Moscow, Samara & Saratov Visit – 2007
For this visit to Moscow - plus Samar & Saratov - I went with George Pick Aerotours
08:30 departure from Heathrow’s Terminal 2 on Aeroflot flight SU240
for Moscow Sheremetyevo. On arrival in
After an overnight thunderstorm and torrential rain, the morning did not look too promising for photography, but by 09:00, the sun was out and we set off for a ramp tour of Bykovo airport. This is one of Moscow's quieter airports although there were a few items of interest to photograph.
From Bykovo it was across town to the excellent Russian Air Force museum at Monino - the place is at last having some money spent on it, with one of the hangar roofs being replaced and the outdoor exhibits showing signs of having been spruced up.
The main hangar, which suffered a disastrous fire a couple of years ago, is rebuilt, but not yet open - although the new toilet block was!
I took the oppotunity to do walkrounds of the M-17 Stratosphera, M-50 Bounder and 3MD Bison for modelling purposes - as well as some of the other famous exhibit.
Last port of call for the day was the nearby Air Force base of Chkalovskaya. In previous years we had only been allowed onto the Gagarin ramp, but this year, to our delight, we were bussed around the perimeter track to the transport ramp - and allowed to photograph the line of Tu-134's, Il-76, An-12 etc.
As long as we didn't point our cameras across at the parked Il-86 'Maxdomes', we could take as many photos as we wanted.
An early start for the drive to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Terminal 1 for a one-and-a-half-hour flight down to Samara in a Tu-134 of Aeroflot Nord.
On arrival at Kurumoch Airport we stepped off the aircraft onto the hot (37deg!) concrete for a quick ramp tour - before boarding our coach for the journey through heavy traffic to the Samara State Aerospace University .
On the way we bemused the local drivers when we stopped to photograph the resident Il-2 Shturmovik on a plinth on a roundabout in the middle of town.
On arrival at the University, we were shown a few airframes that were being worked on by students outdoors, before being ushered into the hallowed halls where we were allowed to take as many photos as we liked of the structural airframes, missiles and space hardware.
From the University proper we went to their small airfield on the outskirts of Samara - where we were told, we could get inside a Tu-144!
Unfortunately, the steps up to the entrance door were set back from the airframe by a few feet - and despite the best efforts from our host, we were unable to move the steps to bridge the gap - so near and yet so far!!!
Last port of call was the GA airfield next door - to photograph the few resident helicopters and aircraft.
Another early start - this time for the drive to Zhukovsky for MAKS. We made the journey to the airfield in good time, but were then sent completely the wrong way by the Militia.
Instead of going into the VIP car park at the eastern end, we were directed into a gate at the western end - and had to then drive along the 'secret' ramp inside the complex until we got to our correct coach park.
We hadn't at first realised where we were being sent - so were not ready with our cameras. It was a mad scramble to get the cameras out to photograph the area - something for which you would have been arrested in previous years!!!
It also meant that we were now inside the airfield - without having gone through a baggage security check and without having had our tickets checked.
The organisation on that day was absolute chaos - we were lucky, there were reports of others having to sit in traffic jams for hours before getting into the show.
I took loads of photographs of the static display - the 'trade' days are much quieter in terms of crowd numbers - you can at least get near the aircraft!
By coach to Domodedovo for the 09:20 flight in a Saratov Airlines Yak-42 to Saratov - arriving at 10:55.
We were then taken by coach to the Long Range Aviation base at Engels - where they had towed out a Tu-95MS and Tu-160 for us to photograph.
We also visited the excellent base museum - with its rows of bombers displayed outside and a small indoor exhibition.
From the base, we then drove across the Volga back into Saratov to Victory Park on a hill overlooking the city - followed by a visit to the small sports airfield at Dubki - where Yuri Gagarin flew before becoming a Cosmonaut.
The temperature in Saratov was up in the 40's Celsius - so the flight back in the evening to the relative cool (31deg) of Moscow was welcomed.
An early start for the long drive to the showcase airbase at Kubinka - home of the 237th Proskurovsky Guards Regiment named after Ivan Kozhedub - and residence of the 'Russkiy Vityazi' (Russian Knights) equipped with the Su-27 Flanker and the 'Strizhi' (Swifts) mounted on the MiG-29 Fulcrum.
We picked up our officer escort on the outskirts of Moscow and arrived at the base - where we were met by another officer who escorted us into the base.
After showing us around the reception hall and small trophy room, we were allowed into the main hangar to photograph a Russian Knights Su-27.
After visiting the MiG-17 Gate Guard, we were ushered onto the apron to witness the arrival of an An-12 & Il-20 to accompany the An-26 that was already there.
