Flying high with Annie: My romance with a Russian lady
A letter from Germany. In which is confessed an (aviation) acquaintanceship with some classy Russian gal.
Germany, June 2012
I still very well remember the day I met Annie. Or Annushka, as she was called by her friends. Sure, she wasn’t exactly a beauty on first glance, rather bulky than elegant. But she had this aura of pride and confidence – a deeper, pecuilar kind of beauty after all. She was authentic. Seen the light of the day in 1946 she was already getting a bit long in the tooth; but she’s always been one of those girls pitching in not caring about getting dirty.
The Antonov An-2 (that’s her correct technical denomination, and of course you were realising we’re talking about an airplane here, weren’t you) – a single-engine biplane (well, technically more of a one-and-a-half plane) – was originally designed as agricultural aircraft. Also called ‘Tractor of the Sky’, she really is more of a utility aircraft to be honest. A slow flight airplane, but one having some great aerodynamic talents. With a field performance suited for short, unimproved fields, she can start and land within less than 200 m. Or, as a friend of mine put it quite well: “Fantastic aircraft – takes off in 50 kt, cruises in 50 kt, and lands in 50 kt. No surprises.”
This rather functional design continues throughout the passenger cabin and right into the cockpit, where I was lucky to occupy the co-pilot’s seat. Cluttered with numerous buttons, cranks, and levers (and all of it labelled in Russian, of course), the control pedestal was both to the greenhorn: fascinating and intimidating at the same time. Causing an excitement even growing when the pilot finally started the engine by heavily pushing the aircraft’s propeller and entering the small cabin accompanied by the gasping and bellowing sound of the awakening motor. Smiling, the pilot turned towards me and handed me a headset before asking – via radio – if I’m worried about the black smoke, Annie was coughing. “No reason to be …“, he added – still smiling, “… we’re just saving expenses in maintenance.” Laughing about a good joke. Very funny, indeed. On a more serious note he advised that, if I’m ever sitting in an Antonov not growling loudly and spewing smoke, I should leave immediately because something must be really wrong with that plane then. Tractor of the sky, I told you.
From there on the rest was a breeze. We had a great round up there in the skies, heading towards Berlin, circling underneath the clouds at that rather covered day. Not even bothered by the light rain which was just settling in, we returned to that meadow where we started, bringing down any gently – of course, within the 200 m range. And I’ve got to admit, Annie got me. She really turned my head, my friend, and I’m somehow sure you can relate …