To the Edge of Space: So This Is How I’m Going To Die……

 Ready for MIG-29 Flight

When I woke up it didn’t feel like a different day. Big stretch, groggily lumber to the door, stretch again, make breakfast, shower, get dressed but for the first time while on this trip, I had a deadline. At the same time, I’m still thinking it could all be a scam. That is until I’m told by the hostel staff that someone is here to greet me. I’m meet by my interpreter and driver. I don’t say hello, instead I stand, wide eyed and silent. Someone hit the reset button in my brain “oh 5H*&, this is happening” coming back to reality I snapped back with my manners and greeted them hospitably.

 

This is indeed, a rare adventure. I am going not to a military base, but to the actual Mikoyan-Gurevich factory where MIG fighter jets are made. There is a rule in Russia that all fighter jets are designated by their manufacturer. MIG being the abbreviation of Mikoyan-Gurevich. They have received special permission from Putin to offer this service. Yet, up until the end of the cold war this place was simply known as factory 21. The area around the factory, typically homes for the factory workers, was known as district 21. I’m explained that we need to pick up a security person on our way. He will stay with us the whole time (except for the jet ride) then we will have a quick tour of the MIG manufacturing museum then it’s suit up, pre-flight briefing, walk around inspection of the jet, then ride!

 MIG-21 cockpit inside the MIG Museum

Two security check points later and seeing the older model MIGs on display outside various buildings. My translator is explaining to me everything the curator says and the history of this factory is exceptional. MIG 15s, MIG-17s, MIG-21s, MIG-25s, MIG-29s, MIG-31s and the latest MIG, the MIG-35 have all been designed and built in this factory. The cockpit of a MIG-21 is shown and he explains every instrument and control. Examples of a MIG-15’s guns and MIG-21s guns are shown as well as a MIG-29’s missile armament are also on display. This is great, and I am listening because, it is information I love to learn and this guy has taken time to show me. But I am exploding on this inside with excitement. I’m politely in control of my emotions on the outside but on the inside, it’s pure fireworks. I mean, what is this going to feel like? Will I get to take control for a moment? Even just to feel it turn?

After the museum, I meet the pilot, his name is Alexander and he shows how the flight is going to take place. With a small model MIG-21 (pretty sure I had one exactly like it as a kid) we physically go through the flight together. Enter more inside fireworks then it’s off to be suited up. I strip out of most of the clothes to put on the flight suit. It’s snug in some places, but it’s suppose to be. The important thing with this suit is it automatically compresses your legs and abdomen while pulling high G-force manoeuvres. This helps the blood from leaving your head and passing out. The most important part of this is the helmet and learning about the oxygen supply. There are three different position to have the mask in. Depending on how you’re feeling and what altitude you’re at it needs to be in a specific position. Once I’ve demonstrated how to use it the pilot comes in and gets suited up as well. He finished quickly and now we go to the runway!

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MIG-29 pilot explaining aerobatics

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compression G suit for MIG-29

After being strapped in, tightly, and shown where my oxygen is, how to communicate with the Alexander, which controls to watch out for and which instruments I can monitor for altitude, speed and orientation. The canopy closes and we start the engine, flight controls and instrumentation check. Everything passes and we begin to taxi out to the runway.

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pilot and I in cockpit of MIG-29

 

Ready to go for a MIG-29 Flight

 

Alexander: “Are you ready Shaun?”

