George Pick Aerotours
in association with
Russia / Arctic Circle 2005
Here is Steve Kinders report of our highly successful trip to Russia and the Arctic Circle in June/July 2005.
To supplement this report Dave Potter has kindly provided 80 photos from this trip. We are just trying to put a slide show together for these photos and the link should be up shortly.
To watch a slideshow of Davids pictures - click here - it will take about 3 minutes to show all the slides if you are using Broadband.
23rd June 2005, once again saw the gathering of the group in Moscow for this year's adventure. Every year, when the tour is over, we always say that it cannot get any better and this year was again, to prove an exception.
Friday 24th June was an early start at Vnukovo Airport, and at first, I was slightly apprehensive. Arriving via the VIP area and not the back door as on previous trips, a group of four officials made much fuss, concern about the "new" regime was uppermost in my mind. I need not have worried because these guys were really the "top shelf", access to all areas most of it on foot, and no problems waiting for sunshine. On that subject, this was the first visit in really good, sunny weather with wispy blue clouds an added bonus. The airport was crammed with TU-134s and TU-154s with a smattering of IL-86s and Yak-42s and also the Yak-40 ramp. With the Kapat AN-24s and an Armavia A320, tis gave a whole new interpretation of Paradise - a Mr. Clive Grant stated "I think I am in Paradise" - nice comment Clive. It is difficult to pick out the stars but the Mayor of Moscow's Atlant Soyuz TU-154 in its Aeroflot look-alike scheme was probably the best, but with so much to see, everything was just awesome.
Sadly missed was the Armenian Government TU-134 under tow but as this was on the "no photos" list, it was probably for the best. It was that good that we over ran our time - three and a half hours on an international airport - that we arrived at the re-work facility somewhat late. No worry here as this was to be a tour on 4 wheels not two feet, stars here were definitely the China United TU-154 from Beijing and the Iran Air Tours TU-154 in new colours.
Onward from here to Sheremetyevo which is not my favourite airport, but is an essential in any tour of Moscow.
A whole mass of Aeroflot in new colours with a smattering of VASO Airlines IL-86s and Continental Airlines TU-154s, there is still an airworthy IL-14 here, but then to our surprise or even bewilderment -almost disbelief - an Indian Navy IL-38 landed and taxied past us to park on SVO 1. Bizarre, and why we will never know, but what a treat for the group! The clouds were now forming and it was at haste that we visited the Institute where the star was an ex-Kazakhstan Air Force TU-134-still in full uniform being operated by Euro Asia Airlines. I took the opportunity to tour the airport as a cloudburst drenched the airfield - a smart move - as when it had cleared, the sun reappeared and a return to the Institute was in order. A very happy group returned that night to the Hotel Cosmos.
Saturday 25th June and now our suitcases were on the move as we vacated the Cosmos after just 1 night. Today we started at Bykovo Airport, Moscow's forgotten airport but which always holds something very special. An 09.00 hours start - early starts are now mandatory wherever possible. Bykovo is now home to the Gromov Air AN-12 fleet - three - and today's totally unexpected, fabulous, fantastic treat is an MIR IL-18 with stubby nose. A very rare aircraft that once flew for Daalloo Airlines, Russian Emergency Services Mil-26T and an AN-24 of Flight Training Academy, which was scheduled to leave at 11.00 hours, the time we should have left but at 11.05 hrs, the group was all in position as the Antonov started engines and taxied for take off. The smiles on faces told its own story as it climbed into the sky.
Late again, arrived at Domodedevo Airport with minutes to spare and as usual, my very good "associate" Max was there to meet the group. Security has tightened dramatically after the two Black Widow bombings last year, and I was particularly impressed with the procedures for ramp access.
This year, we were allocated two young ladies to look after the group, and in no time at all we were dispersing on the big ramp that was covered, with a cornucopia of fabulous machines - all in sunshine. Highlights were the "new" Inter Avia IL-62s and Aplha Airlines IL-62s and Russian Skies IL-76. Altogether there was in excess of 24 IL-62s here. A Mr. Clive Grant was heard to remark, "I know now that I am really in Paradise". Thanks Clive - it is nice to be appreciated. Oddly enough, circa 16.30 hours the oddest event took place. Parking too close to a Transaero B767, brought the attention of the Border Police who promptly arrested our two female escorts and also tried to take away Olga, our guide, whose basic retort was - "If you think I am leaving this bus with that young man in charge you can think again, but for a good thirty minutes we were without escort, so we made the most of this, to work our way around the last ramp. Just finished and back they came, a minor oversight in paperwork and we were out - no problem, we had photographed just about everything. Thankfully the whole group saw the somewhat comical side of these events - still not bad 12.00 hours until 16.30 hrs. Time for cheap beers and pizzas on the second floor passing away the time until our 21.40 hours departure on RA-42336, a Yak-42 of Tatarstan Airlines to Kazan, capital of Tatarstan.
