Traveling Around the World through Russia
Pilot Anil Bhalla visited Russia in summer 2019. His flight logs are so exciting, we took the liberty to publish them without edits. Enjoy!
Jun 10, 2019 RJBE (Kobe, Honshu, Japan) to UHSS (Khomutovo, Sakhalin, Russia) with a flight time of 8.1 hours
….Hand over to Khabarovsk control in Russia was seamless, except for some mental math as altitude instructions were provided in meters and distances in Kilometres. The crossing altitudes on approach plates are based on QFE and not QNH, both in hectopascal. The METAR/TAF and ATIS provide wind speed in MPS (meters per second) and not Kts (Knots). Also, to my unfamiliar eyes, their approach charts appeared complicated with missed instructions that require tuning in a different NDB and 2 different VORs. Fortunately, didn’t have to go missed as their ILS Rwy 19 approach after the PERUB4 arrival worked as designed.
Landed at UHSS Khomutovo, that used to be a military airfield. Customs and Immigration was out in full force and after a quick peek at the aircraft, went with them in a bus to the terminal. Formalities quickly completed, I made my way back to the aircraft for refuelling from drums. This was a slow process and took some time.
Jun 12, 2019 UHSS (Khomutova, Sakhalin, Russia) to UHMM (Sokol, Magadan, Russia) with a flight time of 8.5 hours
Weather- The significant concern for this flight was icing in clouds, and I spent considerable time in reviewing all available weather information sources, including WAFC London data as well as ‘Windy’. The gist of this extensive review was to avoid the direct over water route to Magadan, and instead take a more Northerly route till I reached the North shore of Sea of Okhotsk, and then commence an Eastwards leg towards Magadan, as the forecast called for a high certainty of mid level clouds over the direct North Easterly route.
It was drizzling all morning and on departure, at 10am local time. Climb out was in clouds from about 900 feet AGL, with trace rime ice encountered around 5,000 feet. Broke out of clouds in between layers at around 8,000 feet MSL. Initial level out at FL 090 proved to be too low for cloud avoidance after the Sakhalin Island leg, and had to request FL110 to stay above clouds over the sea. Most of my route over the Sea of Okhotsk was blanketed with cloud cover at around FL090. The clouds dissipated around the town of Okhotsk, to be replaced with scattered cumulous, at the end of nearly 700 Nm Northerly leg as I flew along the edge of North-Eastern Siberia. Towards the last 100 Nm of the flight, I was given a frequency change from Khabarovsk control to Magadan, just as my radio reception deteriorated with the result that I could not catch the new frequency. A quick search on my Foreflight and a few tries on the many listed frequencies finally got me in communication with Magadan. This would be a non event, except for the fact that while I was trying to figure out the frequency, was simultaneously heading straight for a TCU formation and by the time contact was established, was less than 10Nm away and deviations to either side would have meant 90 deg turns. I opted to cancel IFR and as soon as the controller acknowledged, commenced a steep descent and a turn to the right. I ended up descending to 5,500 feet MSL much below the MEA of FL070, and continued flying below the TCU, making my way through some strong wind shear and virga. The aircraft was now below some of the nearby mountains of the Kolyma range and the Terrain warning started flashing on my Foreflight. However, as I was in visual contact with the terrain, deviated as required and maintained a safe separation during my descent to the airport. On tuning the ATIS, I assumed there was a error in the message as it stated wind @ 220deg, 7mps gusting to 9mps (meters per second), and mentioned Rwy 10 in use. On rechecking with Magadan control, they reaffirmed the ATIS message that Rwy 10 is correct. I loosely followed the ILS guidance for Rwy 10, to a thrilling final approach and touch down, with all the turbulent ingredients thrown in, including strong downdrafts, gusty crosswind plus a tail wind.
Refuelling had to be postponed to the next day, as the handlers, Katya and Anastasia, were expecting me to carry a pump for the drums. However, that misunderstanding aside, they were nice and gave me a lift to my hotel in Magadan city, about a 45minute drive. Unable to buy the pump as shops were closed, they took me local sightseeing followed by dinner. Next day, it was another long drive to the airport, where refuelling took almost the entire day being a slow process.
Magadan with a sub-Arctic climate, situated in the North East Siberian Taiga, is known for its gold mines and fisheries. The Mask of Sorrow monument is located on a nearby hill, and commemorates the many prisoners who suffered and died in the Gulag prison camps during the Stalin era. The city is pedestrian friendly and has some well maintained historic buildings.
As it turned out my extra weekend at Magadan gave me a lot more time to enjoy their food; noteworthy were the devilled eggs filled with red caviar accompanied by iced vodka, fried and battered whelk (conch meat, called ulitka), fried smelt (koryushka), beetroot soup (borsht) with meats served with sour cream (smetana), solyanka soup, variety of porridges served with melted butter and salt, and meat filled pastries (pyrizhky). As accompaniments, sampled their sausages like kolbasas and dried smoked meats made from all types of animals including horse, elk etc. Not to forget, the salads are works of art, most striking being ‘herring under a fur coat’ (selyodka pod shuboy).