On the 31st of August, 1993, I escorted a Russian Federation air traffic control delegation from the Pentagon to McGuire Air Force Base located in Burlington County, New Jersey. This was a follow up visit to one made by the Chief of Staff of the Russian Air Force which had ended prematurely in March of that same year when political conditions in the Russian Federation were reaching a crisis point (see previous article). Unlike that trip, this one was completed in its entirety.
The Russian delegation consisting of Mr. Victor B. Kurenkov (Director, Office of International Relations ROSAERONAVIGATSIA), General Boris I. Kushneruk (Chief ATC, Russian Federation Air Force), and General Yuri V. Zatolokin (Chief General Staff, Russian Federation Air Force) stayed at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington DC. An enlisted Russian translator and I met them at the Pentagon helipad located on the west side of the complex. From there we departed at about 9:15 am in a flight of two UH-1 helicopters designated “Mission 1” and operated by 1st Helicopter Squadron of the 89th Military Airlift Wing (the organization which operates the President’s aircraft, Air Force One) which at the time was located at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Taking off on a clear summer morning, lifting out of the busy rush hour traffic on a busy business day for Washington DC, was exciting to say the least. I had never seen the Pentagon from this perspective before. The 150 mile flight lasted a little over an hour traveling over Baltimore and the rural areas of Maryland and New Jersey. We landed at McGuire at about 10:30 am and were greeted by the 438th Airlift Wing Commander, Brig Gen George Cray III.
First up for the delegation was a mission brief by the 438th Airlift Wing followed by a windshield tour of the base which included dormitories, the local aerial port squadron, airlift control squadron, and a static display of a C-141B. After the tour we headed to the officers’ club for lunch. After lunch, we headed to the local air traffic control facilities for a tour and briefings.
Final stop for the delegation was with the local press for interviews. In attendance were the Asbury Park Press, the Star Ledger, Burlington County Times, Courier Post, and Philadelphia Inquirer.
At the press conference, General Kushneruk revealed some interesting difference in approaches to control tower operations. From the September 1st, 1993 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Much of the airspace technology and philosophies used at McGuire is the same … with a few minor exceptions as those employed in Russia, General Boris I. Kushneruk to reporters after touring the air traffic control tower.
This is more of a confirmation of what we plan to do, added Kushneruk, speaking through an interpreter. Everything we saw is something we have or are trying to get.
Kushneruk noted one philosophical difference: The pilot of an American military aircraft is most responsible for its speed, direction, and safety. In Russia, he said, officials in the control tower pretty much tell pilots how fast and hight to fly, when to turn and when to attack.”
After the press conference, we headed back to the flight line to board our helicopters and return to the Pentagon. We returned to the helipad at the Pentagon late in the afternoon and I was able to join my carpool mates for the ride home to Fairfax Station, Virginia, where my family and I lived. A few weeks later I was recognized by the Director of Operations for the Air Force, Major General Edwin Tenoso.