Arriving at 23.05 hrs, gave the group a lie in the following morning with a ramp tour scheduled for 11.30 hrs. I must thank our hosts for the most fabulous and patient tour. Once again as tour escort, I was given the chance to call the shots, in other words when and where and how? It is a timely reminder that it is this freedom that makes these tours legendry!
What was to be a one hour sojourn, was transformed into a three hour masterpiece, including the group being in the perfect spot, to shoot an incoming IL-114 from St. Petersburg with a football team, an arriving Mil-2, and a brief visit of an AN-2. Highlight though for everyone was Red 10, an AN-30 of the Russian Air Force! Down to the re-work facility, and again, waiting for the sun, now an acceptable modus operandi, then more Yak-40s, Yak-42s , TU-154s and AN-24s were in the bag. Particularly interesting was the Cubana Yak-42, although sympathy to one member of the group - it was the only one he had seen before!
The afternoon saw a full tour, and a really great tour of the KAPO helicopter plant, wow - but no pictures, hardly surprising with production lines of new machines-Mil-17s and loads of mock-ups and "copies". The afternoon was completed by a tour of the city, a fabulous place, great architecture in a Muslim city-and the evening was spent drinking copious amounts of beer at the beach bar, listening the football in the stadium across the river. St.Petersburg got 1-0 in the 90th minute - bet that flight home was quiet!
Monday 27th June saw a visit to the KAPO - sadly disappointing as it was only to a museum, a room with a plane in it and no airside access but if things were not to run smoothly - then here was as good a place. This was followed by a tour of the KASPO helicopter production plant-a terrific visit-but photography was banned - the minders saw to that - but the spotters had a ball, with all the frames about.
After an excellent lunch, we set off for our bus journey to Ulyanovsk. Oddly enough it was a journey which had brought a certain element of questionability, but proved to be immensely successful as it gave the group the opportunity to savour the countryside and also get some well -earned rest. That shop must still wonder what hit them - 22 hungry, thirsty "foreigners" suddenly sent sales through the roof!
Tuesday 28th June and we started the day at 09.00 hours at the Aviastar plant and Vostocny Airport. A really odd situation as two airports are linked by approximately 2 miles of taxiway. The home of the AN-124 - Polet-Volgar and Russian Air Force and even an Air Cairo TU-204 tucked away in a hangar. Highlight for me w as the Russian Air Force AN-12 - quelle surprise - an eternal resident but still fabulous.
The Aviastar plant is effectively dead - a couple of languishing TU-204s are still visible - and a word of apology to those security guys - there is little point being asleep on duty and then balling everyone out as they are leaving! Better luck next time!
Next stop is the Aviation Institute which majors in pilot training and whilst the weather is overcast and time is running out, the TU-154s, AN-24s are proving invaluable frames! The Magadan Tuploev 154 was just awesome-miles from home-such a scoop!
As if the fingernails were not already gnawed away - another hurtle to the Museum was likely to be down to the bone - "Gentlemen - 1 hour and we go!" As always, this highly disciplined bunch of "nutters" deported themselves magnificently - highlight-----------------the TU-116!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Need I say more!
And then, on to the Central Airport - an awesomely busy emporium of activity - 1 single aircraft - our privately chartered Yak-40 - RA-87484 of Volga Dnepr-for our flight back to Moscow's Vnukovo Airport. Quite bizarre, watching a crew standing about as the airport seemingly has only 2 employees, in reality, the case as check-in and baggage handling, is in the capable hands of just 2 people.
Airborne at last, the Yak-40 speeds towards Moscow Vnukovo Airport. Landing at 18.40 hrs - late - this then presented some operational problems for some group members - which as a team we resolved. A couple of members left and a couple arrived.
