The London 2012 Olympics seem to have been universally recognised as being among the best – if not THE best – Games ever. As well as putting the ‘Great’ back into the psyche of the nation, for the aviation enthusiast, the opportunities to see a number of rare types and new nationalities of aircraft were plentiful too, particularly in the run up to the 27 July opening ceremony.
It had been anticipated that around 120 heads of state would attend the aforementioned Olympic ‘kick-off’. Quite how many actually were present remains something of an unknown, but to look at the movements around London’s airports, you would think that the number probably fell quite a way short of that initial estimate.
London-Stansted Airport received the bulk of the extra dignitary flights, with the Russian delegation easily accounting for more individual movements than any other visiting nation over the course of the Games. Arriving well ahead of the main party on 24 July was Russian Air Force Il-76MD RA-78842, from 224 Flight Unit based at Tver-Migalovo. This aircraft brought in the vehicles that were used by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and, later, President Vladimir Putin during their stays.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev headed the official delegation and arrived on 27 July aboard one of the two Il-96s present that day – RA-96012 (note the extra communications equipment on the top of the rear fuselage, signifying the fact that it is an Il-96-300PU) and RA-96018. Additional support that day came by way of Il-62 RA-86468, itself also sporting the same extra communications setup.
It’s not clear exactly when Medvedev returned to Moscow (there was an additional Il-96 flight on 28 July, operated by RA-96019) but Putin – whose short visit was described as being of a ‘personal nature’, taking in some of the Games’ judo tournament – only arrived in London during the morning of 2 August. His arrival was supported by two Il-62s (RA-86466 and RA-86561) and a further Il-96 (RA-96016). All three aircraft, along with the Il-76 which had been present throughout, departed the same evening as the light faded.
Certainly something I’d not realised at the time was just how short a period of time some of these Il-62s had left in this role. As of 10 April 2013, only three examples of the type remain in Rossiya service and only one of the three that visited Stansted (RA-86561).
Another aircraft of Soviet ancestry present at Stansted was the beautiful Slovak Government Tu-154M OM-BYO, which made very short visits on both 27 July and 2 August in connection with the attendance of President Ivan Gasparovic.
Of the other government and military movements, Panama President Ricardo Martinelli’s arrival aboard Panama Air Force EMB-135BJ Legacy HP-1A and Ivory Coast President Alassane Dramane Ouattara on Cote d’Ivoire Government 727-2Y4 TU-VAO, were definite highlights on 26 July.
Joining them the same day were Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev (who arrived on 767-32L/ER 4K-AI01), Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan (on Armenian Government A319-132(CJ) EK-RA01) and Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano (on AMI A319-112CJ MM62243). Both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian aircraft repositioned to Manston after dropping off their VIPs.
Additional military movements taking place on 27 July included the arrivals of Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus (on Czech Air Force A319-115X CJ 2801) and German President Joachim Gauck (German Air Force A319-133X CJ 15+02). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud arrived aboard Saudi Arabian Airlines 777-268(ER) HZ-AKF.
Earlier in the week, on the 25th, the very smart-looking Kazazhstan Government A330-243 UP-A3001 arrived with President Nursultan Nazarbayev on-board.
There were plenty of bizjet movements over the period 26/27 July too, though identifying exactly what was an Olympic-related visit and what wasn’t is an impossible task. Either way, the presence of controversial Finnish-born, Canadian fashion designer, Peter Nygård’s 727-17(RE) ‘Super 27’ very definitely was, with Nygård considered highly influential in the success of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Bahamas. Indeed, it is quite likely that Bahamas’ Governor-General Arthur Foulkes also arrived on this aircraft. The aircraft repositioned to Prestwick just a few hours after arriving on 26 July, returning to collect its passengers after the closing ceremony.
Aside from large numbers of N and VP registered biz, the Chinese were prolific too at Stansted, Luton and Cranfield (to where several repositioned after dropping off pax at Luton).
Over at RAF Mildenhall, America’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, arrived aboard 89th AW C-32A 98-0001 on 26 July. She stayed until the 29th.
Farnborough hosted the Brazilian contingent for the Opening Ceremony led by President Dilma Rousseff who travelled on board Brazilian Air Force Embraer VC-2 (ERJ190AR) 2591. The visit was supported by Airbus A319-133X CJ 2101. Also using Farnborough was the current Malaysian Yang di-Pertuan Agong (head of state), Tuanku Alhaj Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah (Malaysian Air Force 737-7H6 BBJ M53-01) and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkish Government A319-115X CJ TC-ANA).
RAF Northolt proved to be a popular destination for some of the UK’s closer neighbours with the Irish delegation arriving on Gulfstream IV 251 on the 27th and departing on the 28th, the Spanish (Falcon 900 T18-5) arriving on the 26th and departing on the 28th, Swiss (Falcon 50 T-783) in/out 28th and the Dutch on Netherlands Government Fokker 70 PH-KBX. The Danish party, including Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, also used Northolt with CL-600 Challenger C-080 supporting their visit.
RAF Northolt also, as anticipated, hosted a number of UK armed forces’ assets, primarily charged with ensuring the Games’ safety. These included four Royal Air Force Typhoons (ZJ935/DJ & ZJ923/DM of XI(F) Sqn and ZJ936/QO-S & ZJ916/QO-J of 3(F) Sqn), two Royal Navy Sea King ASaC7s (XV672/187 & ZD636/182), Army Air Corps Lynx AH7 XZ608 of 657 Sqn, two Royal Air Force Chinook HC2s (ZA704 & ZD983) and the specially painted Merlin HC3A ZK001.
Highlights from slightly further afield included Algerian Government Gulfstream IV-SP 7T-VPS, which brought Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia to London on the 26th, and the untitled Georgian Airways CL-600 Challenger 4L-GAF, the aircraft used by the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Meanwhile, Gatwick, which originally looked set to receive a Japanese Air Self Defence Force 747-400, a Mongolian 767 and a Somon Air 737-800 had to eventually make do with a very nice Ukrainian Government Il-62M, UR-86528, which arrived on the morning of the 27th and departed around the same time the next day.
While the London 2012 Olympic Games will be best remembered for the actions of the home nation’s participants, for the aviation enthusiast, there were plenty of other things to cheer too.
Special mention must go to the Stansted Airport management who, in conjunction with the airport police, went above and beyond the call of duty to accommodate enthusiasts, even offering special rates for the use of one of the airport’s car parks that afforded fantastic views of the comings and goings.
Huge thanks are also extended to Chris Batty and Ian Harding for allowing me to use some of their gap-filling images in this piece.