Moscow & Gelendzhik Visit – 2006

For this visit to Moscow - and Gelendzhik on the Black Sea - I went with George Pick Aerotours

Saturday 2 September.

We departed Heathrow’s Terminal 2 on Aeroflot flight SU240 for Moscow Sheremetyevo. On arrival in Moscow we were met by our local guide Olga and taken by coach to the Hotel Ukraine – just opposite the Russian Parliament building in central Moscow.

Sunday 3 September.

First on today’s itinery was an excellent ramp tour at Domodedovo airport. Amongst the hundreds of very photogenic aircraft was a government operated Il-18 and a rare Sudanese Il-62.

The imposing Tu-114 gate guard has been chopped up and scrapped – because it is "not in keeping with the modern image of Domodedovo airport" - which, in my opinion, is nothing less than an act of short-sighted vandalism.

From Domodedovo we went to Bykovo – now almost derelict. After passing through impossibly tight security, we were then given free reign to photograph what we wanted – except for a couple of helicopters and a Yak-40 belonging to the MVD.

These are just a selection of the photos I took – a government Kamov Ka-32A of the 'Moscow Aviation Centre' (MATs), a very smart An-28 and, from a line up of seven such machines, a Myasischev M101T Gzhel of Moscow-based Dexter Air Taxis. 

From Bykovo, we went to the Central Armed Forces Museum – where I wanted to get a digital image of the remains of Gary Power’s U-2, but it was ‘not available’ – so I had to be content with photographing the resident airframes in the exhibition outside – including the Su-15 and Mi-24 Hind-A. 

On the way back from the museum, we called in at Park Pobed (Victory Park) – but the inclement weather dissuaded us from getting off the bus to see the exhibits, so it was back to the hotel for a well-earned meal.


Monday 4 September.

Our first scheduled stop was the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), but before that we called in to the old museum at Khodynka – to see what was happening at this old favourite site.

Sadly this once impressive collection is now gathered together in the centre of the old runway, surrounded by a chain-link fence, while high-rise apartment buildings go up all around.

There is talk of a new, indoor, super museum being built to house the collection, but in the meantime, the rare airframes are just exposed to the elements as the photos show.

From the depressing sight of Khodynka (not helped by the Moscow drizzle) it was a short coach ride to the hallowed halls of the Moscow Aviation Institute.

We visited the Structures Faculty - and had been told by a couple of knowledgeable Russians that we would not be allowed to take photographs - and this was confirmed when we were taken into a building containing loads of stripped-down airframe parts – including the escape module section from a USAF F-111 and an F-5 recovered from Vietnam.

The fin from Scott O’Grady’s F-16 shot down over Serbia was on display, plus lots of Soviet airframes – including a complete sectioned Su-27, a MiG-29 & Su-25.

In another room there were complete sectioned airframes of a MiG-23 and Yak-38 – the former having working retractable undercarriage, swinging wings and folding ventral fin to demonstrate these components to the aeronautical students.

Amongst the large collection of undercarriage parts was an experimental tracked chassis from an Il-28, the landing skid from a Me-163 and the tail wheel from a Mosquito.

We politely asked if we could take photos, and one of our hosts went off to see if he could get permission - his response was positive when he returned – with the effect that his audience soon dispersed to all corners of the building, cameras snapping away as though our lives depended on it!

We were like kids in a sweet shop – running round taking as many photos as we liked and asking questions of our amenable hosts.

It was a great visit to this Mecca of Soviet/Russian aviation and I think they were impressed by our knowledge of Russian aviation history.

Despite all the dire warnings, we came away with hundreds of great photographs – definitely another coup for George Pick!!!

It was with great sadness that we left MAI for our next destination – Monino.

What can I say about Monino? Despite having visited the place more than a dozen times, I still find things to photograph – in spite the miserable weather.

From Monino, it was a short coach journey the nearby Moscow Aviation Repair Plant (MARZ) at Chornoye – where they refurbish Mi-2 helicopters and do a steady trade in rebuilt An-2 biplanes as these immaculate examples testify.

The final visit of the day was to the newly-relocated Moscow Model Club - a good opportunity to pick up some bargain models, books and magazines.


Tuesday 5 September.

We checked out of the Hotel Ukraine for an early start to visit the Aircraft Repair Plant at Vnukovo, before boarding our Kuban Airlines Yak-42 flight to Krasnodar.

