In spring 1999 I went on an aviation trip to Romania with George Pick Aerotours (Pick Travel) who runs specialised trips all over the world for aviation enthusiasts.
A party of 33 of us – including Brits, Dutch, Germans, Swiss & French – arrived in Bucharest on Sunday 2 May and travelled around Romania by coach visiting Air Force Bases, Sports aviation airfields, aviation factories and museums. The journey’s were long and tiring – but well worth it to see the fascinating and beautiful countryside. We covered about 2,000 Km in all, starting in Bucharest, travelling down to the Black Sea coast at Constantsa, then north to Buzau, back west to the famous town of Ploiesti, over to Craiova, along the Danube – and Yugoslav border – to Timisoara then back east skirting the Carpathian mountains to the beautiful town of Brasov. Then we travelled east again to Bacau, back to Brasov and then south through the mountains to Bucharest once again.
There is a nice map of Romania at :- http://city.net/img/tra/mag/map/romani.gif
What follows is just a brief overview of the trip – complete with just some of the many photographs I took along the way :-
Sunday 2 May
After arrival at Bucharest, a delay with some of our baggage shortened our visit to the Muzeul Militar Central, so we could only photograph the exhibits outside – IAR-823 & MiG-15. We stayed overnight in Bucharest.
Monday 3 May
By coach to Fetesti AFB where we were presented with a line up that
included a MiG-21 PFM (Romanian
designation RFM-M), a MiG-21 UM ,
a MiG-21MF Lancer-A ground-attack
version and a Harbin H-5
(Chinese built Il-28). We then travelled on to the Mihail Kogalniceanu
AFB with MiG-23’s , and
and a visiting
We stayed overnight at the seaside resort of Constantsa.
Tuesday 4 May
On to Zuzla helicopter base with IAR-316B Alouette III and IAR-330L Puma , then to the Romanian AF Training School at Bobocu with L-29’s , L-39’s and an ex-Presidential VIP transport Il-14 . We also visited a small sports airfield at Ploiesti. We stayed overnight in Ploiesti.
Wednesday 5 May
On the coach to Craiova to visit the IAR factory where they made (and
now refurbish) IAR-93 Orao fighter bombers (a joint venture with Yugoslavia)
and the IAR-99 SOIM jet trainer. We were not allowed to photograph at the
factory, but no such problems at the nearby Air Base, where we could take
pictures of the Orao and
the SOIM .
We stayed overnight in Craiova.
Thursday 6 May
We then had a long drive to Caransebes at one point travelling alongside the Danube river which forms the border with Yugoslavia. The scenery was magnificent and we arrived at the air base where we were shown the IAR-330L Puma .
We then travelled on to Timisoara, where we visited the Air Force Base
and saw the resident MiG-21R
and MiG-23 . We also witnessed
some flying by both types in the late afternoon.
An overnight stay in Timisoara.
Friday 7 May.
By coach again on the road to Brasov. On the way we passed a small roadside cafe and disembarked to get some refreshments and, more importantly, to photograph the Li-2 (Soviet licence built DC-3) that was there. In the afternoon we stopped at the Sibiu AFB to see more IAR-330L Pumas with the Carpathian mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. We arrived in Brasov in the evening and stayed overnight.
Saturday 8 May
Up early for a long coach journey to Bacau AFB with a MiG-15 UTI , an An-2 Colt , a Harbin H-5 , a trainer variant of the same (NATO code name Mascot), a MiG-21 RFM-M , a MiG-21U Lancer-B and a MiG-21 MF Lancer-C interceptor version.
We then went next door to the Romanian Aerostar factory and although the works was closed, the staff gave up their free time and provided a line-up of aircraft for us to photograph. These included a MiG-21MF Lancer-A and a MiG-21bis Lancer III .
The Aerostar representatives were very kind, spoke excellent English and explained that Aerostar were converting a total of 110 MiG-21’s into Lancers – 75 Lancer-A ground-attack variants, 10 MiG-21UM Lancer-B trainers and 75 MiG-21MF Lancer-C interceptors. The MiG-21bis was not a Romanian airframe but had been acquired and converted into a Lancer III to provide a company demonstrator for a potential export market. Also at the Aerostar factory were rows of Romanian Air Force MiG-21MF’s awaiting upgrade to Lancer configuration as well as an L-29 and an immaculate An-2 company hack.
We then drove back through some fabulous scenery and stayed overnight once again in Brasov
Sunday 9 May.
Today we visited an agricultural airfield near Brasov and saw an An-2 with a spray bar under the lower wings and the Brasov IAR factory where they rolled out a Puma for us. Those in the know in our party pointed out that this was an ex- South African machine. Later in the day we went to a small sports airfield at Bod where we saw a PZL Wilga glider tug and a Robinson R-22 . We were made very welcome and treated to refreshments – including some potent Romanian plum brandy before boarding our coach for a long but scenic drive through the Carpathian mountains back to Bucharest.
As we arrived in Bucharest we could see the preparations at Baneasa airport and along the roads for the departure of Pope John Paul who had been visiting Romania.
Monday 10 May
Our last day in Romania started with a visit to Baneasa where we saw some Kamov Ka-26 helicopters and An-2’s , then onto the military side of Otopeni airport where we saw a Eurocopter Dauphin , an An-24, an An-26 and an An-30 that started up and taxied out. Parked on the airfield was a Mil Mi-8PS VIP helicopter.
From Otopeni AFB, we went next door to the Muzeul Aviatiei , an aviation museum that will open to the public in June. We were given a tour of the museum and despite the miserable weather, I managed to photograph a Lavochkin La-9 , a Yak-23 and a MiG-19 . These were just some of the many exhibits at the museum and it is well worth a visit should you ever be in Bucharest.
We then went on a ramp tour of Bucharest’s Otopeni airport before boarding our British Airways Boeing 737 for a flight home.
This was an excellent visit by Pick Travel who, together with our hosts from the Romanian Air Force, laid on an unforgettable trip through a beautiful country and allowed us to see some of the many and varied aircraft in the Romanian inventory. Everywhere we visited we were struck by the warmth and friendship shown to us and by the sheer professionalism of the Romanian armed forces who are struggling to overcome some difficult circumstances.
My thanks to George pick, our Romanian hosts, Rudi the mad Magyar and Oliver the quiet Romanian who organised the Romanian end, Mikki our knowledgeable interpreter, Nicu the coach driver and Mort, with whom I had a nightly snoring contest.
Please note that a similar trip to visit Bulgarian air force bases and museums is in the planning stage for 2000.
Note also that I have no connection with George Pick – I am just a satisfied
customer who is trying to spread the gospel and share some of my experiences