MOSCOW — Eleven-year-old Tony Aliengena arrived to a welcome from enthusiastic Soviet schoolchildren and curious airline pilots at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport Monday after a blunder by his on-board Soviet navigator sent him briefly off course.
The mistake happened while Tony was on approach to the Moscow airport following a 400-mile flight from Leningrad, his father, Gary Aliengena, said. The navigator, who boarded Tony's plane in Leningrad, provided an erroneous course heading for the Moscow airport, sending the child aviator from San Juan Capistrano in the wrong direction for about half an hour, Aliengena said.
After discovering the error, the navigator righted the course, said Aliengena, who laughed off the incident.
"It's one of those things," Aliengena said at his Moscow hotel room, where Tony, his parents and sister were lodged for the five-day stay here. Other members of the entourage, however, arrived to find no hotel accommodations.
The 2 1/2-hour flight--Tony's first full day of flying through the Soviet Union--proved otherwise uneventful. After detouring around some thunderstorms, Tony landed his father's red, white and blue Cessna 210 Centurion amid heavy media fanfare.
Awaiting Tony's single-engine plane were about 75 people including a large contingent of Soviet journalists and Moscow children wearing school uniforms. After Tony emerged from the cockpit and stretched, he practiced a Soviet tradition that follows a safe landing: taking a chunk of bread offered to him on the runway apron, dipping it in salt and eating it.
Recording the event was a media crowd so large that even press-savvy Aliengena was surprised.
"In my life I've never seen so many cameras," Aliengena said.
While the Aliengena family retired to their hotel in high spirits, events were developing that could put a damper on Tony's round-the-world trip.
Foremost was a growing indication that Tony will not get the long-sought meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, to whom he planned to present a friendship scroll bearing good-will signatures from more than 250,000 U.S. schoolchildren. Instead, it seemed likely that Gorbachev would be kept busy all week presiding over the session of the Supreme Soviet, said Sergei Tchermeykh, an official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation whose 10-year-old son Roman is accompanying Tony around the world.
Tchermeykh said Tony may have to present the scroll to one of Gorbachev's top assistants, a meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
"If he (Gorbachev) is free, he will will meet with him," said Tchermeykh, who was among those who turned out to greet the plane. "But I personally doubt it."
Tchermeykh Monday also provided some sobering insight on the rigors of the 7,000-mile Soviet leg of Tony's trip. He said Tony and his entourage would face formidable aviation problems while traveling into the sparsely settled countryside in the Soviet far east.
The biggest problem, he said, will be the inability of almost all air-traffic controllers in Siberia and the east to speak English. Tony will have to depend solely on his on-board Soviet navigator, who also could have problems finding his way because there is little radar coverage in the vast terrain through which Tony will travel, Tchermeykh said.
Tony also faces the daunting challenge of traversing a high range of mountains in the Soviet far east through which no small plane has ever flown, Tchermeykh said.
"It is a very difficult project," said Tchermeykh, who plans to accompany Tony on the trip. "But I think and say it is possible."
A more pressing difficulty confronted the nine Americans in Tony's entourage when they arrived in Moscow only to discover none had hotel reservations. The Americans had been told that the reservations had been made by the Soviet Foundation for Social Invention, an agency which is sponsoring Tony's trip through the Soviet Union.
Foundation representatives instead hustled the weary and confused Americans aboard a bus and parceled them out to the homes of various Moscow residents who volunteered their help.
The lack of accommodations angered some of the Americans, and the anger boiled over when a foundation representative began collecting passports and visas from the group.
"I don't know where I'm going, I don't know what I'm doing, and now you take my passport," Julia Roberson, a member of a Los Angeles-based film crew accompanying Tony, snapped at one of the foundation representatives.
Foundation officials said they would try to place Americans at local hotels for the rest of the week. In the meantime, they are staying with people such as Arthur Bouchara, a 23-year-old postgraduate student who opened his one-bedroom apartment in suburban Moscow to this reporter and his wife.
"This is unexpected from me because I learned about you only two hours ago," said Bouchara. Like many of the other host families, Bouchara is a member of the Moscow World Family Club, a group devoted to facilitating international exchanges.
And like the other hosts, Bouchara seemed thrilled to share his home.
"It is good that you come from your home in America to our home here to see how we live. We are very honored to have you," he said in English at his mother's apartment next door, where she prepared a hearty meal of beef, potatoes and salad for her hungry guests.
Later this week in Moscow, Tony will be putting on public display a Soviet friendship scroll that he was given in Leningrad to carry across the country. Between 150 and 200 children in Leningrad already have signed the scroll, which is to be presented to President Bush upon Tony's return to the United States.
Tony is scheduled to resume his trip Saturday morning with a flight to Kuibyshev.
FLIGHT LOG--Part II, Page 2