Soviet Planes

Tarig Hilal
4 min readMay 11, 2022


Few things are less reassuring than a Soviet plane run by a Sudanese airline.

My mind, now feverish for lack of sleep, imagines the Russian lettering across the entrance to the plane as a warning that I step aboard at my own risk.

Stooping to enter I find myself in a dark and dingy world, a ceiling so low that I remain doubled up all the way to the main section of the plane, where I am able to straighten my back; my head hanging low to avoid knocking myself against the ceiling. An air hostess, dressed in a blue uniform and cap straight from the age of aviation glamour welcomes me aboard.

I am in a long, dull windowless tube of steel and grey, sealed against the bright morning, a single light bulging from the ceiling like an insects eye glowing dimly on a space shorn of all of the usual accoutrements of commercial flight.

The cloth on the seats is worn thread bare, there are no overhead compartments, no carpet on the floor… just bare the bones, like the central part of an army carrier. I expect to look and see a jeep rolling in.

I sit down and flick the lever protruding from the side of the cabin; the light hesitates for a moment and then comes on, flickering as if unsure of its new duties.

I pull out the safety guide from the seat in front of me. Oxygen when I need it will come from a green cylinder with a hose attached to it, where this cylinder can be found is not indicated. There is an axe conveniently available in a cupboard at the front of the plane and the pilot appears to have his own emergency exit.

I study the instructions for opening the emergency door with great care, there are only two steps involved in the process but I remain confused and after five minutes or so stuff the plastic sheet back in its home hoping that in the event of a crash the adrenalin rush will sharpen my senses enough to figure it out.

The engine starts, the plane shudders, the sound is immense, the heat overwhelming, I feel tired. I am enclosed in a steel tube in one of the hottest countries in the world and the temperature is what you would expect it to be and rising. I close my eyes momentarily and pray.

The crew walk up and down the cabin, nodding, smiling, checking our seatbelts, asking us to stow…