My last trip with Boris Yeltsin was very Russian.
Yeltsin had been doing a tour of the US. Back in the ’90’s we still required a Russian-speaking AF Pilot/Nav to be in the cockpit while they were in US airspace (Operation Constant Shotgun http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-06-03/news/9002150151_1_soviet-flights-soviet-pilots-soviet-airliners).
That was my job. On most of the diplomatic flights the Russian radio operator spoke fair English, on the military flights, not so much.
Back to Yeltsin’s trip. A few months ago I had been outside the DUMA when Yeltsin jumped on a tank with a bullhorn, I was trapped in the US embassy, but I saw it happen from the walls.
I’d flown with the IL-76 bringing in his limo and security vehicles for his visit to the U.N, with which was a total shitshow. See previous post.
Yeltsin’s last stop was Seattle, where he talked to a rally of people who were probably more leftist than he was, and off we go back to Moscow with a a fuel stop in Shannon, Ireland.
My job was to get them out of US airspace safely, which I did. Now I’m just sitting in first class in Yeltsin’s IL-62 on the way to Shannon, Ireland.
Note: Yeltsin’s airplane had a config of 16 forward (first class) seats, a mid galley area, several rows of coach seats, then an aft galley with the DV compartment in the rear. Russian security would not let me go past the aft galley so I have no idea what was in the VIP compartment.
Given how this story ends, I’m betting on Vodka. Lots and lots of Vodka.
We get to Shannon, flaps come out and I think we’re getting ready to land.
Nope, we enter a holding pattern at the Final Approach Fix (FAF). Hmmm. I wonder what is going on and the I see one of Yeltsin’s security guys come up and ask Yeltsin’s personal Doctor to go back with him.
After about 30 min in holding we land at Shannon and park at a designated ‘VIP’ spot. The Prime Minister of Ireland (Taoieach) is waiting there with his wife, a military brass band and a fleet of vehicles to speed him and Yeltsin off to a ‘working lunch’ while the airplane is being refueled.
Only one problem. Yeltsin was too fucked up to get off of the jet.
We pulled up, the band played the anthem, the aft door opened…and no one came out. Taoieach and wife are looking around awkwardly, the band doesn’t know wtf to play, it’s hilarious.
About 5 min later a guy shows up in the doorway and as soon as he emerges the band fires up. He goes down the airstairs, meets with Taoieach and hops in the limo. No idea who that guy was.
It could of been one of two things:
-He was the most sober person of diplomatic rank on board
-He lost the drinking contest
The front page of the Irish Times the next day nailed it: