“Fellas, now that’s devotion! All burst out laughing as one.
The starshina allowed me to leave the formation, and I hastily greeted my mother and blurted out, “What did you bring the blanket for? To make me a laughing stock?”
“My little girl, aren’t you cold under army issue? My heart told me so!”
“I am not a bit cold, any more than all the others! And take it back, please or they’ll laugh me to scorn…”
But at this moment my instructor approached, introduced himself to my mother, admired the blanket and advised that I was a good flyer and soon would do parachute jumping.
“What do you mean, a flyer?” My mother exclaimed and stood up from the stool, letting her arms drop limply.
Miroevskiy was surprised too. “Why didn’t you write your mother that you were learning to fly?”
I stood silent, and my instructor began to explain to mother as simply as possible what a U-2 plane was.
“Don’t worry about your daughter! Our plane is absolutely safe, just like a cart. But a cart is drawn by a horse and the plane is driven by an engine of several horse-power. And it’s good that you’ve brought the blanket. Everyone is cold at night: the forest is nearby, a river…”
My mum calmed down and trustingly addressed the instructor. “Please keep an eye on her, sonny. She’s kind of impulsive: first went to work underground, then climbed into the sky…”
“Alright, alright, mamma. Everything will be fine. Don’t worry about your daughter.”
The same day mum left for Moscow. The blanket stayed with me but, to be honest, it began to disappear quite often. Once when it was raining I decided to seek it out and located it in the blokes’ tent: Louka Muravitskiy, having wrapped himself in it as in a sleeping-bag, was sleeping soundly…
…Time went by fast. The guys and I worked for the Metrostroy, flew in the aeroclub — we did aerobatics in the landing zones near the aerodrome, did routine flights. When the weather stopped us flying we studied parachutes and parachuting — how to pack one and the rules for jumping. We would have to learn it later and, possibly, it would stand us in good stead… As expounded by the parachute trainer Vladimir Antonenko it was all very easy to do. But when the time came to jump I had barely managed to fall asleep the night before. In the morning the weather was fine — that meant we would be jumping. I remember putting on the parachute, primed it — in other words, pulled on the tight rubber bands and fastened them with strong hooks to the snap locks. The instructor checked the ‘priming’ and the nurse Ira Kashpirova my pulse, and at that moment something began to shake and ache in my chest! I walked to the plane like a bear, for the parachute hampered my movements. Clumsily climbing on a wing, I got into the front cockpit: the flyer Nikolay Lazarev was in the rear. We took off and gained about 800 metres altitude.
“Get ready!” I heard the pilot’s voice.
“Aye-aye”, I replied, scrambling onto a wing and looked down, grasping a console. Oh, God, how frightening! I wanted to get back in the cockpit and, probably, I would have done but the pilot slowed down and yelled “Go!” And gave me a slight shove forward!
“Aye-aye!” I yelled and jumped into the ‘abyss’.
From then on I acted the way I was taught. I pull the ring but for some reason I feel that the cord hasn’t come out and there will be no clap, and that means the parachute will not open! Suddenly I am jolted hard and the snow-white canopy opens up above me, and I am sitting on the straps as if in an armchair. I am surrounded by an amazing silence but an unrestrained joy grips me and I either sing something or shout. But the ground is already close. I tuck my legs a bit under myself and fall on my right side — everything according to the rules. Then I quickly get up, unfasten the parachute, furl the canopy and begin to pack it. At this moment the guys rush up, give me a hand and we unanimously agree to keep on and on jumping. It’s a really great pleasure! After the jump the earth feels a bit special and so do I. A kind of confidence has appeared in me — “I can do anything!”…
In autumn, when the U-2 training program had been completed, a State Commission from the People’s Commissar of Defence came to visit us. At first they examined us in all theoretical subjects and then began to test our flying technique. All of us performed aerobatics in the landing zone with excellent marks and the Commission was satisfied. It was time to say goodbye to the camp, to the aerodrome, to the instructors and to our comrades. We were happy and a little bit sad. We were happy that we had found our wings but sad because it’s always sad to part…
I was working at the shaft and after work opening the library located in the shaft’s dry mess. Instead of bookshelves there were sideboards and I sat next to them like a barmaid issuing ‘brain food’ — the books. The aeroclub graduation party would be in a month… We gathered together in the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre. All were dressed up — the guys even put ties on. The report was made by Guebner, the head of the aeroclub. He said most of the guys who had graduated from the club would be assigned to fighter pilot military schools. Mouravitskiy, Ryabov, Kharitonenko, Petoukhov, Vil’chiko, Khatountsev were among them. And suddenly, somewhat ceremoniously, raising his voice (or maybe, it just seemed to me?) Guebner announced, “And there is one “ladies’” ticket — to the Ulyanovsk OSOAVIAHIM pilot school. We’ve decided to give it to… Anna Egorova.
My breath caught from the unexpectedness and joy. Could it be the dream I’d been nurturing would come true? Everyone was congratulating me during break but I still didn’t believe it, was afraid to believe it was going to happen. I believed it only when I had received a referral to the school and travel papers to Ulyanovsk. A beautiful girl with a red beret and red scarf, one end of which was jauntily thrown over one shoulder onto her back and the other fluttering on her chest, stood out of those who had come to see me off. She was dressed in a black overcoat and on her feet she had shoes with French heels. She was Anya Poleva — Louka’s girlfriend — who along with me had undergone pilot training in our Metrostroy aeroclub. In an amicable way, Anya envied me leaving for pilots’ school, and said she would go on with flying in the training detachment of the aeroclub and would secure for herself a referral to the Ulyanovsk school.
“And what about Louka?”
“What about him? He’s gone to a flying school. I will keep studying too and when we get on in the world we will definitely get married… You know”, Anya said, “I can’t live without the skies now, without the aerodrome and its smell of petrol.” And she added with a laugh “I am mad about flying and Loukashka35!”
She and I parted tenderly and I didn’t know back then that within a year Anya would be no more. She fell to her death making a parachute jump from a plane. Her parachute didn’t open…
We all knew that Anya and Louka were in love — they were not making a secret of it. Louka, a native of a small village lost in the Belorussian forests, having come to Moscow to live with his uncle, joined an FZU and soon he started working as a sinker in a Metrostroy shaft and studying in the aeroclub. Upon completion of our aeroclub’s course he was assigned with Koutov and other guys to the Borisoglebsk Military Flying School. After graduation Junior Lieutenant Louka Zakharovich Mouravitskiy served in the Far East but the War found him in the Moscow Military District. He took part in aerial battles in his yastrebok36 at the far approaches to Moscow, later near Leningrad. The flight commander Mouravitskiy distinguished himself not only by his sober-mindedness in calculations and his gallantry but also by his readiness to do anything to defeat the enemy. At the same time it seemed strange to everyone that Louka would write with white paint ‘For Anya’ on each one of his planes. The commanders kept ordering the flight commander Mouravitskiy to erase the inscription immediately, but before a combat flight the inscription ‘For Anya’ would appear again. Nobody knew who this Anya was, whom Louka remembered even going into battle… Once just before a combat sortie his regiment commander ordered Mouravitskiy to erase the inscription and said “Don’t let it happen again!” And it was then that Louka told the commander about his lost bride: “Even though she didn’t die in combat”, Louka went on, “she was going to become an aerial fighter to defend our motherland”. The regimental commander backed down…
Translator’s note — diminutive for Louka.
Translator’s note — literally, ‘little hawk’ — a common nickname for Soviet fighters.