After taking as many photos as we liked, we waited and photographed the departure of the Strizhi MiG-29's for their display at MAKS - after which it was handshakes all round and back onto the coach for the long journey to Tver.
On the way to Tver, the weather took a turn for the worse - with torrential downpours - the only time we got wet during the whole 9 days in Russia.
At Migalovo airbase on the outskirts of Tver, we decanted from our coach and boarded a smaller base bus to be taken to the apron where an An-12, Il-76 and An-22 were laid out for us to photograph and climb aboard.
The weather wasn't ideal for photography - but I did what I could.....
Another day at the MAKS airshow - this time on the public day when the show is teaming with the Russian public and the crowd is ten-deep around the exhibits.
I sat in the VIP enclosure on a raised seat which gave a good view of the flying - although it is set back from the crowd line.
Conditions for photography were not good - hot, hazy sky and shooting into the sun - still, I did what I could....
At the end of the day we were sat in our coach waiting to leave, but there was a traffic jam at our end - so we were directed back along the 'secret' ramp!!
This time I was ready with the camera though - and we asked our coach driver to drive slowly - in case his engine overheated!
Time for a relatively lazy day today - visits to museums and sights in Moscow.
A later start on the coach for the first port of call - Red Square - to give the newcomers on the trip a chance to see the sights.Then to the Central Armed Forces museum. Not much changes at this place - although the remains of Gary Powers' U-2 is back on display - so I took the opportunity to photograph it.
After a quick visit to Club-TM model shop (where I picked up the Amodel M-50 Bounder!) - it was off to Sparrow Hills (formerly known as Lenin Hills) for a spot of souvenir hunting, before boarding the coach for a visit to the beautiful setting of Victory Park to photograph the collection of aircraft and tanks.
From there we went across the city to the new Zadorozhny Museum (Museum Techniki).
This is a privately run museum that has a magnificent collection of rare cars. The place is being refurbished and our knowledgeable host kindly opened up the small hangar where the aircraft collection is temporarily housed. Most of the aircraft exhibits have been gathered from the Yakovlev museum - although there is a genuine WWII Luftwaffe Bf-109G waiting to be re-assembled.
From there we travelled up to see the A-90 'Orlyonok' Ekranoplan. This has been towed up the Volga and Moskva rivers from Kaspiisk on the Caspian Sea to form part of a new naval exhibition on the riverside near Tushino.
The A-90 joins a submarine and a hovercraft and has now been raised out of the water onto a plinth. Unfortunately it is not yet open and is difficult to photograph through the surrounding trees - we ended up scrambling up the opposite bank to take some shots!
There is a standing joke amongst our tour group - that I 'don't do civil'.
However, when faced with loads of Russian aircraft, in gorgeous colour schemes, up close and personal in great weather conditions, my camera has a mind of its own.
Today's first visit was to the bustling civil airport of Vnukovo - Moscow's premier domestic airport. The place is abuzz with activity - lots of aircraft movements, loads of structural work on new buildings and ramps. We were let in through the VIP gates and boarded an airport bus which took us to various spots around the ramp - where we decanted and were allowed to walk around the area as the aircraft taxied close by. We then settled down at the holding point to watch the aircraft depart - much to the bemusement of the passengers as we waved to them!
Weather conditions were almost perfect - a storm had just passed through so there was a backdrop of black clouds with the sun just starting to appear.
For someone who 'doesn't do civil' - I manged to squeeze off a few hundred photos.
From Vnukovo airport we travelled a few kilometers around the outer road into the Vnukovo Aircraft Repair Plant - VARZ 400.
This place seems to have become a bizjet centre as well as a repair plant - there were lots of Learjets and BAe-125's etc. Sadly the resident Tu-114 airliner is no more.
From Vnukovo, we travelled across Moscow to the international airport of Domodedovo for another ramp tour.
This had always been a good ramp tour - with us enjoying lots of freedom to de-bus and walk the ramp.
This year however, our 'minders' - two young ladies - kept us on a tight leash and it was somewhat restricted. We had to walk down the ramp BEHIND the aircraft!
We did witness some securityl forces being trained though - boarding from Landrovers onto an Il-62 that was being towed along the ramp.
I did take a few photos......................
Late departure to Sheremetyevo - where we said our farewells to our guide Marina and driver Igor, before boarding the Aeroflot flight back to Heathrow.
I had a great time this year - with a few new places to visit. I thought the weather in Moscow was hot - but it was exceeded by Samara & Saratov.
The organisation by Georg Pick and Oleg was, as usual, first class and I look forward to visiting Russia again next year.