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.
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.
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!
After the main business of flying in the An-12 for three sectors the day before, day two in Belarus was a more relaxing day, with extra flights available if requested.
I'd decided to fly an An-26 and Mi-2 on this day.
I've only flown one An-26, which was in Colombia, and as these aircraft are pretty hard to fly on, I thought it was an opportunity worth grasping!
We went through informal security again at Minsk National before being bussed out to the ramp to meet our aircraft.
EW-328TG is an An-26B belonging to Genex, and this flight would be a simple up and down affair, coming back to Minsk National.
As per usual the rear ramp was lowered while we taxied, before being raised for take-off.
It wasn't long before we approached Minsk-1 again, but instead of landing like we did the previous day in the An-12, we did a missed approach, which allowed me to shoot ARP 407 from the air. This was capped off by a wing-waggle as we passed over the runway at high speed.
A little while later the ramp was lowered while in flight, except this time the ramp stuck half way down. The poor loadmaster struggled with the ramp controls for a while before the flight engineer came back to help out.
Even using the manual backup of a hand-pump made no difference, so I suspect we lost all hydraulics from the ramp system.
It was time to land, so we landed flat and fast, so not to scrape the flapping ramp, and as we engaged reverse pitch the ramp tucked itself neatly under the fuselage, just as it should do.
Next stop was a bus to the airfield of Borovaya where we had the opportunity to fly in either a Mi-2 or an An-2.
This is a general aviation airfield operated by the DOSAAF and includes a very extensive outdoor museum.
The Mi-2 was fun and the flight lasted much longer than expected. One of the more unusual activities was the use of a large truck as an external power supply to start the helicopter.
While others flew the An-2 I wandered the museum and took photos of some of the flying activity.
Eventually it was time to leave. Some of the group went back to Minsk National to fly the Il-76, while the rest of us went for a beer and food.photo/serial list]