George Pick Aerotours

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George Pick Aerotours Weekend visit to Russia/Siberia 2006

Here is Joe McDermotts report of our visit to "The end of the earth - Russia/Siberia2006".

To watch a slideshow of 36 of Joe's pictures click here (Your browser will need to support JavaScript for this to work - most do and it should tell you if it doesn't!)


00:01 Local, January 1st 2006.

Everybody going nuts, big party, lots of noise, here comes the ugly bird across the pub and all the nightmares that go with it.   "You enjoying yourself Joe ?" she screamed over some awful DJ. All I can think of is I will be 50 this bloody year & I need something to look forward too besides a headlong rush to a slow death, just   a little something to get me through the winter & make the future seem bearable.

During one of our many exchanges via the interweb, in which we discussed in general the world's geopolitical outlook, future of the species & world peace (as viewed from any pub in Dublin or Manchester) Steve Kinder suspecting my general glumness, let me know that he had just "cracked it".   By now I knew this meant only one thing, "permission granted" for some obscure place I had never heard of & would have to dig out the Philips Atlas to find ! Excellent, life still had some meaning after all.

June 13 th & I pitched up at Heathrow. Found a small group of fellow George Pick travellers in Terminal 1, & boarded a BA 767. With formalities completed on arrival at Mocow-Domodedovo, we kicked off with a two-hour ramp tour in excellent weather. A Rossiya IL-18 & a Cubana IL-96 were the stars & helped give us a thirst. Next stop the bar in the Aerotel !   Over the next few hours the remaining tour members arrived & pulled up stools.

The next morning we hit the DME ramp & storage area before settling down near the active runway. Bykovo in the afternoon was a bit depressing for anyone who had visited before, stored cars now covered almost half of the ramp area !

Anyway, back to DME for our Kras Air flight east (IL-86) to Krasnoyarsk (stopover) & on to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (TU-154), all the way east to the Bering Sea. On taxi in we noticed a few Russian Navy aircraft on the mil ramp, including a TU-134, 2 IL-38's & 2 Beriev 12's. A warm official welcome followed at the end of the aircraft steps along with some photos. Baggage collected a few minutes later & we trotted off to our hotel for two nights, a walk of no more than 200 meters. Right next to the hotel is a small aviation exhibition building with a Lisunov 2 sitting on top ! Myself & room mate Chris Mak actually had a room looking straight out at it.   The hotel laid on a very welcome dinner, after which many knackered travellers headed for the nest, thus missing the arrival of airport representatives bearing gifts of free beer (trays of the stuff) !   This led to a small group of us headed by Teemu Tuuri & SK, ably assisted by Duncan Campbell, Paul Joules, Chris Mak, Chris Walkden, Brian Utterley & myself, standing around in the dark outside the hotel with said beer for the next few hours, being quite happy & relaxed (with a Mil-26 in the circuit for company) !

After breakfast in the terminal it was ramp tour time, in excellent sunshine, almost all the PTK fleet (L-410, Yak-40, AN-28, AN-26) was present. Research back home had suggested an IL-14 could/should be present. It was eventually located in the trees, behind the fire station, it's fuselage only remaining & being used as a shed !

Tour complete, it was time to board a bus & head for the heliport, hop on a MIL-8 & off volcano spotting for the next 2H 45M. Spectacular is just one word for this flight, stunning would help describe the terrain. This breathtaking flight took us over Kamchatsky's spine of towering volcanoes to emerge at the UNESCO World Heritage listed "Valley of the Geysers". During the flight a earthquake below us registered 4.2 on Richter scale.

With the afternoon free, some headed into town, some walked around the perimeter & a few of us sat in the sun, just outside the tiny bar, next to the ramp, & relaxed, until it got dark.

Next morning it was a 09.30 departure onboard a Dalavia TU-154M to Khabarovsk (Central). No ramp tour here during our stop over, so a few of us made the very short walk (less than 1 Km) to Khabarovsk 2. A couple of Antonov 38's, several AN-28's, close on a dozen AN-2's & some MIL-8's & -26's make the trek worthwhile !   Back at Central we found SK, Reg Warren & Chris Mak relaxing in the beer tent & joined them.

A Dalavia Antonov 24 was our next mode of transport & Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk our next destination, an airport kept busy in support of oil & gas exploration. SAT Airlines are based here & two of three of their DHC-8 were present.   Another ramp tour in glorious sunshine & off to our hotel, the "Mega Hotel" & it was Mega, had the look of a hotel built by & for the use of the guys who own the oil wells !

Next morning we boarded a Vladivostok Air 154 for Vladivostok. On arrival the ramp tour commences & once again, we had   brilliant sunshine to shoot the Vladivostok Air fleet & stored Yak-40's & choppers. That done we headed west on a Pulkovo 154 for Krasnoyarsk, this time we had an overnight scheduled there.  