On the way into the airport complex, we stopped by the side of the road and took photos out of the coach windows of the newly refurbished ‘gate guard’ – an immaculate Tupolev Tu-104 airliner mounted on its plinth - in complete contrast to the sad fate of the historic Tu-114 at Domodedovo.

The 2.5-hour flight to was uneventful – and our Russian guides met us as we stepped off the plane in the heat at Krasnodar/Pashkovskaya – to be immediately taken on a ramp tour of the airport.

By the time we were on our way by coach to Gelendzhik, our guides had realised what our interests were, so they took us on a short detour to photograph a MiG-21 on a pole near the Russian Air Force base of Krymsk.

On the road to Gelendzik via Novorossisk, we passed by an imposing memorial to the Soviet Naval personnel who liberated the port city from the Germans. Our request for a stop was duly met and we disembarked to take photos of this imposing monument - no-one does statues like the Russians!

On arrival at Gelendzhik, our guides also told us that, unfortunately, we had been ‘bumped’ out of our chalet accommodation in the Gloria complex by some Russian security personnel!!!

I thought George Pick travellers outranked Russian Militia Guards – but apparently not.

Alternative arrangements had been made at a small private hotel – which was clean and tidy – but it was some 2kms away from the airshow ramp.

We ate at the Glorai restaurant and the manager of the complex arranged for minibus transport between our hotel and the restaurant, mornings and evenings plus a late minibus back after our evening drinks – but it wasn’t the same as being right on the doorstep of the Hydroaviation Salon.


Wednesday 6 September

Today was the official opening day of the Gelendzhik Hydroaviation Salon – to which we had ‘exhibitor’ tickets.

On our previous visit in 2002, we were able to walk from our chalets, down to the restaurant for breakfast and across the road into the show - but this time we were bussed from the hotel down to breakfast – and then we took the short walk into the show.

During a look around the airshow chalets, where we picked up brochures and books, I photographed a couple of large models of two Beriev projects – the Be-112 with rear clamshell landing doors and the perennial Be-2500 WIG..

Just before 11am, we decanted outside into the warm sunshine to watch the opening flypast of two Russian Navy Kamov helicopters carrying flags. 

These were followed by a singleton MiG-29 of the Swifts aerobatic team and then the six-ship Su-27 Flankers of the Russian Knights display team. 

Then followed the usual flights by the six-seat Be-103 light amphibian, the big Beriev jet flying boats – the A-42 Albatros and the smaller Be-200ChS – newly operational with the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations – MChS.

The Strizhi returned in the afternoon - this time with four-ship display to end of the flying display - which gave us the opportunity to wander around the stalls, have a few beers admire all the gorgeous Russian girls and take in the static display on the ramp.

There was a newcomer, the La-8 amphibian - but unfortunately, his float got damaged as he taxied into the water and he had to be helped ashore by his ground crew.

The evening ended with a spectacular firework display - which we watched from the comfort of the balcony of the local bar overlooking the show.

Aircraft numbers were down compared to the last time I visited in 2002 - due partly to the no-show of the Beriev Be-12P water bomber and the reduction in the numbers of microlight seaplanes. Another contributing factor was the closure of Gelendzhik airport itself.

In 2002, this small airport hosted a display of 'landplanes' - as well as the arrival & departures of scheduled flights. The airport is being rebuilt with a huge new runway to handle international flights, so with a bit of luck it will be ready for the next show in 2008.


Thursday 7 September.

Much the same today – flights by all three Berievs

After asking politely, we were allowed inside the MChS Be-200ChS - where I took lots of photos!.

Beriev were offering flights in their six-seat amphibian Be-103’s - to which we immediately signed up - 30 US Dollars for a 30-minute flight is not to be sniffed at!

After the pilot selected who would sit in the front (it’s a weight/CG thing – heaviest first) we were seated and strapped in - I’ll leave it to you to decide who lucky with the front seat– and he isn’t wearing a red T-shirt.

The twin Teledyne-Continental IO-360ES4 piston engines were started up and we taxied down the ramp into the water. It felt strange to be sitting on the sea with the water lapping over the wings as we accelerated for takeoff.

I think the Be-103 is a fairly sprightly performer – but with three hefty British aviation enthusiasts plus their cameras, plus the pilot - it took a while to unstick – even after bouncing off a few wave crests!  

Once airborne however, we circled the beautiful Gelendzhik bay a few times taking photos of the Beriev ramp – with the new airport being constructed in the background. 

