This year's trip involved a 5 day visit to Moscow followed by a flight to the Black Sea resort of Gelendzhik for 3 days at the Hydro Aviation show. Once again I travelled with George Pick Travel, a company specializing in aviation tours all over the world. GP Travel arranged the flight from London to Moscow, our hotel accommodation, Russian Visas etc.
Moscow & Gelendzhik
Visit – 2002
Our Russian host was again Oleg Kapyrin who runs a Moscow-based travel company Krugozor and it was he who organized the coaches, passes, access to bases and museums etc.
We stayed at our favourite Moscow hotel - the Hotel Cosmos, on the 19th floor overlooking the 'Park of Economic Achievement' (VDNK). The weather was hot and sunny for the 5 days in Moscow, the forest fires that had plagued the city in the previous weeks had died down and the air was as clear as it is in any large city. The weather in Gelendzhik was even sunnier, with clear blue skies and temperatures up into the high twenties Celsius.
The following is a day-by-day account of what we did, complete with photos - as appropriate.
Wednesday 28th August
This year we flew with SAS on flight SK500 from London Heathrow to Copenhagen, then on to flight SK734 for the journey to Moscow Sheremetyevo. We arrived at the Hotel Cosmos at approx 4pm, tired but happy to be in Moscow.
Thursday 29th August
We departed the hotel by coach at 9am for the journey through heavy traffic to the once secret base of Chkalovskaya on the outskirts of Moscow. We waited in our coach at the gates for our escort and we were asked not to take any photographs from the coach of the many aircraft parked on the ramp - such things as Il-76 and Il-86's with canoe fairings and various lumps and bumps. It was difficult to restrain ourselves, but we complied with our host's request. Our destination was the ramp space belonging to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and they gave us a tour of their aircraft. We went a little further along the ramp than last year and managed to take more photos of the 'Aeroflot' Tu-16 weather ship plus the centre's L-39 trainers and some of the visiting aircraft - such as an An-124 and a departing An-32.
From Chkalovskaya we went 'next door' to the cosmonaut training base of Star City, where we were shown around a mock-up of the MIR space station, the huge water tank containing a mock-up of ISS components and the massive centrifuge. While we were there we bumped into a cosmonaut and his family - together with a retired cosmonaut named Viktor Afanasev. They allowed us to take photos of them and shook our hands.
From Star City we went the few miles to the Russian Air Force museum
at Monino. Having visited this place
many times it is gratifying to see that the buildings are being repaired
and some of the aircraft are being given a fresh coat of paint. This is
welcome - in that it helps preserve the airframes from the elements - although
some, like the Su-27M prototype with its unique 'ferris' style camouflage
scheme, are being repainted in historically inaccurate colours - a worrying
Friday 30 August
Our second full day in Moscow saw us on a coach trip through the heavy Moscow traffic to the Korolev Space Control Centre where we visited the control rooms of the now defunct MIR Space Station plus the operational ISS (MKS in Russian) Space Station. From Korolev we took a short journey to the Museum of Rocket-Space Engineering named after S.P. Korolev on the premises of the Energia Space Corporation. Inside a huge hangar are many examples of the hardware used in Soviet and Russian spaceflight - from the Sputnik capsule right up the the Energia rocket and Buran orbiter. A small souvenir shop on the premises did a roaring trade selling books, memorabilia etc to our party.
In the afternoon we made our way to the area of Leningradsky Prospekt
and the MiG OKB museum. We were welcomed
by the museum director and some of the staff from the design bureau who
explained the history of the MiG Corporation and showed us around the museum..
Saturday 31 August
Today's visit was to the busy domestic civil airport of Vnukovo. I don't 'do' civil - but I could not resist photographing the many colourful airliners that were coming and going. In each of the years we have been going on these visits, the access we are granted has just got better and better and this year was the best yet! We were allowed to go anywhere we asked - apart from the military ramp - and our hosts were most accomodating.
After a happy morning spent at Vnukovo, we travelled across Moscow to the airfield of Ostafievo. This is a naval aviation repair facility that also houses the terminal buildings and ramp of Gazpromavia - our hosts. As in 2001, they showed us their modern facilities and brand new ramp space, but in addition, we were allowed to travel by coach around the perimeter track past the military installation taking photographs as we went, although we were not allowed off the coach.
