Moscow &Gelendzhik Visit – 2008

For this visit to Moscow and Gelendzhik- I went with George Pick Aerotours

Tuesday 2 September

09:30 departure from Heathrow’s Terminal 1 on British Midland flight BD 891 for Moscow Domodedovo. On arrival in Moscow we were met by our coach driver and taken to the Aerotel – for a one-night stopover.

Wednesday 3 September - Anapa, Temryuk, Novorossisk & Gelendzhik

An early morning Transaero flight from Domodedovo to Anapa on the Sea of Azov - where we were met by our guides Olga & Sasha.

Onto the waiting minibus for the one hour drive to Temryuk to visit the military museum, then back onto the bus for the long drive to Novorossisk.

In the port city of Novorossisk, we looked around the cruiser Mikhail Kutuzov, but decided to postpone the planned visit to the Il-2 memorial until the last day on our way back to Anapa airport.

The final leg of the journey was along the Black Sea coastal road to Gelendzhik, where we checked in to our spacious apartments before heading to the seaside promenade for a well-earned beer.


Thursday 4 September - Gelendzhik

After a bit of a mix up with our tickets, we finally got into the HydroAviation Show at 09:45 for our first day at the show.

The show was opened with a flypast by two Ka-27PS helicopters trailing large flags - followed by the 'Strizhi' (Swifts) aerobatic team with their six MiG-29s.

The usual routine then followed - with the Beriev A-42PE ASW/SAR flying boat taking to the water, followed by the Be-200 doing water drops. There were a couple of different participants this year - a Swedish-registered Cessna 208 Caravan on floats and a Russian operated Robinson R-44 on inflatable floats as well as an Aerovolga La-8 seaplane and a couple of microlights.

The other Russian aerobatic team - the 'Russkiy Vityazi' (Russian Knights) put on a display to close the show.

We travelled back to our apartments for dinner before wandering down to the promenade to have a beer and watch the sunset and firework display.


Friday 5 September - Gelendzhik

The day started quietly enough - we got into the showground by 8:20am and were able to wander around the ramp area without any hindrance.

I asked the pilot of the Beriev-operated Be-200ChS test aircraft that was sitting on the ramp if I could go aboard to take some photos - to which he replied in broken English - "No problem".

Having taken a few shots of the cabin and cockpit, I was about to descend the boarding ladder, to join the rest of our six-strong group, when they shouted up telling me to stay aboard because we were all going for a flight !!!

Apparently they had asked the Chief Flight Test Engineer if they could join me on board - to which he replied "You fly"?

Naturally enough, they thought it was an invitation, so they said "Yes"!!!!

The engineer called his boss on his mobile phone, who came down to meet us - and approved the flight.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time!!!

The flight itself was superb. There were no proper seats aboard - just the flight test crew stations and a few folding canvas seats, but that was a minor inconvenience!

After taxying down the sloping ramp into the water, the takeoff was surprisingly smooth and we then climbed and formated with another Beriev - this time the Be-200ChS in service with MChS - the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

After a few circuits of Gelendzhik bay in formation, we separated before descending onto the water to make our first scoop, skimming across the calm sea to pick up 12 tonnes of water.

As the scoops hit the water, there was a feeling of hitting a brick wall followed by quite a bit of buffeting, but as soon as we were full, the aircraft took off and all was smooth again.

Flying out over the mouth of the bay, we then turned onto a heading parallel to the flying boat ramp, where we made our first drop - and then made a G-inducing, knee-straining tight turn to port before a gentler descending turn to starboard ready for our next pickup.

We were ready for it this time - and it wasn't such a surprise - we were becoming old hands!

In total we made no less than five water pickups and drops and we changed places as best we could so that we all got a chance to see out of the large bubble observation windows.

The Swiss journalist who was also aboard had pre-arranged his flight through official channels and kept asking us how we came to be on board. He couldn't quite believe that it was purely by chance, good luck and the generosity of the Beriev crew.

After 40 minutes flying, we landed and came ashore after the flight of a lifetime - and it was still only 09:47!!!

The rest of the day was spent in a bit of a daze - we were still re-living our incredible experience.

There was some more flying by the Russian Knights and the other show participants - plus another round of water scoops and drops by 'our' Beriev - so we got the chance to see what we had experienced from the outside.

Back to the apartments for dinner, before going down to the promenade for a few beers, then back to the rooms to pack for our last day in Gelendzhik.


Saturday 6 September - Our last day at the show.

The usual early-morning arrival at the showground - where we were allowed in by the security staff who had by now got used to these six mad Brits with tickets that weren't valid until 10am!

We wandered round the deserted ramp, watched the Mi-8 depart from Krimsk and made our way into the pavillion for the last time.

After a welcome beer, it was outside to see the normal routine of the Swifts MiG-29 display and the A-42PE and Be-200s doing their stuff, before leaving the show at noon to catch our minibus back to our apartments to collect our bags for the long drive to Anapa to catch our flight to Moscow.

Due to an administrative problem with our coaches, we were late leaving Gelendzhik and had to make a frenzied drive past Novorossisk - therebye missing the chance to see the promised Il-2 monument.

We arrived at Anapa airport with minutes to spare - and were rushed through check-in by a frantic S7 airlines staff to board the waiting Tu-154M for the 18:05 departure - much to the amusement of the other passengers.

The flight arrived at Moscow's Domodedovo airport at eight thirty - where we were met by our Russian guide, the lovely Natalia.