Me: “Hell yeah lets go!!!!!!”

taking off down the runway in a MIG-29 about to fly to the edge of space

And as I’m saying go the engines fire. The take off, is more force than I’ve ever felt (up until this point in the flight) and it was FAST, before you know it we’re in the air, banking right and soaring towards the sky. You’re use to commercial flights where everything happens slowly. Take off, gaining altitude, long banking turns. This is the complete opposite as we are gaining altitude I am noticing just how agile the jet is. As we pass some clouds we see a passenger jet off to the side – I ask the Alexander if we can get a little closer and say hello but the Alexander says no. We moving up quickly above the next layer of clouds then a more gradual ascent to 10,000 feet.

takeoff in a MIG-29 Fighter Jet

At this point we prepare to jump. No, not out of the jet, but up. Up in to the stratosphere. You need to get up to a certain speed in order to literally “jump” the fighter jet in to the stratosphere. The speed we needed to hit was mach 1.7 – that’s right, I’m about to break the sound barrier. Feeling the after burners pushing us is unreal. I’m also watching the fuel gauge drop. This burns a lot of gas! Alexander tells me how fast we’re going at every step and when we hit Mach 1. Nothing happens…. Going this speed while in the jet doesn’t feel any different than riding around in it. But the smile on my face is huge! I’ve now broken the sound barrier! I never thought I would do this in my lifetime. At Mach 1.7 we point up and gain some big altitude in a very short time and level off just as quickly. I check the G-force meter and we hit 3Gs on the way up. Then….. I notice the view.

Edge of Space flight

Looking up in to space from a MIG-29

banking in the MIG-29 at the Edge of Space

 

Did time just stand still? I’m spinning my head left and right in awe. Alexander comes on the radio “hey Shaun, is that sky above us blue?” I smile, “No good sir.. it is not. It is dark” I replied. Looking over my shoulder I see our after burner vapour trail. A dark line on a very bright earth background below. I follow the dark sky above us and at the very edges of the horizon you see the edges tilt down – just slightly – oh, that is the curve of the earth. Surreal… looking down feeling as if I’m in space. Not quite the view Commander Hadfield had, but I’m getting closer than most. We are now 17 km in the sky. That’s just under 56,000 ft.

56,000 ft at the edge of space in a mig-29

17km in the sky in a mig-29

Looking back at the earth from the edge of space

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After a few minutes to let it soak in, Alexander tells me it’s time to descend. The smallest moment of weightlessness turns in to a reality check as the earth becomes much bigger and, we’re back at a normal altitude. I get just a little queezy. With such a dramatic altitude change, I was warned I might feel this way but now it was time to begin manoeuvres!

How did I make this possible? With Country of Tourism! It was their great service that got me to this point and I couldn’t be happier that I booked this through them. Stay tuned for my next post. A full recount of the aerobatics, including my own, in the MIG-29 fighter!

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Dark sky above at the edge of space

33 Responses to To the Edge of Space: So This Is How I’m Going To Die……

  1. An adventure experienced by very few in the world.
    No guts! No glory!
    Amazing, simply amazing.

    Michele Clayton November 3, 2013 at 8:34 am Reply
    • Thank you!

      Shaun November 4, 2013 at 8:59 am Reply
  2. Fantastic write up Shaun, can only imagine how crazy that day must’ve been. Sounds like they get things going pretty quick so you don’t have time to think about it and back out, haha.

    Red Hunt November 5, 2013 at 10:57 am Reply
    • Thanks man! HAHA, no time to think. Your mind is just on go-go-go!

      Shaun November 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm Reply
  3. Wow, what an amazing rush! To see the Earth from such a vantage and feel the MiG’s speed – I am envious beyond measure.

    Karina November 5, 2013 at 11:11 am Reply
    • Thank you so much! it was intense so say the least. See the earth from that high up makes you feel very small!

      Shaun November 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm Reply
  4. Wow, I am SOOOOO ENVIOUS! Number 1 in my bucket list ever since has been to go to outer space, and this is the closest thing ever! Wish I could take that ride someday too!

    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com November 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm Reply
    • Thank you very much! It’s as close as you can (currently) get. Space travel is coming! I just hope it will be affordable.

      Shaun November 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm Reply
  5. TOTALLY Adding this to my bucket list those photos are insane! Though I did get nauseous just looking at some of them where land and air are not we’re they’re supposed to be. Also, I couldn’t comment on your “about me” section but it made me laugh out loud at my desk and look like a nutt job, so thanks for that haha.

