• Interview with Civil Aviation pilot HSU V.M. Yanchenko


    Hero of the Soviet Union V.Yanchenko in a Tu-104 cockpit
    November 1973

    Good evening. My name is Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Yanchenko. I was born in Ufa, Bashkiria. We used to live at the city outskirts, not far from the Belaya River.
    My first school was in a small, single-story building, located at the river bank. In spring, right after the ice was gone, we, kids, were at the river. We swam, got a sun tan, fished daily.
    Memories from childhood: at the break we ran to the river, and looked at the ice flow. Along with ice there were houses going past us, with people on roofs and chicken, dogs and cats at the attics...

    – Who were your parents?

    Mom was an accountant, dad graduated from a pedagogical institute and worked as a school principal. During the Great Patriotic War he fought at the Leningrad Front. After the war he lived in Leningrad.


    V.Yanchenko 10 y.o.

    – Were you the only child?

    No, I have a brother Mikhail, who is 2 years younger than I. He is a pensioner, lives in St-Petersburg. He was an aviation engineer, used to work at Pulkovo ASB (aviation service base).
    I went to school from 7 years old, in 1945. At about 10-12 kids start to develop an interest in life. I got interested in a water theme – river and sea.
    At the time there used to be a DOSAAF organization, where kids could go to different clubs. Ufa is not a sea town, but there still was a sea club there, and I began studying there.

    – I spoke to a lot of veterans, and they gave me an impression, that those days an aero club was near each “hen house”…

    It’s an exaggeration about “hen houses”, but there was an airport in Ufa, for passengers and cargo, and a DOSAAF airfield, where the aero club was based.
    But I chose a sea club first. It was not far from my home, at the river bank. The group was gathered at fall. Teachers were young, smart boys. There were rooms, desks, materials and instruments. The teacher would show us blueprints, tell us what and how to do it. Out of a piece of wood we had to carve a model of a boat. Those who made it were allowed to go for a three-day river boat trip. It was so cool…
    I built a boat, took part in this trip, but I did not like it. Can’t say why. It just wasn’t mine. Next year I chose to go to the aero club.
    There we began from building models: we carved sticks from bamboo, glued paper to the wing profiles. First we built gliders, and then we began making models with propellers. I was into it for a year or a year and a half. I liked it.
    We lived rather poorly, and it was time to start thinking, where to study further and help my family. After graduating from the 7th grade I went to the Ufa Geological Tekhnicum (college). Practiced at the oil fields. It was very interesting, but I kept training in the aero club.
    When I was studying in the 2nd grade of college, I abandoned the modeling club, and entered the parachute club. At first we learned theory, then parachute packing, and finally - jumps. The airfield was on the other side of town, across the river. The jumps began at the sunrise, so I had to get up in the middle of the night and walk across town. Rarely was there a possibility to hitchhike.

    – Did you jump from a parachute mast?

    There was no mast. Time to jump. Airplane was the Po-2, twin-seated biplane. Parachutist was in the front cabin. At an altitude of 800 meters I had to get on the wing and jump. I still remember – it was scary, but: «Am I worse than others?».
    There was a rule – if you did not jump, get back into the cockpit, and forget about aviation altogether. There were people, who couldn’t let go and jump. I did it… It happened in February 1954. I liked parachuting a lot. After customization we started jumping for delayed parachute release, precision of landing and so on. Eventually I reached a 2nd degree in parachute sport.

    – I still remember my first and only jump. We jumped from an An-2. All the sportsmen bailed out, while I stood in the door… Instructor had to “help” me with his knee… Do you remember which parachute you had?

    Of course. It was Kotelnikov’s parachute PD-47. Later we had other types.

    – You kept studying at the college, and thought that you would work as a geologist?

    At that time - yes. At the same time I had a lot of activities – skating, skiing. I was a champion of Bashkiria among youngsters in short-trek. I wasn’t expecting such results, because I trained for one winter. It was going so well, that I was sent to Moscow to take part in competitions. It was the first time that I saw Moscow. So many years have passed, but the impressions are still bright: Kazanskii railway station, music plays after train arrival, everything so unusual and pompous, some kind of internal shivers. So many people on the streets! Such wide streets and beautiful buildings!
    We were gathered and brought to the sports base outside Moscow. There we lived and trained for a week. At 07.00 – wake up, at 08.00 – breakfast. One hour by bus to the stadium, 4 hours of training, dinner, an hour of rest, 2 more hours of training. At the end of the day there was no way I could study. I simply fell breathless into bed. It came to me, that I was not studying, but competing all the time. I was quite successful at those competitions, won some prize, and got an invitation for another round. I refused and returned home. After solving problems with studying I only kept the parachute sport. I graduated from college in 1956 as a geophysicist.

    – Did your parents guide you where to study?

    I and my brother were brought up mostly by our illiterate grandmother Daria Petrovna. Mom was all the time at work, dad was in the military. Mostly we had to choose by ourselves.

    – Was your education a financial burden upon your family?

    Not really. We had a stipend, which allowed me to have some pocket money. We lived in a private home, there was a yard with berries, apples, we had chicken, and there was a dog and a cat. We lived quite poorly, but like most other families at the time.

    – What about precision landing jumps?

    First 3 jumps – just “for fun”, then we started training for competitions: jumps with delayed parachute extension, forming figures in the air, precision landing.

    – Precision landing with a PD-47?

    Yes, this parachute could be guided. We studied theory before jumping: how to control the parachute, how to turn, how to place your legs before landing.

    – Still, why did you prefer aviation over geophysics?

    I was studying at the college and training at parachuting at the same time. But I developed an interest in airplanes. There was a pilots section at the aero club, so while studying in the 4th grade I applied there. During winter we studied theory, in summer we lived in tents at the airfield and flew the Yak-18. Rules were semi-military. We were dressed in a soldier’s uniform, but without shoulder bars. We had to perform all kinds of duty – guards, patrols, and kitchen. We had a chance to leave on Saturdays and Sundays.
    After flying I understood that aviation was what I sought for life.
    But it is possible that I got interested in aviation even earlier. My uncle was a pilot. He graduated from that same aero club before war. He fought on Shturmoviks, but perished.
    (Pavel Yegorov, born 1923 in Ufa. Jr/ Lieutenant, flight commander, 946 ShAP. 28.08.1943 downed by AAA. Flew 48 sorties. ORS. OCRB. OPW I degree posthumous.)
    I still have memories from childhood: it must have been 1942, uncle Pavel came home from the front while travelling to Siberia after new airplanes. I remember a huge man in fur flight gear with a pilot’s bag and a pistol. This picture is still before my eyes...
    So many years had passed, and I kept asking myself: «Why aviation? Geology was so interesting too…». And I come to the conclusion, that it was uncle Pavel, whose image got me into it.
    I graduated from college, got a profession, and graduated from the aero club with a total at controls of 40 hours. I was about to receive a job, but instead I went to the drafting board with paper from the aero club and wrote: «Send me to pilot’s school». I was sent to the 9th VAShPOL (Military aviation school of primary training) in Kustanay.

    – Today flying training is allowed only from 18. Is this limitation justified?

    I believe so, because a personality gets stable by this time, and the youngster can make decisions and bear full responsibility for them.

    – Two questions: was there a problem with bullying, and what kind of equipment did you have?

    There was no bullying, and it was not possible at all. All cadets were of the same age and studied for one year, so there were no “grandfathers” among us. The only authority (mom and dad) was Starshina Panarin, who had to make military men out of former school boys. Airplanes were all the same – Yak-18A with a tail wheel.

    – You said that half of the time was military service. What was there besides drilling?

    In Kustanay we met military service for the first time, so half of the time was getting used to military discipline. We were doing everything ourselves under direction of the Starshina: all kinds of work, kitchen duty, cleaning...
    I especially remember guard duty – cadets had to guard airplanes at the parking areas, and in winter there were severe blizzards. I remember once we had to bring food to the guards. It was just 2-3 kilometers away, but we got lost in the blizzard. At first we tried to keep direction by telegraph wires, but then we lost track completely. We walked for about 3 hours, and suddenly came to some railway station. We called to our commander, and he ordered:
    - Stay there, until the blizzard ends!

    – Was theory given in special classes?

    Yes, in well-equipped classes: models, airplane parts, sawed engine, instrument panel with switches, dials.

    – I remember that Yak-18T’s in the aero club that I used to fly in had dials at different places.

    There were Yak-18A’s in the school and they were unified, the same.

