Overnight Sensation Page 2

Overnight Sensation

Part 2: On call at all hours, they performed their jobs for months on end as the huge airplane hurtled the globe.

By Capt. Bill Pike — December 2004

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Litschauer and I drew closer. The 124’s crew was assembling a prefabricated loading ramp they’d extracted from the interior, complete with rails and a special flatcar with hooks for winch cables. Litschauer dove immediately into the job he’d be doing the rest of the day: helping maximize the efforts of a half-dozen truckers, a couple of supervisory types from the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based freight-forwarder Penalpina, several rough-and-ready heavy-equipment guys from local crane-rental company Beyel Brothers, and well over a dozen Russians who comprised the plane’s crew, most of whom spoke little English.

I ambled over to a member of the latter group, a dark-haired, heavy-set fellow named Tcherepanov Serguey, who wore black Bermuda shorts, black work boots, white socks, and an “I Love Australia” T-shirt soaked with sweat. The conversation that ensued was fascinating, despite the gestures and facial contortions necessary to facilitate it. The crew, Serguey explained, lived on the “ship,” ensconced in quarters above the cargo bay. On call at all hours, they performed their jobs for months on end as the huge airplane hurtled the globe, from one place to the next, one job to the next, much like seagoing tramp freighters of yore. Stints of R&R at home in Russia and comparatively high wages were the reward.

The Beyel boys arrived midafternoon. After some preliminaries, two big cranes each hoisted a giant, 1,000-pound spreaderbar aloft, with a 60-foot, four-ply sling hanging down. With painstaking care, the slings were looped under the hull of the Sun Sport (twin cradle attached), and a safety checklist was performed.

All seemed ready, except that a smidge of Cold-War-type rivalry broke out. It began when one of the Beyel guys climbed the boom of one of the cranes and planted an American flag. Shortly thereafter, perhaps because I was viewed as a neutral member of the press, one of the Russians ran over to me and began yelling above the deafening roar of the engines, which had just started. Where was the generator he’d been promised, he demanded? Why did he have to use his engines to provide electrical power for the winches that would pull the flatcar and boat into the airplane? “America…huh!” he opined.

Next page > Part 3: From the vantage point of the crowd on the tarmac, it looked like the highest part of the boat-cradle combo was not going to make it! > Page 1, 2, 3, 4

This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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