Kasimovo, Saint Petersburg (XLLN) - 30 May 2010

Another year and another trip to Russia to experience the aviation before the western influence crushes the old Soviet hardware with the glut of aircraft now available due to the western economy. This time I would be traveling north into the Arctic Circle visiting a couple of places where, as far as we know, no western visitors have ever ventured to. Paul Filmer starts his journey in Saint Petersburg before pushing northwards.

Yet again I met the master of Russian aviation in the form of Steve Kinder at Heathrow before we flew Swiss via Zurich to Saint Petersburg, and what a joy that was; real cutlery and food on every sector. After so much travel in the USA I had forgotten how the little things make the commercial flying better - my United transatlantic flight into Heathrow for instance was still using useless plastic knifes and forks! After trouble free immigration formalities in Saint Petersburg our group met with our usual interpreter Olga and the rest of the group who had traveled here independently. Well, mostly trouble free, except Steve's suitcase was still apparently in Zurich.

We were due to have a Mi-8 flight this afternoon but that seemed to have fallen through the cracks, but instead we went and visited a general aviation airfield around 34 miles to the south west called Kasimovo. We were met there by Georgi Nikolaev who has an intimate knowledge of the local airfields and would be with us for the next two days. This airfield used to be a hidden Soviet Air Force base in the Cold War days, and was a base for An-12, An-26, Il-14 and Mi-8 aircraft. The long concrete runway is now crumbling at the ends but is still in good enough condition for light aircraft to use, as of course they don't use the entire length.

Apart from the obligatory An-2s hanging around there were a pair of nice looking L-29s and surprisingly a fair number of Cessna's both outside and in the hangars. One Yak-52 had an interesting modification to the twin exhaust stacks , a pair of tin cans, and the toilet had the invitation to learn to fly on it - you might have thought there would be a more apt place to nail that notice to! A surprise on the field was a Technoavia SP-91 Slava designed by the Sergey Estoyan after he left Sukhoi after designing the Su-26/29/31 series of aircraft. Although the SP-91 is similar in appearance to the Su-29 it was built as a cheaper version, but sale never took off and only 20-25 were ever built.

After the visit we checked into a proper posh hotel that would be our base for two nights... of drinking. The hotel had a very large war memorial on the roundabout outside called the Monument to the Defenders of Leningrad. It's a huge panoramic monument with an underground museum which documents the 900-day siege of Leningrad which took place between 8th September 1941 and 27th January 1944 when German troops surrounded the city. It's a very impressive monument and you can find monuments to World War II like this everywhere you travel in Russia.

Next stop Rzhevka.

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