A frantic drive through the busy Moscow traffic to the Hotel Cosmos - where we arrived too late for the booked evening meal, although the catering staff, after some pleading, managed to russle us up a packed meal.

After a brief foray outside the hotel to purchase some bottled water, we finally got to bed after midnight.

It had been very busy day!


Sunday 7 September - In and around Moscow.

The Sunday morning Moscow traffic wasn't too bad as we made our first visit of the day - out to Vnukovo airport to the aviation repair plant - VARZ-400.

We walked the ramp photographing the resident airframes in various states of repair - mainly Tupolev Tu-154Ms

From Vnukovo, it was back into town to visit the collection at Victory Park, followed by the Central Armed Forces Museum.

A brief detour to visit the Club-TM model shop in the Olympic Stadium - and then on to the Central House of Aviation on Leningradskiy Prospect before crossing over to visit the collection at Khodynka.

Khodynka used to be a superb museum with an interesting collection of mainly ex-operational aircraft, but the airfield has been encroached on by developers and the old runway is now a car skid pan.

The aircraft are packed inside a fenced compound with a guard hut - but the airframes are suffering from the attention of vandals.

There is talk of money being found for a new museum, but in the meantime, the airframes are just rotting away.


Monday 8 September - Ledovo, Chkalovskaya, Chernoye & Monino

Something new today - a visit to the small aircraft collection near Dolgoye-Ledovo.

This had been spotted on Google Earth and so a request was put to our Russian organisers for a visit - which was duly granted.

On this day we were to combine forces with another tour group - they were 50-strong compared to our six.

Our small group arrived early and had finished photographing the collection by the time the others arrived late - so we waited impatiently for them to do their stuff.

The small colllection was interesting - if a bit dishevelled - and included no less than three rare MiG-21MTs.

From Ledovo we travelled in convoy the short distance to the Russian AF Base at Chkalovskaya, where a mix-up over entry permits meant we had to wait a while to get in.

Once inside, it was the usual routine of de-bussing on the transport ramp to walk along taking photos.

Our Russian Air Force 'minders' were fretting over trying to control such a large group as they spread out along the flightline - it was like 'herding kittens' as I commented to one officer.

We were only allowed to visit the transport ramp area - and were strictly forbidden from pointing our cameras towards the Il-82 communications aircraft and Il-86 'Maxdomes'.

Our much smaller group had, in previous years, much more freedom to take photos - this year, with such a large group, we had, understandably, more restrictions placed on us.

From Chkalovskaya, we travelled to the Moscow Aviation Repair Plant (MARZ) at Chornoye.

This small factory seemed to be doing a brisk trade in refurbishing An-2 biplanes and Mi-2 helicopters.

Once again we split from the main group and visited the fabric and paint shops before photographing the immaculate An-2s awaiting delivery.

By this time we were running behind schedule so we left the other group and made our way to the fabulous collection at Monino.

By this time it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at Monino it was 16:30 -and the weak afternoon sun was low and the light was fading.

I must have photographed the collection at Monino a dozen times before - but I still managed to take hundreds of photos before we had to leave as the museum was closing at 18:00.


Tuesday 9 September - In and around Moscow.

The weather - and Moscow traffic were both atrocious today - it took us hours to get from one place to the next through the gridlocked jams.

First port of call was to see the Lavochkin La-7 monument near Khimk, then on to the magnificent Zadorozhny Museum .

This museum just gets better - it was originally an automobile museum, but now houses the Yakovlev museum collection and is adding new exhibits all the time.

We were met by the Museum Director - Sergei Yefimov - who showed us round and allowed us free access to all the exhibits.

He invited us back next year - with the promise that they would have a Hurricane and Il-2 on display. He showed us some large packing crates in the grounds outside and teased us about their contents - "Come back next year to see what is in them" he joked via our guide Natalia.

We shall certainly be back.

From the museum we battled once again through the traffic jams to see the A-90 'Orlyonok' Ekranoplan - but due to an administrative oversight, we found that the place was closed!

The applaing weather prevented us from even taking photos from the outside!

Last port of call was the Moscow Aviation Institute - where we arrived ninety minutes late due to the traffic.

When we visited the place in 2006, we were given free access to photograph everything - but this year it was 'No photography'.

Despite the best efforts of Natalia and our leader Mort, they were adamant that we could not take any pictures - such are the vagaries of Russian bureaucracy!

Due to our late arrival, we also could not get in to see the helicopter collection - the door was closed!


Wednesday 10 September - PVO Museum & Flight Home.

The last visit of the trip was to the PVO Museum at Balashikha.

This was another first for us - the staff showed us around the small museum dedicated to the defenders of Soviet airspace and Natalia did her best to translate the technical questioins and answers!


From there it was a long drive to Domodedovo - where we said our farewells to our guide Natalia and driver Vadim, before boarding the 17:10 BMI flight back to Heathrow.

I had a great time this year - with a few new places to visit.

There were a few disappointments - MAI and the A-90 as well as the limited access at Chkalovskaya, but it all paled into insignificance as we remembered our stunning flight in the Be-200 at Gelendzhik!

The organisation by Georg Pick and Oleg was, as usual, first class and I look forward to visiting Russia again next year.

Ladies at Gelendzhik

During lulls in the flying display, my camera kept zooming in on the dozens of gorgeous Russian women ........


Ken Duffey

September 2008