    – My experience: instructors can be of 2 types, the first would calmly explain mistakes, while another would yell and swear. What kind of instructors did you have?

    For all my time of studying in the aero club, flight school and ShVLP (School for supreme flying training), I had never seen the second type of instructors. And I had never been yelled at in the air.

    – What was your total hour count at the end of primary flight school?

    I’d say 40 hours in the aero club and 70 hours in Kustanay.

    – What kind of education did you get in this school?

    The program was wider and more interesting than in the aero club, but it was all the same airplane. It was not armed, so we did not fly shooting practice, but we performed aerobatics. Dives, barrel rolls, spins and so on.
    I asked myself – primary school, what was its use?
    And eventually I came to a conclusion: it was used to get school boys accustomed with military service as well as to establish which type of aviation suits each pilot best.
    I have no idea how they chose, may be psychology or life experience, but each cadet got his individual recommendation. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and so it happened. I got my recommendation in 1957.

    – Let me return a little bit back in time. In 1953 Stalin had died. How did people react?

    In 1953 I was still studying in college. I will not express my current opinion about Stalin, but then it was nationwide grief. All studies were interrupted, people were crying on the streets, mourning flags and meetings. I had a feeling that something catastrophic had happened…
    I was brought up during the War, and we all the time heard – «Stalin - leader». His portraits were at school, at the streets and everywhere. And now he was gone. Who came after Stalin – Khrushchev or somebody else wasn’t important for me. At that age I was really far from politics. But Khrushchev’s rule hit me hard later.

    – Where did you go after the Kustanay School?

    After graduation from Kustanay I was sent to the Borisoglebsk military aviation flight school named after V.P. Chkalov. This school had 3 regiments. Central in Borisoglebsk and two in Zherdevka and Povorino. I was sent to Zherdevka. For some reason I was appointed as senior in our cadets group, and got a rank of Senior Sergeant. There we began studying the new jet fighter MiG-15.


    V.Yanchenko after his flight on MiG-15

    – Were there problems with flying jet airplanes with the nose gear?

    By all means, the jet fighter MiG-15 was an airplane with another, higher level of development. Different speeds, g-loads, but there were no problems with mastering it. Nose wheel was a great benefit – view was much better.

    – Did you begin flying the UTI, or straight on to the single-seater?

    We began training on the UTI MiG-15 with an instructor, and then the MiG-15bis solo. During this period of training we flew for about 100 hours.

    – In your opinion, wasn’t there too much theory?

    I do not think that the theory was excessive. We had a lot to learn in these 2 years of study. I had no problems learning, since studying was a pleasure for me.

    – What do you think about flying the MiG-15?

    After the piston-engine Yak-18, it was an absolutely different level of emotions and feelings. It was an exceptional airplane. It was very interesting to learn to fly the MiG-15, especially when we were going through “combat practice”.

    – Did you have a g-suit?

    It wasn’t a suit; it was some belt, which inflated during sharp maneuvers.

    – MiG-15s had several known problems. Firstly – “valezhka” (tendency to unexpectedly roll at high speed), secondly airplanes built at different plants had different characteristics…

    There was a moment, when the instructor at high altitude showed us:
    - Look, at this speed and angle the “valezhka” begins. The airplane is unstable… Let’s change regime.
    Speaking of differences of airplanes from different plants – I never noticed anything like that. May be our school had MiGs built at the same place?


    Flight school cadets: Korneev, Yanchenko, Vershinin, Gavrilov

    – Were there forced landings or catastrophes in the school?

    There was one crash. One cadet fell into a spin, couldn’t recover and had to eject. He landed safely. There was some kind of punishment for the wrecked fighter, but he did graduate eventually.

    – Did you eject?

    Generally, pilots do not like parachutes. But there was a part of training – once a year somebody had to eject on purpose to show that it is a quite safe procedure. At one of the regiments the chief of the parachute service ejected, in another somebody else. I was given the task to perform the ejection in our regiment, because of my sports past.
    We boarded the UTI MiG-15. It was a very windy day, with a wind force higher than is allowed. I sat on the main parachute, the secondary lay on my knees. Finally, we got clearance, reached 1 500 meters of altitude and 450 km\h of speed.
    Before ejection your feet were placed on a special stand, and a curtain had to be pulled out of the headrest in order to cover the face from the airflow. Once the trigger was fired the pilot was ejected with his seat by a special explosive charge. The G-force was so intense, that blood flows to your feet and you briefly lose consciousness. I do remember how I pulled the lever, but can’t recall what happened next. When I came to my senses I was rolling over. I was meant to be released from the chair, and only afterwards open the parachute. Easier said than done – my boot got caught by the seat, and only with great effort I managed to release myself from it. Once I opened the parachute, I saw that it was not opened correctly – the cupola got crossed by the cord. I had to open the secondary parachute and land with 2 cupolas. It was a windy day, as I mentioned before, so I was dragged by these “sails” for over 500 meters into the corn field on the airfield outskirts. The ambulance was coming after me… Ejecting – it’s an extreme procedure that shouldn’t be done without serious need, but it ended well.

    – When I served in Afghanistan, those who ejected were treated with extra care, even in the canteen.

    I was the only one of the cadets who ejected, and I felt no special attention to me. We were treated well enough without ejecting.

    – Did you jump with a parachute while studying in flight school?

    On a regular basis there were competitions held. I was a sportsman, so I took part. They were organized at the central airfield in Borisoglebsk, where we had to jump from an An-2. The team consisted of 5 or 7 men, and we were jumping for landing precision. The senior officer of the team ordered when to jump.


    Parachutist-instructor certificate

    Once he gave the order to jump, I did. After opening the parachute, I understood that I actually hung over the town, and not only had no chance to land on the marker, but I was not going to land at the airfield at all! I did all I could, but ended up landing at the flying school yard. There were poles with wires, warehouses guarded by watch dogs. Somehow I managed to avoid it altogether. It was a scandal! The case was reported to the chief of the school. I was summoned “to the carpet”. All I could say to excuse myself: I received the command to jump. Good thing was that I did not get killed. An investigation was opened: who gave the order, how and why. On the next day the results were published. I was disqualified. So, a cadet got punished instead of an officer.

    – When did you make your maiden flight?

    My first solo was in the aero club. It was an unforgettable experience – you are alone, no one to control you from the rear cabin. It was a spirit raising feeling! It was a Yak-18, in 1956. Then, in 1958 I made a first flight in the jet MiG-15 in Borisoglebsk.


    Maiden flight on Yak-18. June 1956, Ufa.

    – How long did you fly with an instructor?

    40 hours or so.

    – The moment of solo flight was picked personally, or by the book?

    In the beginning the instructor, then the flight commander and the squadron commander approved that the cadet was ready for a solo flight. If he was ready, he was released for a maiden flight, if something bothered any of them the cadet would be given some extra hours with the instructor.

    – When did you graduate from flight school?

    After a year of studying in Kustanay, I was supposed to graduate from Borisoglebsk after 2 years in 1959. We completed our education. Then came an order from the Ministry of Defense – reduce the army ranks by 900 000 men. Nobody knew who should be discharged or left in the ranks. So we were not graduated. Some time later an order came: «Those cadets, who wish to leave the army – discharge with a rank of lieutenant. Those willing to continue their service – continue studying for one more year». I stayed and graduated in 1960.


    Graduation ceremony

    – Did you receive a pilot’s license before being sent to Borisoglebsk?

    No. When I finished the aero club, I got a piece of paper, with which I was sent to Kustanay via the drafting board. After a year training there I was sent straight to Borisoglebsk.

    – What would your status be, if not for the Army reduction?

    I graduated from Borisoglebsk flight school with excellence, got my Red diploma (with excellence) with a qualification of “pilot-technician”.
    I was appointed to further service in the Moscow military district PVO as a fighter pilot, Lieutenant. But it did not work out as I planned…

    – Did those who were discharged a year before get a pilot’s certificate?

    I don’t remember. Quite possibly – yes, but our certificates did not allow applying for a place in civil aviation without retraining.

    – Were there a lot of those who chose to leave?

    Mostly those were discharged, who came to the army by mistake, and those who had problems with discipline. But most of the cadets stayed.
    For the remaining cadets a new program was developed to learn the new Su-7 fighter. It was supposed to come to the school. We studied theory, and then flying practice was planned. It was thrilling to master a new supersonic fighter, but it was not available by the time we finished studying theory, so we kept flying MiG-15s with a more complex program.
    I graduated in the spring of 1960, but an order to go to the unit was not published yet. We got our new officers’ uniforms tailored. We waited for a month, then another one, then the rumor came – «You all will be relieved of active duty». Finally, an order came, but it stated that all of us should be fired. That was the famous 1 200 000 announced by Khrushchev. This is how my military service ended.