No respite here though. As the same night, we departed Vnukovo for Syktyvkar on UTAir TU-134 RA-65607 - a Pocket Rocket which, by now we all worship! Arriving at our destination at 23.35 hours, stamina is a must on these trips.
Wednesday 29th June was not a day for the faint hearted. I had been tipped off that the airport had banned photography - so why were we there? A visit to the museum - none existent - a room with some pictures! So it is days like this that tour escorts live or die! 22 "nutters" want their pictures and frames and nothing is an option. So after an hour of witnessing three Russians on 4 different telephones, all blaspheming, not only at each other but also at the persons at the end of the phone, after one hour a meeting was called on the steps of the terminal - grim faces - even angry faces but as soon as there was no ban on cameras, I knew that there was a glimmer of hope and for the next hour, the joy, the sweat, the frustration as we commandeered the bus to shoot everything on the ramps without getting off the bus! Better still this is the base of Komavia, whose AN-24s go no-where near Moscow so these two are a total scoop and the Fire Brigade AN-26-so rare made the journey totally worthwhile. Once again-22 happy, smiling faces t old a story!
A very relieved tour escort steps outside the terminal for a tobacco relief, only to be dowsed in rain -just how lucky can you get! At 13.00 hours and not a moment too soon, the UTAir TU-134 RA65607-the same one again - I must complain - departs this minor diversion on to our next major objective, this time with a difference-a major score to settle - St. Petersburg
A couple of years ago, whilst I was still learning the trade I had a disastrous day here and have promised to get even, ever since, and this was that chance.
Arriving at Pulkovo International Airport at 14.55 hrs, the afternoon was to be spent at the downtown Rzhevka Airport. It is amazing how clients change their interpretation of events when their eyes feast on the star of the afternoon - an IL-14 that has not been seen since 1999 - fully airworthy - the weather somewhat poor so I decide that we could wait for at least an hour, for the sun! Imagine the euphoria as the sun finally made an appearance, not fleetingly, but for like ever, and the group went totally mad, burning film on not just these awesome IL-14, but the in-house fleet of AN-2s and a couple of Mil-8s including the one that was painted up for Putin's visit to celebrate the anniversary of St. Petersburg. In reality, it does not get any better than this. Oh yes, it does! See tomorrow!
Thursday 30th June, dreams do come true and this developed into the most awesome ramp tour you could imagine - including a full tour of the famous Sparc Mil-8n re-work facility, with its in house Mil-8 simulator - with a Colombian Air Force crew learning the ropes and its 5 x Iraqi Air Force Mil-8s and a Sudanese Police Mil-8-this is now the thing that dreams are made of! The ramp tour was added to by the rarest of rare AN-30s of Lukaviatrans - yellow and blue - and an hour of waiting for the sun!
The Pulkovo B737s added to the day and to cap off this fantastic day - at 17.40 hrs after about 5 red herrings - the groups Mil-8 flight finally rotors swinging - took off for the most fantastic low level tour of St. Petersburg, only the tour escort sat white faced faced with the possibility of missing the next flight!
Cutting it fine! Well that is a whole new concept as we disembarked - totally saturated in a fantastic day - no rest for the wicked, the group immediately checked in for UTAir TU-154 R-85767 to Murmansk!
Arriving at 22.05, this could be another good night for sleep, but bring on Stretch Gordon and his OAG book! Sadly -agreeing to get the group up early to appease Gordon's insomnia only then to find that you had got it wrong!
Never mind Stretch Gordon - after last year's arrest, this was just a minor indiscretion, and we know how you love to be in the spotlight - OK group appeased, we then proceeded to do our full ramp tour of Murmansk - a desolate and dismal place as you could imagine-BUT how many people can say, they have been to Murmansk? A trip up the control tower was next, which also houses the local ATC. The option to photograph the soon to depart Aeroflot Nord AN-24 was offered, either from a birds eye view or ground level.
In the absence of everything else, including chasing plinths, then a visit to the local monument - the first and obvious option! See Murnansk on a dark and dreary road and the docks railway yard with its coal and logs-a finite minder of the quality of life back home, a fantastic view and one that fulfilled one of my personal ambitions.
