airspeed indicator and the g meter on the extreme Left. The multi colour MFDS are large and extremely clear. I wanted to us the metric system for my airspeed and altitude ... and this had been set for me with a button push prior to the flight.
The take off run on the MiG 35 ... feels like a 747 compared to the F-16 .. it is slower ... much more refined ... and the difference between a single engine and two engines is perceptible. Don't get me wrong ... a full burner take off on any jet is still loads of fun. Mikhael veered left at low altitude on take off and then went vertical ... did a half loop and rolled out into the direction of our heading. We had done about 4.5 g ... but I felt almost nothing. That may be because the speed of the jet was slower than the F-16 ... but also may be because I have come to anticipate when the gs kick in. Also, the oxygen flow in the MiG 35 was outstanding ... very easy to inhale ... and no pressure on the lungs.
Mikhael then went into a lengthy explanation of the INS system ... pointing out our heading ... and some of the symbology on the unit ... He then said `You pilot, Vishnu' and I took control ... did a sharp bank to the right ... which he corrected by telling me to to head in the direction of the indicator on the INS display.
We kept flying for a while ... when Mikhael let me take over the controls ... we did a few hard turns ... and rolls. He then asked me if I was interested in a Cobra. No guesses on what my answer was. Anyway, there is a button on the Master Caution panel on the front right on the pilot which says "Cobra." That button has to be pushed before the maneuver can be done since the flight control system has to be overridden. What made the Cobra maneuver all the more enjoyable was the knowledge that this was a non TVC aircraft. The Cobra maneuver itself is a lot of fun ... Mikhael goes `Cobra now' and yanks hard on the stick ... the nose pitches right back ... and then he pushes the nose hard forward ... as we get into the negative g scenario .. which makes it feel like going down a psycho roller coaster. Like in the case of the tail slide â€¦ the ground rushes at you awfully quick â€¦ but there is immense power in this jet and we soon level out.
At this stage Mikhael demonstrates to me the stability of the jet by violently moving the stick around its axis â€¦ with absolutely no impact on the forward motion of the jet. The F-18 F pilot I had flown with at Farnborough had demonstrated the same thing.
We soon returned to a `You pilot Vishnuâ€™ scenario â€¦ the part of the sortie (like in previous cases) where I choose to censor what I write though I will mention that we did 8.2g for which the Russians later gave me a certificate.
It was time now time to head back â€¦ but there was still time for a touch and go â€¦ we lined up with a runway â€¦ but touched down a touch fast â€¦ and bounced right back into the air â€¦ and which stage Mikhael decided that he would show off â€¦ plain and simple â€¦ He said `Ok Vishnu, now we do military style landingâ€™ so he yanked hard and left â€¦ gaining altitude as we flew parallel to the runway in the opposite direction. We pulled into a violent 6 g left bank â€¦ lowering undercarriage â€¦ and leveling out pretty much on top of the runway before making a perfect touchdown. It was brilliant.
And I must say, it was another brilliant sortie â€¦ a whole lot of fun.
I anticipate a couple of questions from you guys â€¦
1. The Zhuk radar â€¦ well, we did have it on for a short while and the resolution of the radar in the air to ground mode was considerably better than the F-16 Block 50 jet I had flown on.
2. The new Electro-optronic system â€¦ There was a huge language issue with the Russians here â€¦ they kept referring to it as a passive attack system â€¦ so I am afraid I have no details here.
Ok then â€¦ thatâ€™s it for the moment. Thatâ€™s all the time I am going to spend on this article on my precious day off â€¦ You will have to hear about my lunch with Vlasov, Belyaev and Byntin at a later stage.
Associate Editor (Defence)