San Juan Capistrano's boy pilot met the press Soviet style Tuesday, predicting his round-the-world voyage will have the impact of a summit on international relations but conceding that flying is "basically boring."
A day after landing in Moscow, 11-year-old Tony Aliengena clapped earphones on his head to listen to an interpreter field questions from more than three dozen journalists gathered in an auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Why was he doing it? "I wanted to fly around the world," Tony replied. Was the trip difficult? "Flying is basically boring. Once you get in the air, you basically put the plane on autopilot." he explained.
But Tony's father, Gary, a licensed pilot and his son's co-pilot, noted that for half the trip, the autopilot didn't work until it was repaired in Oslo, Norway.
"I'm real proud of Tony," his father said. "He's a real strong boy. You asked if it was hard to fly. Yes, it was hard to fly. It's not easy to sit for hours and fly."
Gary Aliengena said he is concerned about the rest of the trip, which resumes Saturday, especially a 1,000-mile leg between cities.
"We will be very tight on fuel," he said but added that he was not overly worried by the terrain of mountains and forests. "See it like flying across the desert of California."
One reporter asked Tony if he thought the Friendship Flight would benefit the world, drawing the reply: "I think my flight will help as much as a summit meeting."
Today, the Aliengenas planned to unveil the 1,000-foot-long Friendship Scroll, bearing the signatures of 250,000 children, in Red Square if possible. The schedule also called for Tony to present 75,000 letters from U.S. schoolchildren to Soviet officials for relay to Soviet children.
Whether there would be a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, however, remained in doubt. Sergei Tchermeykh, an official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation whose 10-year-old son, Roman, is accompanying Tony around the world, said earlier that Gorbachev would see Tony if time permits. But he said Gorbachev was likely to be kept busy all week presiding over a session of the Supreme Soviet.
Gorbachev meeting or no, Gary Aliengena said at the press conference that he and his wife, Susan, would like to invite Tchermeykh and his wife to be in Orange County July 20 for the scheduled completion of Tony's around-the-world flight, which began at John Wayne Airport on June 5. Susan Aliengena and the couple's daughter, Alaina, are flying along.
Susan Aliengena told the press conference that she was enjoying the journey. "On this trip, I get to see Tony do it totally on his own," she said, referring to flying the plane. "If I didn't understand what Tony was doing in aviation, I would be worried. But since I do understand, I am not worried."
Tony, who hopes to become the youngest person to fly around the world, last year became the youngest pilot to cross across the United States.
The Aliengena family, his father told Soviet journalists, uses its plane the way other families use a car.
"The children are always in our plane," he said.
Gennady Alferenko, founder and director of the Soviet Foundation for Social Invention, which is sponsoring the Soviet portion of the trip, conceded that problems still remain.
Normally, "we don't have enough gasoline" to refuel a plane in the cities where the Aliengenas will stop, Alferenko said. Extra supplies have been provided, but the entourage will face the strange experience of visiting cities where most Soviets are not normally allowed, let alone foreigners.
"This is very important to show that we are free and we are open," Alferenko said. "I am happy that our children can wake up and see that they are free. . . . We wanted to show that the notion of freedom is the same for Soviet kids and American kids."
Alferenko joked that conditions in some parts of the Soviet Union that Tony will see are so "primitive" that there are "cities with hotels without swimming pools."
In Moscow, the Aliengenas are in one hotel and the other members of the group are in another, the Hotel Moscow, to which they were moved Tuesday. The group arrived in Moscow Monday to find that the hotel reservations they were expecting had not been made. After a night spent with various host families around the city, the entourage was moved to the Hotel Moscow, which is usually reserved for members of the Supreme Soviet.
The hotel, across the street from Red Square, features numerous suites with pianos, among its other amenities.
One hitch that developed after the press conference and a four-hour banquet honoring Tony and featuring champagne and caviar involved a four-person film crew that has accompanied Tony from California.
Crew members arrived in the Soviet Union assuming that they would be able to cross the country to film their documentary on Tony's flight, only to be told that so far they have permission to go only as far as Moscow.
"I'll have to deal with this tomorrow at the Kremlin," Gary Aliengena said, hoping to get permission from top Soviet officials for the crew to continue the journey.
PICTURE, Part I, Page 1.