Back to the airport, the Aeroflot Nord AN-24 had returned from Tromso in Norway, the crew bemused with 22 "nutters" totally engrossed in their newly painted Antonov. As the Antonov taxied out for take-off to Arckhangelsk, the smiles on faces told the story - interestingly enough the tour escort discovered how to order not only beer but also Vodka on this flight and a big thank you to the two Russians sat across from Mike Barth and I in the front row, for the two very large glasses of Black Label passed across for the cementing of international relations. Arriving at Arckhangelsk at 21.10 hrs and with a 50 minute journey, tomorrow was definitely lie in day, no matter what Stretch Gordon's OAG said.
Saturday 2nd July and we started the day back at the airport at 10.00 hours, and wha t a glo rious day. Not a policeman in sight and the preserved IL-14 outside the terminal just about as good as it gets!
Whilst awaiting formalities or even when complete, the group was glued to the iron railings by the terminal as a ABV Airlines TU-154 was about to depart. Now this machine is another scarce frame as it does not fly to Moscow. Aeroflot having acquired a majority shareholding in Arckhangelsk Airlines, and having now created the Aeroflot Nord colour scheme - then even ABV in old colours will soon become collector's items! Out on the ramp, no restrictions-Aeroflot Nord TU-154, ABV AN-24s and a real scorcher - an Aeroflot Arctic AN-24 survey aircraft in orange and white. We were in constant touch with the tower about arrivals and departures so that nothing was missed on the move and the line of 22 photographers must really have impressed the flight deck of the Aeroflot Nord AN-24 that arrived. More used to seeing no one at all, the straggle across the apron must have seemed bizarre!
With the departure of "our" TU-134 to St. Petersburg, we had little option but to vacate the ramp as this was then the next arrival and the group seized control of a number of benches between the terminals, where in the glorious sunshine the next few hours were spent devouring copious amounts of very cheap beer! Mr. Barth was doing his bit to masquerade as a native Irish ably assisted by Dublin's Mr. Fish McDermot t: doubtless neither remembers anything of the flight back to Moscow. But once again, fabulous relaxed access, superb weather, great shots and super aircraft is the only recipe for happy punters and boy, where these happy punters. To add to the chronic abuse of the beer shop, the flight was announced at being over 90 minutes late, which was only greeted by cheers, as beer sales in the kiosk once again rocketed.
RA-66502 of UTAir was a "subby" on our flight back to Sheremeteyevo, a personal disappointment as it should have been an Aeroflot Nord example but the relief to get these boys back into Moscow, the more determining factor.
Sunday 3rd July once again saw an early start as we departed the Aerotel Hotel at Domodedevo for another excursion to Vnukovo Airport, where the access was even better than last time, the motto here -the better and organised the group airside, the more faith and trust that will be shown - another 3 magical hours. Sadly, time up , we have to leave and literally hurtle to Ostafyevo Airport, the home of Gazpromavia. As usual, our hosts are polite and helpful, but as little now changes here except for the scrapping of derelict aircraft, then undoubtedly, this will not now appear on any future programs? Access and transport cost dollars, and really I see no option.
And now the fun really started. We were now off to Chernoye, a place I had never heard of and not really showed a ny desire to visit! Even more fun ensued as the coach could not locate the correct exit off the main drag and as we passed the same row of shops, time and time again, I could feel the old adrenalin starting to pulsate! Finally, on a general vote, we arrived, and to everyone's amazement there were some 60 AN-2s and 60 Mil-8s here. The weather again was glorious and the group was allowed to roam at will-even I found this place fantastic and it will be included the George Pick Moscow weekend in 2006.
Back to the Aerotel finally for dinner and beers.
Monday 4th July. Domodedevo Airport re-visited-now VIP clients as to compensate for the previous visit and now SK is in complete control - please go where you wish - which we did until 14.00 hours. Shot of the day, without doubt, the first Russia Sky IL-86 in full colours!
Finally at 14.00 hours, time to close and depart and the group finally boarded their last Russian coach for the journey to Sheremeteyevo. Time to say goodbye as the majority were heading to Heathrow with the band of northern renegades heading to Frankfurt, then onwards to Manchester.
As a precis, just the best yet, to such an extent, that 20 of these guys have committed to Siberia 2006-which will be different dates to Moscow Weekend 2006-for the first time.
Gentlemen, I must thank you all-great trips are transformed into legendary trips by the behaviour and discipline of t he clients and guys, you were the best.
Thank you to you all and I look forward to seeing you all again on Sakhalin Island next July!
To supplement this report Dave Potter has kindly provided 80 photos from this trip. We are just trying to put a slide show together for these photos and the link should be up shortly.