    Jamie November 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm Reply
    • HAHA! Glad you got a kick out of that. It wasn’t intended to make anyone seem like a nut job, but a side effect I now embrace! It is hands down the best adventure I’ve ever done. Not sure I’ll ever beat it.

      Shaun November 7, 2013 at 7:05 am Reply
  6. Wow! It looks fantastic, phenomenal and exhilarating… but I would’ve been scared out of my mind!

    Laryssa November 7, 2013 at 11:49 am Reply
    • Haha, exhilarating for sure! I really wasn’t scared just very very excited.

      Shaun November 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm Reply
  7. Amazeball! Do they have a height limit for the passenger?

    geri November 8, 2013 at 6:53 pm Reply
    • Not so much, there was some limits but I think as long as you’re not 7 foot or 300lbs. At 6’2 I was comfortable.

      Shaun November 8, 2013 at 8:07 pm Reply
  8. Holy cow- this is an amazing thing to do. I’d really want to do it, but I’m not sure I’d go through with it.

    You sure have a one of a kind experience that few people you’ll ever meet can say they have also done!

    Erik November 10, 2013 at 7:05 pm Reply
    • Thanks Erik!! Truly was a one of a kind. No regrets, at the time only about 450 others in the world have done it.

      Shaun November 11, 2013 at 8:06 am Reply
  9. Wow! What a unique adventure. Surely you are one of the few who can claim these particular bragging rights. Kudos!

    Alex November 13, 2013 at 8:29 am Reply
    • Thanks Alex! I’ll try to remain humble but no promises.

      Shaun November 14, 2013 at 7:33 am Reply
  10. Awesome adventure! I’d love to add this to my life list as well. The next thing to top this adventure off would be to ride the Virgin Galactic! Thanks for sharing!

    Mig November 21, 2013 at 11:03 am Reply
    • Thanks! I’ve looked in to Virgin Galactic, just don’t have the $250K yet to reserve my spot. I hang on to the hope that in my lifetime space travel will be come affordable. When it is, I’ll be the first in line.

      Shaun November 22, 2013 at 10:41 am Reply
  11. Amazing! Really spectacular! I want to do it as well!

    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs November 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm Reply
    • HAHAH thank you! once in a life time that’s for sure!

      Shaun November 25, 2013 at 8:39 am Reply
  12. Pingback: Friday Lens Affair #42 | Travel Blog - My Travel Affairs.com

  13. Well. This is literally the most epic thing I’ve ever seen! My dad is a jet pilot so this is kind of what I imagine him doing at work all day 🙂

    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown January 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm Reply
    • Wow! Your Dad has the BEST job in the world. I know first-hand!

      Shaun January 17, 2014 at 7:32 am Reply
  14. What a thrill. Amazing. Simply, amazing!

    Victoria January 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm Reply
  15. Wow, that looks so awesome!! That must have been a crazy experience!! I’d love to do that one day! 😀

    Michelle March 27, 2014 at 5:34 pm Reply
  16. Just stumbled upon this latest post. Even though I haven’t saved up that much. I am putting money away every day to be able to do this!

    This post completely echoes the thoughts I am having right now. It sounds like it is everything I dream of.

    Rob April 18, 2014 at 9:37 pm Reply
    • Thanks Rob. Keep focused and make it happen. Good luck!

      Shaun April 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm Reply
  17. Wow that’s totally amazing! So now that you’ve realised that dream, what’s next?

    Marie-Carmen April 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm Reply
    • To do it again of course! Hah, that was just one of many life goals for me. A big one, that’s for sure but still just one.

      Shaun April 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm Reply
  18. Holy crap, this might be the most extreme adventure I’ve ever seen! Looks like a blast, but I’d be a wee bit scared if we’re being honest 😉

    Camels & Chocolate May 31, 2015 at 2:00 pm Reply
    • It really wasn’t that scary, watching my vision go dark was pulling G loops was the closest to be scared.

      Shaun June 18, 2015 at 9:43 am Reply

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