    Lieutenant Yanchenko after graduation

    – Were you raised in rank afterwards?

    My last rank – Major. I received it when I was a senior pilot-inspector of the flying-navigation department (LShO) of the Leningrad Directorate of Civil Aviation.

    – That is, in rough words, you were kicked out of the VVS!

    Yes, but it is polite way to explain it. Graduates dispersed throughout the country. Some went to the Far East, some to the Ukraine, some to the North. I moved to Leningrad, where my Dad lived. I stayed with him until I got married.
    I looked for work: that was not something I liked, this is not where I am allowed to work. I remember, I was suggested to work with the traffic police, they promised me a room (After GPW great part of living quarters in Leningrad were either destroyed, or damaged, so personal apartment was a luxury) and a personal motorcycle. But I wished to fly.
    So I kept searching, until I somehow ended in the UTO (flight training department), where some man, most likely a deputy commander for flying said to me:
    – Come to me in one month, we will try to solve your problem. May be we will be able to retrain you through the UTO, or some other way.

    There used to be a squadron of airplanes at the UTO – Li-2, Il-12 and Il-14. I waited for the appointed time, when during a training flight an Il-14 crashed and that man perished. (25.11.1960 Il-14 СССР-Л91610. Training flight at low altitude. Pilot error lead to crash). Thus, my problem hung in the air.
    I had a diploma of “pilot-technician”, so without any hope I went to the Leningrad airport. I was given a position of assistant to the technician in the LERM (flying-exploitation (service) repairing facility). The work was rather dull. When an airplane came for servicing, the engine cowls were removed. The technicians worked with the engines, while I was given a bucket of kerosene, a brush, and had to clean the cowls of oil. The cowls were about the size of half of the room we are sitting in. It took a whole working day to clean them. On the next day – another airplane, and so on. For about 2 weeks I had this work, when the chief of the team noticed me. He saw that I was not whining, and did my work well, so he allowed me to work with airplanes. Then I was sent to the UTO to learn Il-14 construction. After training I was moved to the Il-14 service team. It was a serious job, done always under control and by the book. When an airplane came, we were issued a tick-list of work to be done.
    Then I was moved to the “jet” hangar to the Tu-104 service team. I worked under the control of Viktor Rindevich in the engine service team. He was a good man, we became family-friends.
    It was an interesting job. I remember that I had to get into the jet exhaust, find a small, AA-battery size filter, take it out, clean and get it back inside after showing it to the chief. I tried to screw it back in, but it did not fit. I got out of the engine, and said to the chief:
    – I can’t get it in!
    Well, he said all he thought about me… I was trying to get it in upside down.
    I was willing to fly, but fighter-pilots were not allowed to fly civil airplanes then. All the possible positions in Pulkovo were filled with former military pilots then: warehouses, fuel service, truck drivers, and night watchmen, literally – everywhere.
    These unlucky pilots (not only from Pulkovo) bombarded Moscow with letters to different institutions. The problem had become so massive, that the Ministry of Civil Aviation decided to train them to fly An-2s. In 1961 I was transferred to 68th flying detachment (Archangelsk), to the position of An-2 co-pilot, and sent to the Krasny Kut flying school of Civil Aviation.
    Cadets there studied for 2 years, while our team was supposed to graduate in 6 months. We lived in barracks, while studying the An-2. It was very boring. Two hours were spent on the piston, three hours on the cylinder… It took us 6 months to learn about the An-2, meteorological service, Morse code, navigation and other stuff. Then we began flying the An-2. That was interesting. After 30 hours in the air we graduated as co-pilots.
    When I came back from studying the Personnel Department of the Northern (Leningrad) Directorate of Civil Air Fleet announced to me:
    – You will work in Archangelsk for a year or two, and then we will recall you back to Leningrad.
    So I did. The job in Archangelsk was interesting and very serious.
    At the beginning I was just a co-pilot, and then I became a full crew commander of an An-2. There I learned how to fly in the clouds, with no visible navigation markers, land at the ice spots without any landing support equipment, fly in icing conditions, at twilight and so on. That is, I learned a lot. My teachers were pilots famous in that area: Schitov, Repin, Kitaev, and Avlasenko.
    Flying in the far North was a completely different kettle of fish. For example, we flew from Mezen to Kanin Nos. The length of flight was about 400 km. Kanin Nos was the last piece of land – then there was only the Barents Sea… Right at the shore there was a landing strip with a very weak radio beacon, which we hardly detected from 30-50 km. The weather could be very different. An-2s were supposed to fly by rules of visual flight, but, in reality, we mostly flew in the clouds or between their layers with no visual marks. While we flew from Mezen, for about 100 km we could detect its beacon, and then – nothing at all. We tuned into some radio station at Spitsbergen and used it to get the approximate location of the airplane.
    We brought fish from Shoina Cape. There were 3 or 4 crews working at this line. We flew 2 legs a day. Crews took off with 20-30 minutes separation. Until the last one would land, the first one would not take off. In flight we kept radio connection. I remember, we were coming back to Mezen at twilight. The An-2 was not certified for night flying then. The reserve airfield was far away, there was not enough fuel to reach Archangelsk. Meteorological minimums for Mezen were 150x2000, but in reality conditions were worse: clouds at 50m, horizontal visibility 1000m. Dispatch was at the controls, while his wife at the meteorological station. They both knew that we had no other choice.
    About 20 km off the runway we asked for weather “at the moment”:
    – Visibility now 2000m. Cleared for landing.
    Once we landed “now” had expired, the weather was not suitable again. This was not by the rules, of course, but… How to do it correctly? No way.
    We used to fly to the villages, carrying food, cattle, and firewood. Near Archangelsk there was a village across the river. In spring all the roads were flooded, so we flew an An-2 across the river to carry people and food. Took off, gained 50 meters of altitude, throttle to idle, and land.
    Or we had to fly “chemistry”. In spring ice blockage at Severnaya Dvina caused flooding with a lot of villages suffering. Our detachment was given a task – to drop salt from the air to the ice near Ust-Pineg. Salt was brought in the evening. We came in the morning, and found out that the salt had melted the ice and drowned. It was a scandal! It was an issue under the control of Party Obkom! Our mission was postponed for one day. We accomplished our mission and the flood was prevented.
    There are no An-2 airplanes there nowadays, and ice blockages have to be cleared by Su-34 bombers dropping live ammo.


    V.Yanchenko with a Tu-4 at background

    – How long did you fly the An-2 and when did you reach the Captain’s position?

    I began flying the An-2 as a co-pilot, and in 1964 I was promoted to become a Captain. During these 4,5 years I flew about 2200 hours. I was a co-pilot to Anatolii Avlasenko. He was an excellent pilot.
    After retraining to fly the An-2 I agreed to work in Archangelsk with a condition that in a couple of years I would be transferred to Leningrad.
    I had a temporary registration in Archangelsk, and after 4 years I either had to get a full registration, or go back to Leningrad…

    – Where did you live in Archangelsk?

    We rented a room in a private house.
    I was flying somewhere, and I came to the personnel department in Leningrad:
    - Listen, you had sent me to Archangelsk for a year, but it is 3 years past due.
    The chief of the department looked at me, looked through some papers and said:
    – Would you like to fly the Il-14?
    – Of course I do!
    – You will go to Ulyanovsk. One week ago a course had started. Our place is not occupied. You will be late, but I will arrange that you will be accepted.
    I replied:
    – I’m ready. Give me documents, and I’ll leave.
    – No, you must go to Archangelsk, and get them there.
    Who will issue them to me in Archangelsk? I said:
    - Give an order to them. You are a Directorate!
    He:
    - I’m not in a position to issue such an order.
    But I imagined how I would come to Archangelsk demanding: «Give me a direction to study right away…».
    We spoke, and spoke, and he finally gave me a private letter: ”Dear Vladimir Timofeevich, could you please send him to study.” Well, a letter from the Chief of the Personnel Department of Leningrad (North-West) Directorate is not an order, but already something.
    I took this letter and flew to Archangelsk. It was easy then – you simply went to the crew that flew to your required destination and asked for a lift. At Kegostrov airfield I went to the commanders. The detachment commander Vladimir Kiselev was absent. His deputy Nikolay Sidorenko was in charge. I showed him that letter and explained my problems. He refused me at first, but then, with help of zampolit (party representative). I managed to persuade him. I was issued the needed documents and I flew out to Ulyanovsk to train for the Il-14. After graduation I got an appointment to Leningrad.