There was another Be-103 up at the same time, so our pilot formated on it, allowing me to take some good air-to-air shots..

As the flying display finished at 2pm, a small coach was quickly organised and we took a trip to the nearby port of Novorossisk, where, we had been told, there were a ‘couple of wartime aircraft’.

As we passed the docks, I spotted a Soviet Sverdlov Class cruiser – the Mikhail Kutuzov, with a US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry frigate berthed behind it. The Soviet Cruiser is apparently a floating museum, so it is on my personal list to visit next time…..

Continuing round the bay, we arrived at our destination – this Il-2 Shturmovik being lovingly restored by an old gentleman.

Although the household paints he was using were not strictly accurate and the aircraft had car wheels in place of its originals, he was at least making some attempt to preserve his country’s proud wartime aviation heritage – unlike the vandalism at Domodedovo.

From the Il-2, we continued down to the shore – with its monuments to the liberation of Novorossisk 

From our excursion to Novorossisk, it was back on the coach for the journey back to Gelendzhik.   


Friday 8 September.

This was the day that our party split – with 6 returning home and 4 of us staying for a few more days.

The departure airport was Anapa – where a ramp tour had been arranged – so all ten of us boarded our coach for the 2.5 hour drive to the airport.

Being a small regional airport, there wasn’t much there, but I did photograph an Atlant-Soyuz Tu-154 and a government Tu-134 - amongst others.

Unfortunately, this was the day that the two aerobatic teams, the Russian Knights and Swifts, decided to fly as a nine-ship formation back at Gelendhik – 5 Knight’s Su-27’s and 4 Swift’s Mig-29’s – so we missed them.

With the main party left behind at the terminal to catch their flight from Anapa, the remaining 4 of us made the trip back to Gelendzhik - where we went back inside the show to have a few more beers, watch the pretty girls - and look at the aircraft.

The hapless La-8 finally got his float fixed and went up for a display - and we retired from the show to sample the excellent local wine at a waterfront bar, before returning to our hotel, tired but very happy.


Saturday 9 September and Sunday 10 September.

For the remaining two days, it was pretty much the same – visit the show chalets in the morning, photograph the ramp and the flying display until mid afternoon, have a few beers until the evening meal, then visit the bar and sit on the balcony with a cold beer to watch to moon rise over the hills on the balmy Gelendzhik nights.

The Beriev Be-200’s performed lots of water drops, the Aquaglide Ekranoplan transited the ramp and skimmed across the waves at high speed before returning.

The Be-200 and A-42 Albatros went up for a final display, while the Be-200 made some more water drops – and taxied past very slowly with its main cargo door open - the amount of freeboard below the open hatch looked very small – it looked like it would take in water very easily in anything but the very calmest of swells.

The model Be-112 that we had seen on display in the chalets on the opening day was wheeled out and taken up for a flight – it looked very real as the photos show.

The final highlights of the show was the Mi-8, a ‘break’ by the three Be-103’s and final displays by the Strizhi MiG-29 and Russian Knights Su-27 aerobatic teams.


Russian Beauties

Gelendzhik was bursting at the seams with gorgeous looking girls - even the waitresses at the bars and the Gloria restaurant were stunning.

The following photos are not for those of a nervous disposition - they were taken at quiet moments during the flying display and in the interests of social anthropology - in order to prove that not all Russian women look like Olympic shotput champions!

Maria Sharapova, eat your heart out!



This was another excellent George Pick trip to my favourite aviation country, Russia.

For a committed Russian aviation enthusiast, the unique opportunity to visit the Aladdin’s cave of MAI was worth the money all on its own.

Add to that the beautiful setting of Gelendzhik bay, the sight of large jet-engined flying boats taking to the water, the superb weather, the excellent beer and local wine - not to mention the stunningly beautiful local Russian girls - and you have the perfect recipe for an enjoyable trip by anyone’s standards. 

Everyone at Gelendzhik is so friendly – we made lots of new friends with the staff at the Gloria complex and promised to return in two year's time.

The fact that I took 4,000+ photographs speaks volumes about the trip – and I wasn’t the top shooter by a long way!

The little local difficulty with the accommodation in Gelendzhik was soon overcome – but we owe the Russian Militia a return match!!!

Please note that I have no connection with George Pick Aerotours – I am writing this trip report as a satisfied customer.

©Ken Duffey

March 2007