We were a bit taken aback on the morning of the 20 th , when our ramp tour of Krasnoyarsk-Emelyanovo kicked-off local media photographers out numbered us !   After an hour or so they left & we got to photograph the stored aircraft & the technical college airframes. Then we were bussed to Krasnoyarsk-Cheremshanka, about 2 Km away.   Straight to the stored MIL-26's, then on to shoot some MIL-8's, a couple of AN-2's, some Antonov twins, 24, 26, 30, 32 & 72 & 10 YAK-40's. The morning of the 21 st was also blessed with the weather. With a few hours to spare before our departure, some hopped into taxies, some hopped into the beer tent, some returned to Cheremshanka. The object of the taxi operation was an IL-62 sitting beside a lake just a few miles short of the threshold. Some reports say it landed short of Emelyanovo, others say it was trucked here for use as a bar, either way, it's a very strange place to set up a bar (although very scenic), & it was closed !

Next stop Ekaterinburg-Koltsovo, the home of Ural Airlines, and a 3-hour flight on a YAK-42 belonging to Elbrus-Avia, operating a Kras Air flight.   Once again, our hotel was located close to the terminal, about 250-meter walk. The beer tent was a further 250-meter walk. After a pit stop there, followed by a 300-meter walk we were at the tree line, behind which an IL-18 sat, on it's tail end, engines removed.   This was followed by a very relaxing few hours in the beer tent with almost the entire group !

After a 07.30 breakfast it was a 09.05 departure on an Urals Antonov 24, which we had, well, for the day.

First stop Perm-Bolshoe Savino with an hour to complete the ramp tour. Mo st of Perm Airlines fleet was present, along with some Antonov 2's, Mil-2's & -8's, both stored & active machines. A couple of stored 134's & AN-24's were graphed & back onboard with time to spare. On departure we routed over Perm-South, a small grass field with 2 IL-14's (one preserved in front of the buildings, the other parked by the perimeter fence) & about a dozen AN-2's.

Onwards to Chelyabinsk-Balandino where things changed. Firstly, the weather here was overcast with some light rain. The Chief of Security was also rather overcast (& dull) & refused to let us anywhere near some stored 134 & 154 aircraft. There was very little else here except a YAK-40, a brace of Air Force AN-26, & a broken up IL-18. The guy had been told that we were flying in to photograph the stored (civil, mind you) airliners (3 in all) but it was one of those "jobsworth" things. Anyway, we boarded our Antonov & taxied out. Strangely, as it happens, the crew applied the brakes & did some gentle engine runs, just abeam the stored airliners. When the camera clicking stopped so did the engine runs !

After about 1H 20M flying we arrived at Tyumen.   First of note, an UT Air ATR-42.

And the weather had improved. Our guide got us around the ramp & UT Air's maintenance area in about an hour. Back onboard the Antonov for the return to Ekaterinburg, the beer tent & some relaxation ! Ural Airlines had been great hosts, had kept us fed & watered on each leg of the journey.

Next morning we were on Ekaterinburg's ramp for about five hours in blazing sun. Just as well we went around at a leisurely pace. Most of Ural's fleet turned up for us along with a few interesting visitors. The military ramp was off limits to us, but we did get quite a good view of most aircraft there & a few photographs. But for most of us the heat was getting a bit much, so back to the beer tent we went ! 18:56 local & we were airborne again, heading west, this time on an Urals IL-86 bound for Moscow-Domodedovo. This was a very comfortable flight, Ural's keep their aircraft very clean & smart looking. Even the in-flight meal was excellent.

On the ground at DME approx 21.00 local. Baggage reclaimed, we started the short walk to the Aerotel, which took us past the preserved TU-114 just outside the terminal. Amongst the group quite a few comments were made about this magnificent aircraft & it's sleek lines. A month later, after 30 years sitting there, it succumbed to the breakers axe.

Shower, shave & beer were the order of the evening at the Aerotel.The winding down had started, only one more day left & then it would be back home.

Final morning, onto the coach & a short drive to Vnukovo, starting with a tour of the VARZ facility. Big shock here was the breaking up of the TU-114, which had been up for sale for US$100,000. Twelve months earlier many of us had stood in this exact spot to photograph it. While faded & tatty, it was complete. Now it was just twisted aluminium, it reminded me of a whale or some other mighty animal being butchered !

VARZ now had the air of a breakers yard, apart from the TU-114, there were at least 4 TU-154 under the axe, plus an IL-76.   Part of the ramp area was now dedicated to biz jets along with one hangar. Back on the coach & off   for the main ramp tour. Access was through the VIP Terminal. Plenty of time had been arranged for this tour, first off were covered the YAK-40's, then across to the far side & graphed the 2 Bright Antonov 12's. After that everything in between was photographed. Then we stationed ourselves between the departure & arrival taxiways, thus covering everything, & stayed there for about an hour, before heading back to the small VIP Terminal. This was where the likes of Roman Abramovich (Chelsea FC & P4-MES owner) & Co. transit, in fact his B767 was parked outside, so it really was no surprise that a cool beer here cost a cool 8 euro, approx BP£5.50 ! But the air temp outside had been in the high 30's, ramp temp well over 40, so we queued for our beers !

After that it was back to the Dom for a BA Airbus to LHR & our normal lives.

Joe McDermott