Comparable to the first Russia trip of 2015, also in May 2016 4Aviation travelled to Moscow with the main goal being the yearly Victory Day Parade on May 9 on, over and around the Red Square. The Victory Day parade celebrates the end of the “Great Patriotic War” or the victory over Nazi Germany. Apart from this main goal, a number of aviation related sites in and around Moscow would be visited. Eight members of the group met up in the very early morning of 6 May at the familiar red and white blocks of the meeting point at Schiphol Plaza. Despite the very early hour, everyone was well on time. Check-in for the 2-leg flight to Domodedovo went smooth and thanks to a helpful security agent guiding our group through a separate security channel we were quickly airside. The first leg brought us on-time to Vienna where we had to transfer for our 2nd flight to Moscow-Domodedovo. After a rather uneventful flight we landed ahead of schedule in Moscow. Customs and baggage retrieval was a breeze and we met up with another group member who only just made his connection in Vienna. Once outside in the arrivals hall, it took a few minutes to locate our bus-driver but surprisingly, since things tend to be different in Russia than in Western Europe, he was on-time. After loading our stuff in the bus, we quickly drove off to our hotel for the next 4 nights. From the outside the hotel looked typical Eastern-bloc but it was clean and comfortable inside and the personnel rather friendly and helpful. Upon arrival at the hotel, to our surprise, all check-in formalities were pre-arranged by the front desk lady so it was just a matter of distributing the room keys. In no-time we had dropped our luggage in the rooms and were back downstairs for a first taste of Moscow city! The hotel was well located close by a metro station and 2 shopping malls with plenty restaurants. The group quickly figured out how to navigate Moscow’s extensive metro network and within minutes we were on our way to the Red Square. Due to the Victory Day parade the square itself was off-limits but we toured the outside and had more than a glimpse of the square itself and the impressive buildings and architecture around it. After spending a couple of hours walking about like tourists and taking plenty snapshots, we headed back. At the food-court near our hotel we ordered a quick meal and then headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest in preparation for the dress rehearsal of the parade the next morning. Our last group member also had arrived, he travelled on his own, so the group was made complete.
Saturday morning 7 May, after having grabbed a more than decent breakfast at our hotel, it was back in the metro to proceed to the south bank of the Moskva River to witness the parade rehearsal. Contrary to 2015, the Sofiyiskaya road and embankment were open to the public. We positioned ourselves just west of the Moskvoredsky bridge where we thought we would be best located to see and photograph the flypast as well as get a taste of the troops and vehicles come off the Red Square. This turned out to be the case! The rehearsal started with BIG bangs of firing cannons, impressive. After that it was a frantic half hour with well-choreographed marching troops and military vehicles including for example tanks and cruise missile-launchers coming off the Red Square. At exactly 10h55, a single Mi-26 with for Mi-8s opened the flying part. These 5 were followed by a number of 4-ship formations of the main helicopter types in use. Then followed in quick succession formations of cargo aircraft, bombers and fighters including the famous Russian Knights and Swifts formation with the MiGs shooting flares above the Red Square. Within minutes, the final formation of Su-25s trailing smoke with the Russian flag colours ended the parade and a large applause rose from the many spectators. We all gathered together and made our way back to the nearest metro station where we would meet our interpreter and be picked up by our bus to go to the Air Force museum in Monino. Again, our bus was on time and within minutes we were on the road discussing with our interpreter about life in Moscow. After the mother of all traffic jams (the whole of Moscow appeared to want to use the same stretch of road which was still under construction) we arrived at Monino to spend the rest of the afternoon. The remaining hours were put to good use by everyone to see, log and photograph the collection of unusual and rare aircraft including many prototypes making the museum a must to visit for aviation ‘buffs’. Compared to previous years, again the collection had evolved. One thing became clear though: if the idea to move the Air Force museum to Kubinka indeed comes to fruition, many of the unique large aircraft probably will not survive as moving them will undoubtedly be cost cost-prohibitive and potentially result in irreparable damage. The return trip to the hotel was quick and painless and we ended celebrating the successful day with a meal in a local restaurant.
Sunday 8 May was museum day. Our bus picked us up at the hotel (again on time) and we headed off for our first stop at the Victory Park. The Moscow Victory Park is, apart from a large memorial, a combination of park and museum with much more than only aircraft. Unfortunately, the museum only opened at 11 am. This allowed us plenty time to trace exhibits around in the park, watch the preparations for the 9 May celebrations and enjoy the glorious warm weather. At 11 am we made a round in the museum which contains a lot of historic military stuff including a handful of WW2 planes. We also located the modern aircraft in a separate compound not open to the public hidden behind fences covered with camouflage nets. With a bit of wriggling some pictures could be made but as the sun position in the morning was unfavourable, we decided that if time permitted, we would go back the next day. After the Victory Park we went to the Central Armed Forces museum. The aircraft in this museum are all outside and positioned rather tightly due to a chronic lack of space, limiting photo opportunities. Incredible the amount of aircraft one can fit in a few square metres. Inside the museum there are dioramas, weaponry, displays about weapon development and so on including war trophies such as the wreck of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2. The third and last museum for today was the Vadim Zadorozhniy museum in the outskirts of Moscow. This museum started as a private collection of military vehicles, aircraft, cars and motorcycles. It is now a full size museum owned by one of the richest Russians. Plenty to see and keep one busy for a few hours. The number of aircraft is similar to the Central Armed Forces museum with the difference being that here they are more photographable. The day ended in the same restaurant as the previous night in anticipation of the 9 May celebrations and the expected large crowds
On the actual Victory Day, Monday 9 May, after another filling breakfast at the hotel, the group hopped again in the now familiar metro to the same location as we went on Saturday morning. Almost all roads were now cleared of traffic and there were definitely a whole lot more people out and about making their way to the Moskva embankment under glorious sunshine. Despite the massive crowds there was space enough to get a good position to view the parade. After Saturday’s repetition, we knew exactly what to expect at what time, which helped in not missing a thing. Again the cannons were fired, opening the parade. And at 10.55, the helicopters appeared marking the opening of the fly-pasts. In a few minutes time a copy of the fly-pasts of Saturday morning flew by the crowds and our cameras. For the number crunchers, a handful of the airframes differed from Saturday (including another Tu-95MS) resulting in smiling faces all around. After the parade had ended, the group took the time for a well-deserved coffee stop to discuss the plan for the afternoon. As there was nothing programmed, everyone was free to go and do his thing. One group member opted to go to Domodedovo to log some tasty civilian airliners. Two other group members wanted to find and visit some of Moscow’s plastic modelling shops to hunt down potential rare gems. The rest of the group hopped back in the metro battling the huge crowds and travelled to Moscow’s B-396 submarine museum to inspect and log the resident Akseleyev A-90 Orlyonok ekranoplan. The beast could be photographed beautifully from multiple angles under the glorious sunshine. After this we did what we said out doing the day before and headed back to the Victory Park. The crowds here were enormous, but we made it to the (quieter) part of the park with the modern aircraft. Indeed the sun angle was great so late in the afternoon and with wriggling the camera versus the camouflage nets, the majority of exhibited aircraft was decently photographed. After meeting up with the other members close to our hotel, and a group dinner in another restaurant, part of the group decided to once more travel to the city centre to see the massive fireworks that mark the end of the Victory Day celebrations. The rest of the group had the batteries empty so to speak and stayed at the hotel after an exhaustive day.
On Tuesday morning 10 May, it was time to pack our bags and check out for the return home trip. We took the group picture and said goodbye to a first group member. The bus was once more on-time and took us back to Domodedovo airport for the check in of the flights to Amsterdam with transfer in Frankfurt this time. The trip back to Schiphol was trouble-free, apart from a little hiccup with Frankfurt’s security due to one member’s hand-luggage analyser swipes showing repeatedly ‘positive’ (who knows, maybe due to the Chernobyl Mi-8 @ Monino after all). After landing in Schiphol and making our way to the baggage carrousels, it was time to say goodbye after a successful and memorable Moscow trip with apart from the aircraft, the beautiful city itself, the metro, the impressive monuments and buildings, all enjoyed in glorious warm weather.