    – Where did you fly in the Il-14?

    We flew a lot. Petrozavodsk, Archangelsk, Cherepovets, Vologda, Sverdlovsk, Helsinki. There was a special “matrix” night flight to Moscow-Bykovo. There were scientific flights – cloud dispersion, several seasons I flew for aerial photographing. In general, the job was different, complex and very interesting. For me going to work was like a celebration.

    – How long did the “matrix” flight exist?

    It was not a matrix flight; there were several specially prepared crews that were allowed to fly these missions. It was a night flight, which had to bring central newspapers matrices to Shosseinaya for printing them in Leningrad. In the morning newspapers were available for the population. If the weather would not allow for landing, matrices were to be thrown out of the airplane to the runway, and the airplane would divert to a secondary airfield. When new means of telecommunication appeared, we stopped flying these missions.

    – I would like you to describe how your flights were organized.

    Each squadron had 20 crews. The supposed amount of work for a month was known in advance. Each crew had its work planned for a month. Usually, we flew a return flight to one of the cities per day. Sometimes, we had to stay there for a night, or return with another crew at the controls. Health regulations were extremely strict those days
    Pulkovo had over 60 airplanes at the same time, over 200 crews. Our airlines flew from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the North to the Indian Ocean. We had regular flights to more than 80 cities worldwide…

    – Did you fly the same airplane, or different?

    If we worked not from our airbase, for example during aero photographic missions, then the airplane would be “attached” to the crew. But for regular flights we flew any available airplanes.

    – What was you hour count per month on average?

    It varied depending on month. Sometimes we even exceeded the health norm during summer months, while in winter we flew a lot less. On average, we flew 600-700 hours per year.

    – When did you become an Il-14 crew commander?

    After completing training I was appointed to a position of crew commander for an Il-14 of 3rd flight detachment of Leningrad United Detachment in 1968.

    – Did you fly as a fixed crew or with different members?

    The Il-14 crews were fixed, but by special permission or order one member could be changed for some time.

    – Was the Il-14 up to date?

    In the 1970’s the Il-14 was a quite decent airplane, especially good after the An-2. The crew consisted of 5, plus stewardesses. It was a completely different geography of flights. We flew to different cities and even abroad. We flew from Leningrad to Helsinki.

    – Were there problems with getting permission to fly abroad?

    First of all, flying qualities were tested. Second was Party aspects, because permission was signed by zampolit too. Then we had to undergo special training, learning rules of flying abroad, how to deal with customs and border guards, differences in meteorological information, language practice.

    – How many passengers could the Il-14 take, and could it fly on a single engine?

    Standard passenger airplane had 36 seats. The airplane that flew to Helsinki, if I remember correctly – N 2075, had less seats (Il-14M CCCP-Л52075, first flew 1957. Written off 30 12 1976 due to wearing out). But there was a special cargo airplane.
    The Il-14 could fly on one engine, and I had to fly once on one engine.

    – You flew airplanes constructed by Antonov, Ilyushin and Tupolev. Which one of them was more comfortable for the pilot?

    I had flown the Yak-18, then MiG-15, Il-14, Tu-104 and Tu-154 – they all felt different, they had different philosophies behind them, if you will.
    Pilot training is a very long and complex process, including committing mistakes and finding ways to correct them. When you learn to fly a new type of airplane, education has to go from simple to complex, and this entire time the pilot is under the control of an experienced crew and captain. That is why during retraining all these moments disappear. I never experienced problems during my flying practice. When I worked in the Directorate I had to fly at the same time in the Tu-104 and Tu-154. There was a difference, but it was not discomfort, but something else.
    But I can recall one nuance. There are windows on both sides of the cockpit that can be opened for ventilation on the ground. Tupolev had made it poorly, while Ilyushin had made it more comfortable. Why couldn’t Tupolev make it the same way? But no – it is a rival company…

    – And what about the instrument panel?

    When I just started flying the Tu-104, instruments could be anywhere on the instrument panel. It was common on other types as well. It took several catastrophes for Aeroflot to demand placing main instruments in now common “cross” (artificial horizon in the middle, below navigation instrument, airspeed to the left, variometer to the right, altitude below it). All construction bureaus were ordered to place them in an identical way.

    – Who introduced you as an Il-14 Commander?

    I flew the Il-14 with different Commanders. Mikhail Boev, Kuzma Pantyukhin. The instructor that trained me as a Commander was Grigorii Pres. They were famous pilots, which flew over the Road of Life and flew missions to supply partisans. I had great instructors!

    – How did you start to fly the Tu-104?

    I had flown the Il-14 as a ship Commander. This squadron was used to prepare pilots for retraining to the Il-18, the Tu-104 or other types. I do not know why I was sent to train on the Tu-104, maybe because I had experience in flying jet MiGs.

    – Mercantile question. How about salary and food.

    It was quite different with food. For example we flew 2 sorties in the An-2 during temporary duty in Mezen per day. We had breakfast before the 1st flight in a canteen, than we had dinner before the 2nd flight, but usually there was no place to eat in the evening. We lived in private housing, and our engineers had to cook something for us. There was a special coupon to use in the canteen.
    There were problems with the salary for the co-pilot when we flew An-2s, especially in the beginning. It was around 125 rubles. Each Commander had 2-3 co-pilots. If a Commander flew for 60-80 hours a month, co-pilots flew 20-25 hours per month, and I had a wife, kid and rent to pay. It was much better when I started flying as a Commander. When I transferred to the Il-14 we also used to have 2 co-pilots in each crew. But it became normal with time.

    – So, you came to fly jet airplanes…

    The Tu-104 was an airplane that was flown only by the best pilots – they were considered to be the elite of civil aviation. The airplane was very strict, and you always had to keep your “ears sharp”. It had a high fuel consumption rate with a limited fuel quantity, high landing limitation and long take-off and landing distance. Not many airfields could be used as secondary. This airplane was built on the basis of the Tu-16 bomber. It was the first passenger jet in the Soviet Union [and the second in the World, after the De Havilland Comet].
    Flight geography was wide: Far East, south, Moscow and we flew abroad. Airplanes flew to Moscow from Pulkovo almost on an hourly basis, 10-12 flights per day. There was a lot of work and it was interesting.

    – You were a jet airliner pilot, and there were pilots that had to fly the propeller driven Il-18 nearby. Were they jealous?

    I don’t know. I hadn’t felt it. But when the Tu-104 detachment was organized, the first pilots were thought of as cool guys, elite pilots. They used to carry hats that were sewn at the only tailor atelier at Liteynii Prospect in Leningrad and a silky white scarf. When I flew the Tu-104, we were just ordinary pilots.
    When we flew Il-14s, we were all the same, then one was sent to fly the Tu-104, another one had to fly the Il-18. Our ways parted for a time being, but then we worked together on Tu-154s. We flew together and kept our friendship.

    – When and how was your crew formed?

    In June 1971, I was appointed to the position of crew Commander of a Tu-104 and an order was issued fixing our crew. Same as everybody then.

    – What can you say about political officers?

    They were a special category. They had spoilt a lot of blood for pilots, but it was their job. I was pressed by them for non-flying affairs too. There were different men among them. But keep in mind that everything in life depends on you.
    I remember: 1974 was the year of the 50th anniversary of Civil Aviation. An order came from the Ministry – as for the jubilee all deserving should be presented for a title «Aeroflot Expert-50», including all working HSUs. After all the papers were made, there was an accident with a Pulkovo airliner. During a commercial flight with passengers on board a crew under the command of L. had to fight with an engine fire, if I remember correctly. It was investigated. The crew acted correctly, landed safely and was fit for awarding. Our political officer came to me, and said:
    - You were awarded with a HSU title recently, could you pass this title in favor of L.? You will get yours next time.
    I agreed. But I never got a second chance to win this title.

    – Were political officers flying?

    I knew only one of them, who really flew. Vyacheslav Mednonogov, HSU. He used to fight in the Il-2, graduated from the Military Air Academy, worked as a test-pilot. After demobilization he worked as a technician in Pulkovo, then flew as a flight engineer of the Tu-104 and became a crew Commander for an Il-14 and an Il-18. We had to communicate quite often. He was a very open hearted and nice man.

    – When did you become a Communist Party member?

