George Pick Aerotours

in association with

George Pick Aerotours' visit to Ukraine - 7 to 12 June 2006

Here is Ken Duffy's report of our trip to Ukraine in June 2006.

A first for George - a military aviation trip to the Ukraine, taking in the capital, Kiev, plus an internal flight down to the far south east of the country to visit Lugansk and a coach drive to the nearer south east to the former airbase at Poltava....

Wednesday 7 June

Following a Ukraine International Airlines flight from London Gatwick to Kiev Borispol, we were met by our local guide, Yuri, who saw us safely through customs and onto our coach for the 30-minute drive into Kiev and the Hotel Ukraina.

After an evening meal in the hotel, consisting of - what else but Chicken Kiev? - it was down to the nearest bar for a much-needed beer and to bask in the evening sunshine overlooking the main square.

Thursday 8 June

After breakfast at the hotel, it was an 08:15 start for the drive across town to the Antonov home airfield of Gostomel. We had VIP tickets and an escort of three lovely ladies provided by the Antonov Design Bureau.

The show was a low-key affair with a static lineup of two Ukrainian Air Force Su-27UB's, a single-seat Su-27, MiG-29, Su-24 & Su-25 accompanied by the products of Antonov - An-26, An-140, An-148, An-74 & An-32 'Firekiller"

Across the ramp were the heavies - Il-76, the mighty An-22, the ill-fated An-70 and the even mightier An-225 'Mriya' - all opened up for inspection - which I for one, quickly accepted the offer.

The only flying that took place was restricted to the light stuff - an immaculate Yak-12, a few microlights - including an amphibian - and a replica Anatra biplane.

After quick visit to the main hangar to meet a couple of old friends over from Russia and to gather a few brochures, we were more or less done, although it was not yet time for our scheduled departure.

After a hurried pow-wow with our esteemed leader Mort and the tour guides, it was decided that we would head back into town early to take in the Victory museum scheduled for the Friday. This would allow us to tick it off the list and give us more time on the Friday for the rest of the itinery.

So, with everyone in agreement, we drove back to central Kiev to visit the Victory museum and take some photographs in the late afternoon sunshine.

An excellent evening meal in a traditional Ukrainian restaurant rounded off our first full day in Kiev.

Friday 9 June

A 'late' start for us - a 9am departure by coach for a visit to the National Aviation University - where we saw the training facilities - and where Stefan managed to fly the Tu-154 simulator without too much embarrassment!

Outside we were shown a REAL Anatra - whilst inside the main hangar we were allowed to photograph the various sectioned airframes used as training aids.

After photographing the resident An-26 'gate guard', it was back on the coach for the short journey to the National Aviation Museum at the airfield of Zhulaniy

This place is a treasure trove of Soviet types - ranging from the An-2 to the Il-76 with fighters & bombers aplenty.

The main exhibits have been repainted in Ukrainian colours and markings - although the MiG-29 in the colours of sponsor 'Inkom' did jar a bit.

We were allowed free access to all the exhibits - including what appeared to be a dump - but is actually a re-assembly area, where we saw a Tu-142, Tu-22M3, Tu-134UBL, Be-12 and a couple of Su-25's awaiting their turn to be put back together again and made ready for display.

From Zhulaniy, it was a short coach journey to the sports airfield at Chaika, where flights had been promised.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be not the case - as the relevant aircraft were all at Gostomel!!

Whilst we were looking around and taking photos of what was there, the An-28 and twoYak-52's arrived back from Gostomel, but were only refuelling before returning to the show.

So it was back on the coach for the return journey into central Kiev - with a free evening to sample the delights of Ukrainian cuisine and beer!

Saturday 10 June

This was going to be a 'biggy' - an early 7am start for the coach trip to Borispol airport to board a Donetsk Airlines Yak-42 for the hour-long flight to Donetsk.

From Donetsk it was an interesting 3-hour drive to Lugansk to visit the aircraft museum there.

Unfortunately, due to the time it took us to get there, the actual time spent at the museum had to be cut short in order to catch the flight back, but we had enough time to do the place justice.

There were a couple of rare birds at Lugansk - the tenth prototype Flanker - the T10 plus a Tu-142 with a twelve-wheeled main undercarriage that was fitted to only the first few aircraft.

So it was a quick run round the many exhibits, back on the coach, stop to photograph the resident MiG-on-a-Stick outside the museum and off we went back to Donetsk - stopping only to photograph the MiG-19 outside the airport before boarding out Yak-42 for the flight back to Kiev.

Sunday 11 June

Another big day and for me, the promised highlight of the trip, a visit to the Ukrainian Air Force museum at Poltava and a chance to get up close and personal to a Tu-160 Blackjack - amongst other things.

After an early start, it was a long 5-hour journey by coach to Poltava - where we arrived outside a small building in the centre of town.

Slightly bewildered, we were asked to disembark, because we had arrived at our destination!

Following some confusion and questions about 'where are the aircraft?' we were informed that this was the Poltava Aviation & Space Museum!

It suddenly dawned that we had been given permission to visit the wrong museum!

As the museum had opened specially for our visit and the curator and staff were in attendance purely for our benefit, we felt it would be churlish not to partake of their hospitality, so we 'endured' the tour of this small museum and listened in polite silence to the speech about the history of Ukrainian aviation.

Feeling very low and disappointed, we re-boarded the coach and were accompanied by one of the museum staff to find the airbase to see if we could salvage anything from the visit, but the lone guard on the gate would not let us in, unsurprisingly, so following an excellent arranged luncheon at a local hotel, it was back on the coach for the 5-hour journey back to Kiev.

Our last night in Kiev was spent drowning our sorrows at a local hostelry.

Monday 12 June

Another early start - this time for the drive to the airport at Borispol for the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-500 flight back to London Gatwick - where we shook hands and said farewell to some new-found friends and exchanged email addresses and promised to meet 'on the next trip'.

Summing Up

As this was George's first military visit to the Ukraine, there were bound to be some hic-cups, but I think everyone enjoyed the visit and I for one would go again - despite the disappointment of Poltava.

In a curious twist, I have since discovered that the airframes from Poltava are moving to the Kiev State Museum at Zhulaniy - the Tu-134UBL has already moved.

Apparently all aviation museum exhibits are being moved to one central display, to be based in Kiev.

So on our next visit, we may not have to venture so far out of Kiev.