It is minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit in this foreign land north of Moscow. I am sitting in a single-seat, Russian Sukhoi 26 at the end of an ice-covered runway waiting to be cleared for takeoff. There is a lot going through my mind. First of all, I have never flown a single-seat Sukhoi 26.
I am sitting in this brightly colored red, two seat, Pitts Special S2B stunt plane alone over the Atlantic Ocean at 9,500 feet. I have been flying out of sight from land for quite some time and occasionally the magnitude of the adventure I am undertaking sinks in and I have to mentally remind myself to take this trip one small step at a time.
It has been said that the last fighter pilot has been born. While time will answer that projection, this story is about the human element in dogfighting: the desire that pilots with skill and confidence have to test themselves against others with the same. In this epic experience, two of the latest fighters of the day meet relics of a bygone era.
It was getting late in the day and the tropical weather was closing in behind me. I felt trapped. Weather was all around and nothing but dense jungle below. I started to get frustrated and really worried. An hour and a half had passed and I was no closer to Panama City. My only alternate airfield was back across the mountains. The last thing I wanted to do was climb back up to 15,000 feet, but I had no choice.