    In the flight school in 1960, and I was a member until it disintegrated in 1993. I was not too much into politics, and I was not really interested in it. But I was a member of the Leningrad party organization, and I was a representative during the XXV Party Council.

    – There were modified Tu-104s in Pulkovo when you flew them?

    Yes, we flew the Tu-104A and Tu-104B.

    – Can you tell anything about the Tu-124 that landed on the Neva river (21/08/1963 passenger Tu-124 CCCP-45021 ditched in the Neva river)?

    Yes, it is interesting story, and many locals remember that case. What I remember. A Tu-124 under the command of Mostovoy, flight Tallinn-Vnukovo. After take-off the nose gear did not retract. The weather in Tallinn was lower than was required for landing, so they were redirected to a secondary airfield at Leningrad. The nose gear was neither retracted, nor extended. In order to make the landing safer it was decided to use up fuel to the minimum. But the fuel gauges were showing an excessive amount of fuel, when the engines quit working over the city. Mostovoy chose to land on the Neva’s surface. They ditched safely in front of the Finlandskii bridge. No casualties. The passengers were evacuated, while the airplane sunk. Who was guilty? Of course the pilots did not account for something, but eventually everything worked out fine.

    – Second episode – the Tu-104 that landed at the field in Shushari?

    It happened when the fuel ended on the glide slope. The crew had landed the airplane with passengers in a cabbage field, but the airplane was so robust, that nothing had happened to it. Engineers had looked at it. But how could the airplane be brought to the airfield? Towing was not an option, there were long drainage trenches. The airplane was fueled to the minimum and Vladimir Sirotin, who was the chief of the flight detachment, took off from that field and landed at Pulkovo.
    I also remember how an Il-18 crashed near Shushari by the airport railway station (27/04/1974 airplane Il-18V CCCP-75559). I was at home that day, and windows from my apartments were looking at the airport. I looked outside, and saw an airplane flying with a trail of fire and smoke. Then it half rolled, fell out of the sky and blew up. My car was by the house; I jumped in and raced to the crash site. I was first at the site, but there was no one to rescue…

    – Which landing speed was normal for the Tu-104?

    It could vary. In normal weather conditions for the far beacon at 300 km\h, for the near one at 280, touch down at 250-260 km\h. Depending on landing weight...

    – The Tu-104 landed on a runway 2 500 meters long. How did you make calculations for landing, if you landed at 280 km\h with swept wings without mechanization? Did you “go prone»?

    It is not the correct word, but this is what we did: we had to fly over the far radio beacon at the calculated speed and height, the near one still in the envelope slightly lower than the glide slope, and crossed the runway start at an altitude of 5 meters. Only this way could you land at the landing markers. After touching the runway you had to hold the airplane at an angle to reduce speed. If the speed reduced too slowly, the parachute could be extended.
    There used to be a parachute service at the airports of the USSR. They would come, pick up the parachute, pack it or install a new one. Abroad it was a problem. For example, we would fly to Paris, where this parachute was something unknown. Who would pack it there? That is why we had to take a spare one with us in the cargo hold.

    – The parachute could be released at any speed?

    No faster than 270 km\h.

    – What if you released it at 300?

    There were cases when the parachute was ripped off.

    – What if a strong side wind pulled you off the runway?

    Then you released the parachute.

    – Were there differences in flying abroad?

    I can’t recall any problems or difficulties, but there was a need for new information. We got them from the training department (UTO-6).


    Yanchenko crew in Paris airport

    – Were there problems with studying English for you?

    I was not too great at English, because I studied German before that. But my English degree was enough for flying abroad. We constantly trained in standard phrases used between the crew and dispatch. For example, how to ask for take-off, landing, listen to the weather information or report some situation onboard.
    It was worse with spoken English. I remember when we flew to the Emirates, at the shops we mostly communicated “with fingers”. But our next generation was much better at it and had no problems.

    – Were you given information about the Krasnoyarsk catastrophe, when a Tu-104 was supposedly shot down by a missile during a military exercise (30/06/1962 Tu-104A СССР-42370)?

    Such events were classified. Even what happened to us in 1973 was not to be spoken about. We were awarded with a “closed” order.

    – In literature the Tu-104 is often referred to as complex, difficult to fly, unstable and with a tendency to “Dutch roll”. What can you say about this?

    Yes, the Tu-104 was pretty complex. It had high thrust – so it gained speed quickly and you had to do a lot of things during take-off and landing. The pilot’s workload was much higher than in an An-2 or even the Il-14. It was an absolutely different feeling, and it required training. In order to become a crew commander one had to fly at least 2 years as a co-pilot. Not because you were a good or bad pilot, it was a step that had to be passed by everyone. It was required to understand how the airplane moved and reacted to the input of controls. Only when the instructor saw that the co-pilot was ready would he send him to commander training…
    Speaking of unstability and other things. Our documents, namely an airplane manual is a textbook which has to be followed directly. In the manual you have limitations, which by no means could be passed. It is allowed for test-pilots, and you have to understand that once you crossed them, you may perish…
    Well known is Garold Kuznetsov’s story (17/10/1958 Tu-104A CCCP-42362), but he was a test-pilot. May be he allowed himself to cross the boundaries, or maybe the airplane got caught by the weather conditions. Kuznetsov understood that he was not going to recover, but he kept reporting for the record what was going on until impact. Experienced pilots reported that at some regimes the airplane was on the brink of controllability, that stabilizer settings should be changed. Tupolev was stubborn in denying the danger. Only after several catastrophes were aerodynamic blades added to the wings and stabilizer settings were changed. This solved the main problems.


    Left - Shirokov, navigator, middle - Leontjev, radio operator, right - Yanchenko

    – Did you feel any problems, such as an inefficient autopilot or weak radar?

    This airplane had specialties in flying. The autopilot was used, but mostly for flying straight in the echelon. It had no auto land or auto approach possibility.
    Speaking of radar – yes, there was a quite decent radar for those days which helped a lot in thunder avoidance and navigation.

    – It was a notorious Tu-104 problem with overrunning the runway. Were there directions how to counteract this?

    Yes, there was such a problem and there were methods to avoid it. We had to take into consideration the length of runway (no less then 2 500 meters), its condition, wind, temperature and pressure at the airfield and so on…
    The speed on landing depends on landing weight, the higher the speed, the longer will be the landing roll.
    Next – you have to land precisely at about 500-600 meters from the beginning of the runway, that is, you have less then 2 000 meters of runway.
    After landing you have to stop. The Tu-104 used mostly aerodynamic speed reduction, wheel brakes and parachute when needed. The manual described what to do when, so the pilot had to think fast in order to avoid a runway excursion. The brake parachute was a relatively effective means of reducing speed.

    – But still, runway excursions were quite common. Was it a technical fault or pilot’s error?

    It was a complex problem with a lot of different causes. It could be a technical reason, condition of the runway, weather, pilot’s error.
    First the Tu-104s had so called chamber wheel brakes. It means that inside the wheel there was a rubber heat-resistant camera with 3 brake-pads around it, which were pressed against the brake drum. When the brake pedal was pressed, the brake fluid expanded the camera. I can still see the Tu-104 at night with braking drums red-hot at night after landing. Braking drums had to be changed after 5-6 landings; the hydraulic brake lines were prone to leakage.
    Eventually the camera brakes were left aside, and new, disk brakes were applied. They were better in terms of effectiveness and safety.

    – Did you have to undergo more training to start flying the Tu-104B after the Tu-104A?

    Yes, there was a special training program in the UTO to present us the new features of the modified airplane, but there was no retraining as such.
    The Tu-104A and -B were not so much different for pilots. But flying with disk brakes on the Tu-104B was a lot easier.

    – Nowadays aviation has almost reached its peak in terms of pilots. Mostly development goes by more modern avionics, not by pilot’s abilities.

    Speaking of pilot training – it is a special matter. I spoke above about my steps in aviation, and I was not the only one. Training in Civil Aviation was organized on simple-to-complex basis, and in my opinion it was right, because the pilot must have a lot of knowledge and training in order to safely land, not just be an operator of a PC.
    There were over 660 An-2s flying in the USSR, and it was a great school for training pilots, who later flew many different types of airplanes, including Airbuses and Boeings. And most importantly (it’s not my saying, but I fully agree with it): «Studying in aviation is like paddling up the river. Once you stop, the flow will drag you back».

    – There were about 10 hijacks in our country before your case?

    Yes, there were cases when airplanes were hijacked. The press states that from 1970 till 1979 over 700 airplanes were hijacked worldwide and 1100 people were killed and injured.
    The first case of a hijack of a civil airliner that I know about happened on the Tallinn-Leningrad flight in 1954, when 2 armed bandits attempted to fly abroad. The crew acted bravely and disarmed the bandits. The flight engineer Romashkin perished in a fight and posthumously was awarded a title of HSU.
    Another famous in its cruelty was the hijack of an An-24 by father and son Brazinskas, who wounded two crew members, killed a flight attendant Nadezhda Kurchenko and fled to Turkey. It was a worldwide scandal, because Turkey under pressure from the USA did not return them to the USSR. Ironically, Brazinskas-son was sentenced in the USA for killing his father.
    How the passengers boarded the plane – once the ticket was presented it was checked only by the flight attendant on entry. No further control was required. There was still no special security service yet, but terrorism had already appeared.
    In October 1973 by decree of the government the safety department was organized within the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Safety control posts were organized in the airports. At first they had primitive equipment, but then it evolved. Now it is fully equipped and manned.

    – As far as I can remember you must have had a pistol and possibly a police officer in the cabin. Were these measures enough?

    Personal arms for the crew were a last resort, and a police officer in the cabin was ineffective. What had happened near Irkutsk: an armed police officer decided to interfere in the hijack situation, but the airplane exploded killing everybody onboard. He acted by the book, thus he cannot be blamed for what happened. (18/05/1973 in an attempt to stop a hijack a police officer shot at the back of the hijacker, but he set off the explosive device).
    In our case, I was armed, but we could not shoot the bandit, because he had a bomb in his hands with wires and a reverse action trigger. In another case a pistol might have helped…
    I believe that aviation terrorism should be fought on the ground by an effective security service. Gun practice in the air is nonsense.
    Why couldn’t we fly abroad, for example, to Helsinki? The crew commander had a direction – «Do anything possible to avoid a hijack». It was “first”. But there was a “second”. When many years had passed, I was at a meeting with PVO generals and when we discussed hijacks, “what if”, they told me:
    - If you would have chosen to cross the border – we would have shot you down. We had an order to be ready to bring the offender down.
    Nowadays everything has changed – ground structures have instructions what to do in such cases.

    – But what can the ATC do? Report to his commander and clear airspace for you?

    Yes and the Chief ATC should have reported to the head of the Enterprise, who would call the Directorate, who, in turn, would call the Ministry. The KGB and PVO should be informed on each level. It is the chain of subordination described primitively. And do you think that everybody is waiting for a call? The airplane meanwhile is still flying.

    – Did you have any instructions, other than “do not allow a hijack”?

    What kind of instructions? There were such cases before, but they were quite rare, and there were no instructions developed. Be on guard, do all you can, here is your pistol, make a decision if you will shoot or not. You have the right to kill. Prosecutors will see if it was right.


    The navigator - Nikolaj Shirokov

    – How you were informed about the hijack?

    Our crew consisted of the crew commander, co-pilot Vladimir Krivulin, navigator Nikolay Shirokov and flight engineer Vikentii (Due to personal reasons he had changed his name in 1946 from Veniamin to Vikentii) Gryaznov, flight attendants: Lidiya Yeryomina and Marina Khokhreva. We flew to Moscow with 53 passengers in a 105 seat airplane. Due to weight distribution a few first seat rows had to be free. The flight attendant later told us that this man sat among other passengers, then asked to move to the front row.
    We took off, gained altitude and we had almost reached the exit gates from the Leningrad ATC area. A lamp shone in the cabin – the flight attendant calling. It means that they need some kind of help. Maybe somebody is feeling bad or something like that? I told Gryaznov:
    - Venya go out take a look at what’s going on.
    Veniamin returned with a letter. On an envelope «5 minutes for crew commander to read». I opened the envelope, there were 4 pieces of paper with a hand written text.
    Basis – the author worked as an explosive operator in the coal mines in Donetsk, was not satisfied with life in the Soviet Union, wrote letters to the head of State Brezhnev with advices of how to make life better in every aspect, but his advices were not used… And they could not be used, because they were insane.
    He must have been mad. I hardly could get through that scribbling, but then I understood that he demanded from me to change course and fly not to Moscow, but to Stockholm. And I had no choice, otherwise he threatened to blow up the plane. I did not even read the rest.
    I immediately reported to the ATC, but he could give us no directions. We chose to return to Leningrad, but said that we are flying to Stockholm. We turned around, and began carefully descending and approaching, but we had to be sure that the threat was real.
    The cockpit was separated from the cabin by an armored door with a peep hole. I never flew with an open door neither before, nor after this event. When Venya came out for the second time the terrorist was in the hall behind our backs, holding a metal tube about 30 cm long, 10 cm in diameter with wires and 2 buttons. He yelled:
    - Don’t come close! I’ll blow it!
    Then it was established that he had a main charge of 2 kg 100 gr. of explosive used in mining and a small secondary charge which he used to scare people. It was clear that the situation was serious, and we decided not to try and shoot him. It was 20-25 minutes after take-off.
    Then it was proven that we couldn’t have shot him. One button was pressed, another was free. If he would have released one or pressed another, the bomb was set to blow. I have a book written by prosecutor Topil’skaya, where she wrote about things which we didn’t even guess about – at the last moment Gryaznov trying to prevent the explosion started strangling the terrorist, blocking his hand. He fought so hard that he even broke the terrorist’s bones.

    – How would you describe the flight engineer Gryaznov, as a specialist and professional?

    We had quite a similar life with Vikentii in aviation. He was demobilized from the army in 1960, and had to work in the technical department of Leningrad airport. After training he began flying as a flight engineer of the Tu-104.
    Vikentii was not just a member of our crew, we were family-friends. He was the heart and soul of our company, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Leningrad history and knew a lot of interesting stories, and he could present them well too.
    If I would try to describe him as a specialist, I’d have to say that he was a very reliable man. It was easy to work with him – there was no need to double check after him.
    Each year, on April 23, I go to his grave, meet his friends and relatives. I will keep going there until my feet can’t carry me. At the building, where HSU V. Gryaznov used to live we had a commemorative board attached, and a square is named after him in Aviagorodok.

    – Did the terrorist try to get into the cockpit?

    Yes, he tried several times, but Vikentii did not let him in.
    We were getting close to the airfield, usually the landing gear was extended 25 km off the runway. I understood that if we lowered the landing gear, the typical noise would draw the attention of the passengers. Everybody, including the terrorist would look out of the windows. This is why I decided to lower the landing gear as late as possible – over the far beacon (4 km before the runway).
    I felt that the explosion could happen at any moment, but I hoped that I would be able to land the airplane. We extended the flaps before the landing gear. Unluckily, the weather was “million-on-million” (term used to state that sky is so clear, that you can see million km in horizontal direction, and million km in vertical)! The sun shone, Neva, church cupolas were shining. Leningrad was like on the palm of the hand. We flew over the far beacon, landing gear set to lowering...
    EXPLOSION!!!
    The explosive device was in the tube, so the explosion wave was directed into 2 sides. One part of the explosion ripped out part of the fuselage and the front left door, the second went through Gryaznov’s body into the cabin. There were no passengers in the front seats, and all the fragments flew over the passengers’ heads, and the flight attendants were near the rear door.
    After the explosion the airplane kept descending. At an altitude of 15-20 meters it was needed to bring it into the landing position. We pulled the stick, but the airplane did not react. Due to the explosion the floor deformed and blocked the control rods. But with the stress conditions extra strength appeared, and with the co-pilot we managed to change the trajectory at the last moment and land the airplane. We landed normally. Not roughly, but not soft either. I’d say, «4». I extended the brake chute. The airplane ran along the runway. At the speed reduction the nose went down, but instead of fixating on the nose wheel it went further down, right to concrete. The speed was still high enough, sparks flew to all sides. There were no emotions while we ran along the runway – only actions and thoughts: «Bomb went off, the nose of the airplane might ignite due to friction, and we have 10 tons of fuel on board». I turned the airplane off the concrete onto the earthen safety line. We stopped. Looked at each other. It seems that we are still alive! And thought – «Fuel might blow now. We should open windows and...». But there appeared a second thought – «There are passengers in the cabin!». I ordered:
    - Crew move to the cabin, evacuate the passengers!
    We came out of the cockpit to the cabin. The armored wall was damaged, there was fire. I can’t say that it was fierce, but it was open flame none the less. The entrance door and part of the fuselage were torn away. It was clear that we had to evacuate the passengers as soon as possible.
    Height from the door was 1-1,5 meters. After the explosion passengers rushed to the rear door, but the flight attendants did not let them jump – the altitude to the concrete was over 7 meters. We evacuated them through the front door. I and the co-pilot helped them to leave the plane, while the navigator caught them on the ground. The flight attendants left last. I have to note, that there was no panic among the passengers. I gave an order to the co-pilot:
    – Leave.
    And I was ready to follow him, but then – «Stop! I’m the crew commander, and I have to leave the airplane last». People left. But did everybody leave? I didn’t count them. I ran through the cabin to the tail section, and it seemed so long to me! I looked through the seats left-right – nobody is lying there. I ran to the rear WC, but its doors were closed. I kicked it open and there was no one inside. I had a feeling that the airplane was about to blow and I ran out of the airplane.