Nevertheless we managed to take photos of some very interesting aircraft.
From Ostafievo it was back into Moscow to the magnificent landscaped
grounds of the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War - known to all
as Victory Park. The memorials and buildings on this site are worth a day's
visit alone, but we spent the brief time we had visiting the outdoor aviation
exhibits. The museum has many replicas of Soviet GPW aircraft rebuilt from
excavated remains as well as many more modern types. On our way out of
the museum we spotted what looked like a tangled mass of scrap metal which
Oleg, on our behalf, enquired about. It turned out to be the remains of
a Junkers Ju-88 recovered from a crash site.
Sunday 1 September
An early departure today for a 3.5 hour coach journey to the city of Kaluga to visit the Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics.
I must confess that I had never heard of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky - but my lack of knowledge was soon corrected at this magnificent museum dedicated to the 'father of spaceflight'. Our lady guide spoke immaculate English and showed us around the museum explaining the history of Tsiolkovsky and his contribution to modern spaceflight. The rest of the museum contains many examples of Soviet and Rusian space hardware and we were allowed to photograph and ask questions of our knowledgeable guide. From the museum, we went to a small cottage that was the home of Tsiolkovsky - now preserved as a memorial to the great man.
As we were leaving Moscow in the early morning for Kaluga, your ever-alert
reporter had spotted some aircraft near a building on the outskirts of
Moscow - so we called in on the way back to investigate! The building turned
out to be the General Officers Academy and the aircraft were on display
inside the perimeter fence. Being Sunday evening the academy was closed,
so we took some photos in the failing light from the grassy bank outside.
The duty guards looked on in amusement at the antics of a bunch of foreign
aviation enthusiasts scrambling around trying to poke cameras between the
Monday 2 September.
A later start this morning for the coach journey to Domodedovo - Moscow's fastest growing airport that is becoming a rival for the international terminal at Sheremetyevo. Lots of construction work is going on with new terminal buildings, strengthened ramp space and a brand new rail link to Moscow city centre. Again, not one to do civil aircraft, I nevertheless spent a happy few hours taking roll after roll of film on all the many colourful airliners we were allowed to walk amongst.
From Domo, we travelled back into Moscow city centre for a quick walk
down the tourist mecca of Arbat street before going on to the Moscow modellers
club that meets every Monday in an old hall on Shosse Entuziastov (Enthusiast
Tuesday 3 September.
Today was our departure day for the flight down to Gelendzhik, so we left our heavy suitcases behind at the Hotel Cosmos and travelled light for the 3 days at the Black Sea resort. Our flight was at 11:20, so we had time for a visit to Vnukovo Aircraft Repair Plant number 400 - another first. We toured the ramp of this facility and were allowed to take all the photographs we wanted - as long as we didn't point our cameras at the government aircraft on the ramp next door. The highlight of this visit was the discovery of a preserved Tuploev Tu-114 - the airliner that was based on the Tu-95 Bear!
This was only the fourth example of this giant that I had seen, There is one at Monino, another at Ulyanovsk and a third is a gate guardian at Domodedovo. This 'Cleat' was in rather poor condition with faded paintwork and deflated tires, but they opened it up for us and we were allowed inside the cavernous fuselage.
From the repair plant it was a quick coach journey to the terminal buildings
to check in for our flight in a Karat
Airlines Antonov An-24 flight to Gelendzhik. The 3.5 hour flight was
quite pleasant - if a little noisy as we were seated in the front row -
right next to the propeller disc. The crew allowed us to visit the cockpit
- so a bunch of aviation enthusiasts went up to the cockpit, one-by-one,
much to the amusement of the Russian passengers. As we approached Gelendzhik
we passed over the flying boat ramp and slipway and made a sweeping turn
out over the sea before landing on the short runway at Gelendzhik. From
the small airport we were taken to our accomodation which consisted of
small chalet/cottages set in a wooded park just a few minutes walk from
the showground. A quick wash and brush up and it was down to the waterfront
to have a few beers at a local bar - and as we sat there watching the sun
go down, drinking our beer, what should appear but a Beriev Be-200! It
made a sweeping turn over the bay before it landed on the water and taxied
up to the ramp - ready for us to look at the next day. Talk about heaven!
Wednesday 4 September, Thursday 5 September
The next two days were spent visiting the HydroAviation Show After an early breakfast at our dining hall, it was across the road and into the show. We wandered around the ramp photographing the huge Beriev A-40 Albatros ASW amphibian and the smaller Be-200 flying boats. As well as the prototype Be-200, the first production example had arrived following its first flight only a few days previously. This one was finished in the colours of MChS - the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, or EMERCOM. As well as the two jet flying boats, there was a Be-12P 'Chaika' amphibian water bomber converted from the Be-12 'Mail' and a couple of Be-103 six-seat amphibians as well as numerous small leisure/sporting amphibians. One new design was the SA-20P - a conversion of the Be-103 that replaces the twin Teledyne-Continental western engines with a single Russian M-14X radial mounted centrally above the rear cabin. Being marketed by KnAAPO for Russian use, it promises to be a cheaper alternative to the Be-103, although they are reportedly experiencing CG problems because of the higher thrust line.
The show was opened on the first day by a pair of Kamov Ka-27 helicopters carying underslung flags - although I missed the opportunity to photograph them because we were inside the show marquee visiting the many trade stands! The Russian aerobatic team, the Striji (Swifts) put on a great display with six MiG-29's and the other aerobatic team from Kubinka - the Russian Knights - also paid a visit, although with only two Su-27's. The A-40, Be-200 and Be-12P taxied down the slipway and took off in turn before formating for a 3-ship flypast. The Be-12P and Be-200 both showed off their water-bombing skills and the Be-103's and the smaller amphibians all took to the water in turn to demonstrate their abilities.
The showground itself was busy, with displays by various manufacturers and organisations inside the marquee, there were numerous stalls selling all sorts of things, from T-shirts to model kits and souvenirs and the beer tents and barbeques were in abundance. We actually had to stop our wanderings on numerous occasions to sit down and have a few beers!
Our man Oleg organised a meeting with a gorgeous young lady from Beriev who arranged for us to go aboard all three of their products - the A-40, Be-12P and the two Be-200's. We were welcomed aboard by the crews and allowed to take as many photographs as we wanted. The A-40 and Be-200 were just like modern airliners - with glass cockpits in the case of the Be-200's - and capacious cabins fitted with test equipment. The Be-12P was a different matter! We had to climb a maintenance platform to get up to the small doorway and, once inside, it was difficult to access the cockpit through the narrow hatchways. It was just like being inside a submarine!
As well as the hydroaviation ramp, we travelled the 1km up to the small main Gelendzhik airport where there were numerous land-based aircraft on display. We persuaded the airport manager to let us walk over to where a Kamov Ka-27SP was parked and were greeted by pilot Sasha and his crew. Speaking perfect English, Sasha told us they were from Sevastapol and were based at Gelendzhik on SAR duty for the duration of the show. He let us photograph his machine and even let me sit in the cockpit and photograph the interior.
Tired and happy from walking around the airport and showground, we spent
each evening at our 'adopted' waterfront bar, sampling the local beverages,
watching the glorious sunsets over Gelendzhik bay.
Friday 6 September
On our last morning at Gelendzhik, we had a final look around the ramp,
visited the airport for one last time, before travelling by coach to the
city of Krasnodar for our flight
back to Moscow. As ever, Oleg had arranged for a ramp tour at this airport,
so having checked in and passed through customs, we boarded our coach for
a trip around the airport. A storm front had just passed through so we
had some interesting skies with a magnificent rainbow backdrop against
which to photograph the many airliners on the ramp. After exhausting all
the available aircraft, we drove straight to our waiting Kuban
Airlines Yak-42 for the 2.5 hour flight back to Moscow.
Saturday 7 September
Sadly, our last day in Moscow. After checking out of the Cosmos, we
boarded our coach for Moscow's main airport, Sheremetyevo. We had another
comprehensive ramp tour here before checking in for our SAS flight back
to London via Copenhagen.
Once again, I would like to extend my thanks to George Pick Travel for making the trip possible and to ‘our man in Moscow’ Oleg for organizing such a great visit and for being able to get us into such previously taboo places!
If you ever want to go on an aviation visit to Russia – or to any country for that matter – I can recommend George Pick. If you want any travel arrangements made in Russia, then Oleg is your man.
I have no connection to either company, other than being a very satisfied customer.