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Bridge of Wings

July 4, 1998 Nashville: Nikki Mitchell and Rhonda Miles climb aboard their Maule M-5, a single engine aircraft, refurbished from a once tattered airplane rusting in a barn.   From Nashville, across the north Atlantic over the fiords and glaciers of Greenland, they fly into Moscow landing to a media blitz.  Despite the fact that general aviation is virtually nonexistent in Russia and private American citizens are rarely allowed to fly in Russian airspace, the Russian government has granted permission for the two Americans to retrace the 1938 Flight of the Rodina.    

In Moscow, they are joined by Khalide Makagonova, the 1984 World Aerobatic champion to fly with Rhonda in the US Maule and Natalia Vinokourova who has over 5,000 hours in a Russian AN-2 to fly with Nikki. The two planes - one Soviet and one US, fly wing to wing retracing the route of the Rodina.  Over the Ural Mountains and through the dense forests of Siberia, they land in remote areas flying a route seen by few Russians.  Each stop is a celebration.  Entire villages turn out to welcome the entourage offering the best of what they have to offer from champagne to horse's milk to to dancers and Tuvan throat cluckers.  

Every day was a brand new flight. A commercial airline cancels a flight so its fuel could be used. Air controllers postpone a strike until the commemoration is completed. A forest fire threatens to prohibit the last stop of the commemorative route.  During inclement weather they are vectored into a rock runway between the sea and mountains by the air traffic controller sticking his head out the window to hear the sound of the plane's engine in the clouds. leaving the Far East to continue circumnavigating the Northern hemisphere comes perhaps the most perilous part of the journey for Nikki and Rhonda.  The engine coughs over the icy cold water of the Bering Sea where survival time if the plane goes down is virtually zero.  They then fly blind over the night skies of Alaska with the aircraft covered in a fatal amount of ice.


Finally, 49 days after take-off and 15, 000 miles later, Nikki and Rhonda land in Nashville fulfilling a dream that brings two countries together to shine a light on heroic women pioneers of aviation's past. 

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