    – In the printed report it is written that Gryaznov was thrown out of the plane, and you said that he was killed by the blast.

    When I returned from the rear compartment, I saw that the wall between the kitchen and cabin was destroyed, the lining of the cabin was on fire, on the left front row seat lay the head of the bandit, while to the right there was a small compartment, wardrobe like, there lay Gryaznov’s body, or to be correct, its upper part. He was dressed in a flight uniform.

    – Did the airplane blow up eventually?

    It could have exploded, I believe. Fuel was leaking, there was open flame, but when I came out of the airplane fire fighters were extinguishing the plane already. They appeared very fast. I jumped out of the airplane, still under stress, when somebody asked me:
    – What happened?
    – I have a letter…
    – Where is it? Give it to me!
    When I read the letter I put it into my jacket pocket. I looked for it, but the letter was not there… The airplane was still not fully extinguished, but I got into the cockpit and the letter was lying on the floor on the left from my seat. I must have missed my pocket.
    Then we went to the HQ, where I reported by phone to the Deputy Minister of Civil Aviation. I reported something, as I could, but in reality I had very little to say…
    On the next day by 10 a.m. I was summoned by the investigator. One day after, I had to go visit him again, and answer the same questions. In a few days everything was over, and our crew with families got tickets to rest at our resting camp “Krylya Baltiki”, that’s at the border with Abkhazia. After the vacation we passed the medical commission and kept flying.

    – Did you feel some kind of discomfort or anything like that?

    Of course, after such stress, there was some discomfort. But after the vacation the crews have to make a first flight with an instructor, to check that they haven’t lost it. For me, once I took off, everything came to their places.

    – Did you know that you were presented for an award?

    Guys from the Directorate:
    - You are presented for an Order of the Red Star.
    I even thought - «Well, it’s nice not to be punished for a change…». And then it all was changed…
    I never even thought of being awarded. The passengers were safe, the airplane was written off. But I had lost a comrade, who was not just a colleague, but a friend! If only there was a possibility, I would give everything just to see Vikentii alive.

    – How was your award presented?

    The decree of award was published on 6 June 1973. Awards were presented in Mariinskii Palace, where there was the Lengorsovet (mayor’s office).
    Flight engineer Vikentii Gryaznov was awarded with a title of HSU posthumously. Co-pilot Vladimir Krivulin and navigator Nikolay Shirokov – Order of the Red Banner. Flight attendants Marina Khokhreva and Lydia Yeryomina – Order of the Red Star. I also received a title of HSU.


    The award ceremony

    – Are you still in touch with each other?

    Not in touch, but we are still friends. We all the time talk with Vladimir Krivulin. Annually I visit Gryaznov’s grave where I meet his children and grandchildren. Shirokov was transferred to Moscow, where he flew the Il-62. After retirement he had heart problems. He used to live in Gelendzhik, where he died in 2015…

    – I remember that once a greeting speech on board was started with: «Our crew is glad to welcome you on board, crew commander – HSU …». Were you announced the same way?

    Nowadays greetings to the passenger are given by the crew commander with an introduction. In the old days it was done by the senior flight attendant, and presenting the crew commander with his title was a norm.

    – Did you ever think that you might become a HSU?

    I wanted to be a pilot, and I realized my dream, but I never thought of getting any awards. Pilots fly not for awards, but for their love for the sky. Most commonly, awards are presented for something not pleasant to remember.

    – Did your position change when you received the title?

    I never thought of myself as something exceptional, but I did try to use my title to help others. My co-pilot received an order, he was good pilot, but for some reason he was not given a chance to become a crew commander himself? I was trying to push him up, the squadron commander said that he was not against his promotion, other superiors supported the idea, but there was no actual movement. I wrote a letter to the Minister of Civil Aviation Bugaev and signed: «Crew commander, HSU and so on». Maybe he hadn’t read the letter himself, but an order came from the political department – «Check the facts and report». I was summoned to the party commission:
    - How did you dare?
    And so on… I replied:
    – Listen, we spoke about this, and you agreed!
    Secretary and members of party committee whispered.
    - Fine, you can go.
    They «checked facts», but my co-pilot still hadn’t been promoted.

    – You were among the first 5 from Leningrad to be retrained to fly the Tu-154?

    Yes, but it wasn’t a group. When mass training began, the first one was a senior pilot-inspector of flight-navigator department Bogatov, then we three: chief of department Kolosov, Il-18 crew commander Borovikov and I. We were followed by Komarov, Lesovoy, Migalkin. At the same time navigators and flight engineers were trained. In 1975 18 crew commanders were trained.


    Tu-154 loading in China

    – Was the Tu-104 still on the lines, or had it stopped?

    We began flying the Tu-154 in 1975, while the Tu-104 was used by Pulkovo until 1979. I used to work in the flight-navigator department of the Directorate, and we had to train crews for the Tu-154. I had to fly both the Tu-154 and the Tu-104.
    There were good, potent pilots still flying the Tu-104, but they couldn’t fly the Tu-154, because it required a master’s degree. When the new airplanes arrived, they were thrown overboard. I was very concerned about their future and did all I could to help them stay flying.

    – You moved from an ordinary pilot to the Directorate?

    Yes. I was among the first to train on the Tu-154. When crews were formed, I was assigned as a pilot-instructor, then deputy squadron commander. At that time the Directorate went through reorganizations. I was approached with a position of senior pilot-inspector in summer 1976. I understood that it was not just a flying job, and I was not really willing to accept, but they finally managed to persuade me.

    – What did you do as a pilot-inspector of the Directorate?

    In the flight-navigation department there were pilot-inspectors, each one of them was in charge of different types of airplanes, which were used by the Directorate.
    I was in charge of the Tu-154 and Tu-104, Zakrevskii – the An-12 and An-24 and so on. In reality I had to organize crew retraining for the Tu-154, training for use of the new landing systems, CAT I and II training. It was not a position for flying – I was in the air for about 20 minutes per month, but it was an interesting job. I worked there for 5 years.

    – So, today you had to make a check flight with a Tu-104 crew, and tomorrow with a Tu-154?

    Yes. I kept flying the Tu-104 until it was signed off commercial duty. Somebody had to check the crews for flying ability. As I already mentioned, it was a strict airplane, which required constant training. At the same time I flew the Tu-154.

    – As a pilot-inspector, did you use your power to stop somebody from becoming a crew commander?

    As a senior pilot-inspector I had to check candidates for the position of crew commander. In all my practice I had to halt 2 candidates, who, in my opinion were not ready to become commanders. They did not show either good flying technique, or the ability to control their crew in flight.


    Hero of the Soviet Union Yanchenko - Deputy Squadron commander

    – There are two main opinions about the Tu-154. Some say, that it was the best airplane ever. Others speak of a lot of deficiencies. How would you describe it?

    The Tu-154 was a new generation of airplane. In our practice it was the first airplane with multiple reservations of controls and systems, good wing mechanization with controllable stabilizer. It was easier to fly, all systems worked reasonably well. All this provided for a good level of flight safety.
    Speaking of deficiencies – the airplane had just got on line, there were cases of mechanical malfunctions, but our engineers and representatives from the airplane plant quickly fixed them. Overall, the Tu-154 readiness was higher in Pulkovo then it was set for the Soviet Union. Thank our engineers and serviceman for that.

    – It is a common opinion that runways in our country are of low quality. For example, in Murmansk the runway was bumpy, is it true?

