a personal memoir

Looking back on the pleasures of being on Soviet ships, airliners and helicopters

By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet

(L-R) Chief engineer Vladimir Andreev and Alex Kvassay in reactor room.

I intended to write an article about my 3 weeks aboard a Soviet nuclear powered icebreaker on the Northeast Passage in 1991, but my good friend and colleague on this series Al Higdon warned me that Murray Smith might shoot me if I try to sneak an icebreaker story Into his Pro Pilot magazine.

I don't know what Murray has against icebreakers except that they do not fly. Of course, with 21,000 tons of weight they would take some awfully large wings and much more than the 75.000 horsepower that they now have.

But think of it this way: with a full load of fuel and a consumption of 200 grams of uranium per day, one refill is good for 5 years of cruising at 21 kts. Burt Rutan, your should start thinking.

Mil-8 helicopter comes aboard soviet icebreaker after flying from Pevek in Russia

Again so much for icebreakers. I might also mention that I was on the ship Sovetskij Soyuz at the time when communist power collapsed in the Soviet Union.

For a while neither the captain nor the passengers knew if we were still guests or political prisoners in the Soviet Union at that time all aviation not military was run by the national airline Aeroflot.

This included crop spraying, air ambulances, also the 2 helicopters stationed on our ship. Private flying was a concept they could not even imagine.

We carried 2 helicopters on the ship, both painted in Aeroflot colors. One was a 6 passenger Mil2 and a larger KA32. I have no idea how many passengers the KA32 was designed for because there were only bench seating along the sides with no seatbelts.

Russian KamovKA-32 helicopter landing on Soviet nuclear powered icebreaker.

They crammed in as many as 22 passengers. The safety was in being squeezed in so tight that we could not possibly fall out. We used these helicopters to go ashore when ice prevented the use of our Zodiak watercraft or if we wanted to go further inland.

There was one unscheduled landing on a small uninhabited Communist Island. I asked the captain to authorize a special flight for me. "Why?" "Because I want to express my feelings about communism by urinating on Communist Island". The captain laughed and authorized the flight.

Some of those IFR landings on the ship were hair raising, but the pilots said this was routine for them. At one time, in the large helicopter full of passengers, both pilots left the cockpit (I assumed they put it on autopilot), and came back to talk to the passengers.

One passenger, a retired US Army colonel and helicopter pilot, cried out "You cannot do that" and rushed into the cockpit into the pilot seat. It could not get any hairier. I ended up taking 27 helicopter rides for which I should receive a medal for bravery, or perhaps for stupidity.

The nuclear icebreaker Sovietskij Soyuz on which Alex Kvassay spent 3 weeks in 1991.

The aviators on board organized a small party for the Russian crews. The chief captain made a short presentation telling us these copters were perfection, never any problems at all. Listening to this one of the mechanics whispered in my ear "He is lying."

Actually, on some other flights on Aeroflot, I experienced that seatbelts were a luxury. On a flight from Moscow to Tokyo in an Ilyushin 62 (copy of the British VC10) I had one half of a seatbelt.

On another flight, on a Russian military transport, there were a few seats with belts which they kindly let us passengers use. The Russians had no seatbelts at all. On the commercial airlines, the pilots always carried highly visible sidearms and after landing no one was allowed to stand up until the crew marched out of the aircraft.

Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 86, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.