Paul Filmer recounts the first leg of his recent trip to Belarus, which would give him the opportunity to fly on some rather lovely Russian hardware.
Belarus is a country that’s kind of passed me by, so when I was offered an opportunity to fly on an An-12 there, I jumped at the chance. Daniel, who’d had a hand in crafting the itinerary, alerted me about the trip, which was being organised inside Belarus by Boris from Merlin Tours. There were options to fly An-26, Mi-8 and Il-76 as extras inside the country, with a bonus of a Tu-154M flight from Warsaw to Minsk, instead of the normal western equipment service. These are not opportunities to be sniffed at, as flying on these types is getting harder with each passing year.
With transatlantic fares all pretty much the same, instead of flying directly to London and making my way to Warsaw from there, I opted for a three-leg combined flight to Warsaw from Denver, via Iceland and Copenhagen with Icelandair. This would possibly give me some opportunities to shoot at Keflavik and Copenhagen on the stopovers. I was somewhat disappointed to learn that Icelandair has become a pseudo low-cost carrier, with drinks and food now having to be purchased, but as the first leg was under seven hours, it wasn’t too much of a hardship. It certainly made a change to fly a narrow body across the Atlantic, on a Boeing 757-200, instead of the ubiquitous 777.
Arriving at Keflavik with just over an hour for the layover gave me plenty of time to scope out the airport’s shooting opportunities, but I didn’t come away with much, due to the position of the sun in the morning. Our Boeing 757-300 seemed much older than the 200 from earlier and after we pushed back we sat on the taxiway for about ten minutes until the captain advised that we’d be going back to the stand due to a technical issue. 30 minutes later, after a couple of engine runs, it was declared that the aircraft wouldn’t be going anywhere due to a fuel leak in the port engine, and we’d be changing to another aircraft that had just arrived. Of course, by the time we did actually depart, my two and a half hour connection time in Copenhagen had been eaten up, so I knew I’d miss my next flight for sure. One bonus as we taxied out, was a shot of an Icelandair Boeing 757 freighter in great light parked on a remote stand.
After arrival in Copenhagen I was rebooked by SAS on the last LOT flight to Warsaw, which had plenty of available seats, so I went for a wander around the terminals while I waited for departure.
My flight to Warsaw was on the “chocolate” ERJ175LR of LOT and was uneventful.
Early morning saw me checking in early for the Tu-154M flight with Belavia, to allow time to go and shoot its arrival.
Lots of the usual suspects from previous trips had the same idea and nine of us ended up wanting to shoot the arrival, so we commandeered a taxi that could carry eight passengers, and placed Charlie in the boot!
A muddy walk to a mound and there were lots of local photographers waiting for the 154, as even here, this is becoming a rare movement.
Shots in the bag and back to the waiting taxi, to get back to the airport and go through security. Airside we bumped into others who were on the trip, and they had elected to start in Minsk so they could travel both legs on the old Tupolev.
Boarding was on a remote stand and the ground crew were unprepared for lots of photographers wanting shots of the aircraft. Normal passengers were bemused, and probably shocked that this old Russian relic was to be their transport for the day!
Belavia use the Tu-154s mostly on charters these days, and for the flight to come in to Warsaw, extra fees were paid because of noise regulations.
This was actually my first flight on a ‘modern’ Tu-154M (M = modern) as previously I’d flown in a Tu-154B-2. The start-up isn’t quite as unique as the older versions, but the noise and power is still great, and after 48 minutes in the air we were on the ground in Belarus.
After arrival and immigration formalities were completed in Minsk, it was time to get right down to business and fly on the Ruby Star An-12BK.
As this was technically a cargo flight, the local authorities deemed it necessary for us to all have a ‘medical’. Quite what this was to entail, no one knew, but one by one we filtered though a small medical office. The doctor made sure I had a pulse and asked if I felt okay. That was it, perfect!
Finally we were on the ramp with our An-12BK EW-275TI, built in 1970, but the original plan had been changed as permission had been withdrawn to land at Bolbasovo and Vitebsk, so we would be going elsewhere. As it turned out the new route ended up as being a more interesting deal.
We started up and taxied out to the holding point with the ramp down for ventilation and to give us something to look at, and this would become a common feature for flights on this trip.
Our first stop was Minsk-1, the original airport for Minsk that also houses overhaul and repair facility ARP 407.
We shut-down right in front of ARP 407 and were told we could shoot all the aircraft. Tu-134s and Yak-40s were present, with quite a few interesting airframes.
Yak-40 5A-DKP in bare metal has had an interesting history. Built in 1974 she first saw service in Moldova before flying in Estonia, Swaziland, Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova again before its current registration in Libya. It was reportedly here for heavy maintenance, but whether it’ll actually ever leave again is open to doubt.
A pair of ex-Russian Air Force Tu-134UBLs were also present, still wearing their faded old Soviet livery, but devoid of wings, tail and the Tu-22 extended nose that makes this type unique.
Tu-134AK RF-90789 of the Russian Air Force looked like it was brand new off the production line. Wearing St. Petersburg titles and blue 35 on the nose wheel door, this is most probably ex RA-63775.
Most of the other aircraft, however, looked like they will end their life here.
Our next flight leg was a leisurely 37 minutes to Mogilev, and this time the ramp was lowered in flight, giving us a splendid view low-level over Belarus.
We parked outside the old Mogilev terminal and were again allowed to wander the ramp. An-12s and Il-76s were the current residents here, plus an immaculate An-2R.
After a quick leak in the terminal, a necessity for the older guys amongst us, we boarded again for our final flight of the day, back to Minsk National.
On this flight, while the ramp was lowered, the wind was blowing the trailing smoke from the engines across the rear, making an interesting effect.
This was so cool I even made a short video!
What a day that was! Three flights on an An-12, one on a Tu-154M and some nice photo opportunities.
Beer, food and bed!
More coming in part two.