    It is not correct to think of it as a common problem. I know the Murmansk airport quite well, flew there often. Once, there was a Tu-134 runway excursion case, and the chief of the Directorate sent me there to investigate. We managed to establish that it was a rare case when it was not the crew’s fault.
    There were special conditions in Murmansk, but mostly they were in connection with bad weather. We flew there often, and the local service was pretty good, and the runway was kept in normal condition.
    Most notable from all airports was Yakutsk. It was the only airfield where I had to land the Tu-154 on an earthen runway. It was so cold, that the earth was like asphalt. A bit bumpy, but there was no other choice then.
    Once we flew from Kamchatka and landed in Yakutsk. It was -30°. Passengers were transported by buses, we had to run for about 300 meters from the parking area to the airport building to get warm. We had to stay there for 6 hours. When we went to the airplane, its wings were almost on the ground – the hydraulics froze. The technicians had to warm each landing gear by special lamps.

    – The Tu-104 resulted in a huge modernization in all airports. Did the Tu-154 cause similar changes in technology?

    Of course. The Tu-154 could fly CAT I and II. Equipment for CAT II has to be extremely reliable and doubled. All runways were equipped with high intensity lights, we could take off in fog with a visibility of 200 m. The Tu-134, Il-18 and Tu-104 couldn’t fly in those conditions, because they were not equipped yet.


    Yanchenko in the cockpit

    – Can you point out the moment, when we fell behind western companies?

    I wouldn’t use term “fell behind”, I’d ask – when and how Russian aviation was murdered?
    I remember, Pulkovo used to own more than 60 airplanes at the same time of different types. Nowadays, the last locally produced type An-148 was phased out. Where are the crews, where are those airplanes?
    We did not “fall behind” – we lost economically, we were robbed or fooled. I do not know how to call it.
    Our military airplanes are no worse than western to this day, and that means that we have the potential. The Tu-204 and SuperJet, some other types were designed, but they can’t make it to the market. If they would be available, our engineers would get past the teething troubles fast.
    We had the best school for pilots and what now? Our pilots are trained individually abroad on foreign equipment and actually fly as PC operators on Boeings and Airbuses. It’s a sorrowful picture. It’s not an attempt to bite young colleagues, it’s different: «A sorrow for the Motherland».

    – Old pilots mostly prefer a fixed crew with manual flying with obligatory abiding by the pilot’s manual.

    I feel this way too. When the crew commander comes to the briefing not knowing who is in the seat beside him, in my opinion, it is not serious attitude towards their job. The crew is a team, led by the crew commander, who is responsible for safe flight. What kind of being “flown into each other”, helping hand in flight we can speak about? There can be a lot of things happening unexpectedly in flight, and people on deck do not know each other! Besides formal, there always are personal relations within the crew. If on 23 April 1973 I had a non-fixed crew, I doubt that anyone besides Gryaznov would do what he did, I couldn’t be sure in the other crew member’s actions. Most likely, we would end up six feet under.
    Old commanders understood it well, and Pulkovo kept fixed crews as long as possible.
    Speaking of manual flying. The Tu-154 is well enough automated, and it can perform landing approach in automatic mode in CAT II conditions, but the pilot still has to be able to do all the same manually. If he can – fine, but what if he can’t? The computer may work incorrectly due to a program bug, incorrect data input, and malfunction or simply switch off. And? If a pilot trusts in the autopilot too much he will not be able to see the problem, and then he will be unable to make the needed corrections manually in time. That is why flying manually is critical... I’d say more – the constant use of the autopilot makes pilots sloppy, and results in a degradation of flying technique…
    In 2006 an A-320 fell into the sea near Sochi during Go Around procedure. Why? On final approach in auto land after the ATC command to “go around” at an altitude of 350 m., the pilot switched off the autopilot – and the crew failed in piloting. There were 113 people on board.
    Recently, there was an interview with one pilot – she said that flying is complex, because after take-off and till 1 000 feet (300 m) they have to fly “on hands”, and only after this altitude they switch the autopilot on. What kind of flying technique are we discussing here?

    – You were a pilot-inspector and a pilot-instructor. You had to fly with non-fixed crews too?

    The pilot-instructor is the same crew commander with extra duties and knowledge of all crews in the squadron. He has to be present at monthly briefings, all the pilots know him personally, he reports of unwelcome cases, gives instructions regarding new documents and conditions. The pilot-instructor had to fly with each and every crew and had to know weak spots of each one of them. But when he is flying with the crew he is just a crew commander.
    When I worked as a pilot-instructor, I had to fly training missions with crews, for example – extreme dive. There was such an element in training. We would come to the airfield at an altitude, then reduced altitude and landed.
    This is a procedure to be done in case of depressurization or fire. At an altitude, in order not to exceed the top speed the engines were set to idle, the landing gear extended, and the interceptors (panels on the wing that are used as airbrakes) set to “intermediate”, and then you just reduce altitude with the fastest possible vertical speed. If needed a dive could be prolonged into the final approach and landing on the closest airfield. There was a case when a Yak-42 depressurized at an altitude, pilots descended slowly, and half of the passengers were hospitalized after landing in Vnukovo.

    – Did you wish to fly on some other types? The Il-86 or The Tu-144, for example?

    The Tu-144 was way too far, but there was a chance to fly the Il-86, but it did not work out for me.


    Yanchenko - instructor-pilot

    – The crew commander is performing an approach, the co-pilot monitors the instruments. Something happens outside, the crew commander takes action which compromises the glide slope, but not fully, with a possibility to recover... What if the co-pilot would try to interfere?

    There should be no fighting. The crew commander is a commander, because he is in command. There can be vocal commands in case of emergency: «Take control» or «I took control». Without any fight control will be transferred.
    There are documents, which point out what to do in this or that situation. Follow them. Training of the crew commander should be good enough to avoid any possibility of incompetence. People do not become pilots just because they call themselves a pilot. They pass a long ladder of training.

    – Why then did so many accidents and catastrophes happen when crew members were acting in dissonance or fight for control? One turns to the left, another to the right?

    These cases happen when the crew is not flown into each other, in a complex situation do not know what to expect from each other, and the crew commander in common day practice does not demand strict following of the manual. I never was in such a situation, and never could have gotten into one. If I did something wrong, my co-pilot would correct me, so that we would stay a team. But - by word.

    – Could you describe how you flew so called “shop-tours” (flights chartered by newly-formed businessmen in 1990s)?

    They were complex by their newness and unfamiliarity. We were used to flying to Moscow, Vladivostok, and Europe. Flying to China or Dubai was full of unexpectedness… I remember, we flew to India via Afghanistan. There was a war raging there. Once we reached the Afghan border, all communications with the ATC ceased. For about 30 minutes we had to fly with no ATC. Crews talk to each other by radio, trying to sort out who is where. India and Emirates were difficult in terms of high temperatures. A lot of problems with ground service, weight balancing...

    – One of my friends, a former Tu-154 pilot, who lives in Moscow quit flying in 1996. The reason was threats from criminals for delayed flight in bad weather conditions. It was such a mess – nobody cared how the safety would be provided, the only thing that mattered was money and income.

    I had different problems. There was an attempt to provoke my crew here, in Pulkovo.
    We were about to fly to Kamchatka, when somebody caught my co-pilot and said:
    - There is a need to take 1,5 tons of cargo to Kamchatka.
    The co-pilot reported to me. We cross-checked the weather forecast, flight conditions, and it turned out that it was possible to take this weight with us. So we told this man:
    - Go to the warehouse and register your cargo.
    When we went to the airplane, there was a truck under the fuselage, loading cargo. We were on the routine walk around, when the police came, and asked me:
    - What is it loading into the airplane?
    That is none of my business – cargo should be brought from the warehouse through the control post, there are people that are responsible for cargo delivery and loading. The crew can only check the amount of pieces of cargo and their placing within the cargo bay.
    And they start to blame me for taking unregistered cargo. I hadn’t seen this truck before. I have no idea, who let it through the gates at the airfield. Where was the security service? Yes, I agreed to carry an extra 1,5 tons of cargo, but I’m not the one who registers the cargo, there is a special service for that. All these problems they tried to tie on to our crew. I even had to go to the prosecutor’s office for interrogation. But we managed to fight them off.


    Left to right: HSU A.Zajtsev, Marshal of the Soviet Union D.Yazov, HSU Yanchenko, V.Dobrynin

    – When did you quit flying and working?

    I quit flying in 1997, half a year before my 60th birthday. I was signed off for health issues. Then I worked on the ground at Pulkovo airport until 2009. Now I’m the Chief of the Council of the Museum of Civil Aviation of St-Petersburg.

    Interview and translation by Oleg Korytov
    English version edited by Jason Moore