“We live once and if we do it well, once is enough.”
– Alla Berezovaya
Learning to fly an airplane can be more than a means to an end – a shiny new job. Flying is an incredibly rewarding hobby, and taking to the skies provides a joy that is unrivaled. The history of aviation is full of pilots pushing themselves and their aircraft to accomplish new feats and thrills.
Eastern Russia is home for one such thrill seeker and Gleim Aviation customer, Alla Berezovaya. For years she was a skydiving enthusiast, but living in remote Mirny, Russia, meant that opportunities to train in famous drop zones or with skydiving masters were scarce and very expensive. Once the local AeroClub shut down, Berezovaya was at a total loss. “What do I do next? How and what will fill this empty space inside me?” For Berezovaya, it was imperative that she return to the skies.
Berezovaya began researching how to buy an airplane in Russia and learn to fly. Her husband suggested that she find a flight school in the United States.
She decided to enroll at California Flight Academy due to their quick response and consistent communication. Additionally, the location’s weather would permit training year-round. She took a 20-hour flight to Vladivostok, Russia just to obtain her student visa. In October 2013, Berezovaya and her husband flew to San Diego to make sure everything was in order, and she began her flight training two weeks later.
“It was difficult, especially the first month,” Berezovaya says. “There were two women in the class: a woman from England, and myself, from Russia.” Being the only Russian student made learning complicated in the beginning. Eager to earn her wings, Berezovaya originally planned to fly twice a day, but readjusted her expectations after realizing there was a large amount of theory to learn first. Berezovaya became a private pilot in just four months.
After flying in different parts of the world, Berezovaya says she is very satisfied with her decision to train in the U.S. “In my opinion, learning to fly in the United States will give you the knowledge and confidence you need to fly in any airspace.”
After becoming a private pilot, Berezovaya flew to Alaska in a Cessna 172, where she became friends with Jamie Patterson-Simes, owner of SkyTrek Alaska. After a year of flying there, Berezovaya returned to California Flight Academy to obtain her instrument rating also in just four months. Her husband came back to America and the two of them spent the next two weeks flying across the U.S. and enjoying the sights before starting the journey home to Mirny.
In 2016, she decided to move forward with purchasing an airplane. Living in such a remote region, the Internet was Berezovaya’s primary resource for developing a reasonable wish list of features and locating a suitable plane.
“For any model I was willing to purchase, I wrote to the seller and asked for more information. Some answered that the plane had been sold, which actually happened quite often. Some didn’t answer at all. I think there was some skepticism that a female pilot from Russia would be looking to buy a plane from the U.S.”
Berezovaya enlisted the help of her old flight instructor, Jim MacKay, who served as her representative in the U.S. and vouched for her to establish her legitimacy as a buyer. MacKay’s assistance was crucial. “It was much easier to communicate with sellers. If someone did not answer me, I asked Jim to call the seller and ask the questions or urge them to reply to my original communication.” Still, Berezovaya spent months researching and contacting sellers.
In mid-July, Berezovaya located a Mooney M20C that was for sale. She used her AOPA membership to perform a title search. After confirming the aircraft didn’t have any damage history, she completed the purchase in September, then immediately upgraded the avionics. Berezovaya and her husband began the preparations to bring the plane back home, which meant planning for a flight across the North Atlantic.
To prepare for the extended journey, Berezovaya acquired custom-made survival suits, life jackets, personal locator beacons, and a signal mirror. “Oxygen equipment was given to me by my wonderful instructor, Jim MacKay. When he learned we were going into the Atlantic he was nervous and worried, so he gave me a brand new kit!”
Several other upgrades were also necessary to make the plane safe for extended flight. In addition to the avionics, she replaced the autopilot, a much needed option to minimize in-flight fatigue and free Berezovaya’s hands. The last major upgrade was an additional fuel tank. It wasn’t entirely necessary, but the extra fuel made Berezovaya more confident in her ability to fly across the North Atlantic.
Eventually, the plane was sent to Hazleton, PA, for its final servicing. After flight testing, the mechanics sent Berezovaya and her husband on their journey home with wide, soulful smiles. First stop: Bangor, Maine (KBGR)!
The next leg of the flight was a short, hour-long flight to Fredericton, Canada (CYFC), only stopping to pass border control.
After clearing the border and refueling, Berezovaya and her husband flew to Sept-Îles (CYZV) in the Côte-Nord region of Quebec. The new transponder malfunctioned, but she was able to manage the plane without much more hassle. In the morning, Berezovaya was pleasantly surprised. “Fortunately, the problem was very trivial. The connection to the transponder just needed to be popped back into place.”
The village hopping continued, from Goose Bay to Schefferville (CYYR – CYKL) and then Schefferville to Kuujjuaq (CYKL – CYVP).
As they prepared to make the flight to Greenland, the weather forecast showed that a cyclone was approaching with a 100% chance of icing, meaning that Berezovaya would stay grounded until the storm passed. “We had to go back to the hotel and enjoy a walk around the city. We got to climb the mountains to see a spectacular view,” Berezovaya says.
After departing from Iqaluit, the last village before the Arctic Circle, they had some challenges with icing. At long last, the Atlantic Ocean revealed itself in all its glory. The icebergs were visible and soon after, they spotted Greenland. After a very stressful initial flight, Berezovaya finally accomplished the first part of her dream of flying across the Atlantic.
The flight from Kulusuk, Greenland (BGKK), to Reykjavik (BIKF) took five hours and all she could see for miles was the Atlantic Ocean. “I’m thankful my husband was in the other seat,” quips Berezovaya. Pilots are under increased stress when flying in Arctic conditions, and Berezovaya thinks it is important the pilot and their passengers have great compatibility with each other.
Inclement weather seemed to be a theme for Berezovaya’s journey and Bergen Airport (ENBR) in Norway was no exception.
They made a short flight to Örebro (ESOE) in Sweden, then went on to Lappeeranta, Finland. For Berezovaya, Lapeeranta was important because it has a small, international airport (EFLP). With a U.S. private pilot certificate and aircraft registration, they’d be able to fly just about anywhere in the world from there.
Accomplishing this dream was an incredible undertaking. Berezovaya went from virtually zero knowledge about flying to a level of skill that made it possible to fly all over the United States, to remote regions in Canada, over the Atlantic Ocean, and then through Europe.
Berezovaya used many learning resources for pilots. “However, when the Gleim Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide fell into my hands, I realized that I was very lucky.” She appreciated that it was well-presented material, clearly organized in table form and divided into themes. “This book is still with me. I brought it to Russia and now read it periodically to maintain my knowledge. . . Now I have to pass a flight review and again this book will help me.”
As for what comes next, Berezovaya is making plans to visit more of Europe, explore Russia, and eventually take on the North Pole. In addition to knowing how to fly and owning a plane, she now has gained experience flying in some of the most challenging conditions. Berezovaya has done all the hard work already and is ready to fly wherever adventure takes her. We’ll be following up with Berezovaya to get more details about her flights in a later post.
About Gleim Aviation
Since 1980, Gleim Aviation’s team of pilots, instructors, writers, designers, and programmers has helped aviators pass millions of FAA knowledge and practical tests using the unique Gleim Knowledge Transfer System. Gleim is an environmentally-friendly company headquartered in Gainesville, FL.