It seems that a launch campaign only finishes when everybody and everything has really returned home. So I was asked to send the truly last report …
Last Friday, at the MIK, all our containers were loaded onto the special train, which then travelled during the night to Arkhangelsk. Just before midnight we said good-bye to Pavel, our doctor. And then the last group of the S3a launch campaign left Mirny around 1:30 in the morning to take the night train to Arkhangelsk, where we arrived a couple of hours later. Luckily, we had some additional hours of sleep at the hotel . Some of the Thales team followed the off-loading of the train. This was done by 14:00. Then we were all taken to the airport to meet the beast. The loading of the Antonov started in the early evening. At this point we had to say good-bye to Anton and Marina, who were taking their train back home to Moscow, a though moment for all of us.
Back on board, we had some time to explore our cabin – the twin toilet, the hidden smoking room, the kitchen with extensive and delicious catering, wobbly but comfortable seats, etc. Finally, the Antonov could take off around 22:00 – a breathtaking experience. The night in Ulyanovsk was again very short. Back at the airport in the morning, the formalities of passport control and luggage checking took quite some time, more than 2 hours. We all agreed that we had rather spent them in bed. The 4.5 hour flight went so smoothly that we all slept for most of the time.
Upon arrival in Nice, a kind of pulling/pushing device was off-loaded and attached to the nose of the plane. Then we were moved around the airport for almost 45 minutes until the final position had been reached. We were greeted by sunshine and warm, soft air. The Thales guys were very pleased to finally being able to use their sun glasses again. And with the start of the off-loading of the plane, our journey home ended.
If I had to describe our campaign, I would say that it was just like the taking off in an Antonov – it was a very bumpy ride, we had moments that threw us back in our seats, there was a lot of noise from all sides, and most of the time we had no idea in which direction we were going. But the moment of truth was smooth and weightless – BRAVO TO ALL !