A country drive and lots of aircraft
|This article was written after my first visit to
the Patriotic War museum and the Monino Air force base and museum, back in 1995. It was
hard for a foreigner to get into this establishment then. It is slightly easier now. At
the end of the text there are some details as to what aircraft are available.
The morning routine started as it had for the past week, awakened by the early dawn at 0330hrs - quite normal for the summer time. I dozed off again, but was soon aware of activity in the central garden area of my hosts apartment block. So, another day another adventure, as I hauled myself up and stretched muscles back into working order. I was staying in a classic Russian apartment, in what is considered a good area (expensive real estate), this being close to the city centre by the underground and the trolley bus system (one bus to the Kremlin). I had a room to myself which was the lounge room, this being quite spacious (23 sqm) when compared with the other rooms in the apartment. In most cases Russian sofas all convert to a double bed and single chairs to single beds. Lounge rooms are the guest room for when the relatives come to stay. Some homestays used in the past offered a spare bedroom to me, but most use the lounge area. In addition, my furnishings consisted of a T.V (with VCR), a desk to work on, my own dining table, various lounge chairs and bookshelves packed with my hosts memorabilia nestled amongst her extensive book collection. My connection with outside was the window which observed communal life in the tree'd area below me.
Time for breakfast and a cup of coffee all prepared in the "compact" kitchen along with a congenial chat with my Russian host. Today I was treated to fried cottage cheese "patties", a popular Russian breakfast snack and one that brought relief from the ubiquitous cold meats and black bread - so hard for someone reared on "wheeties" and porridge! I played "Oliver" this morning and went back to the kitchen with bowl in hand! Homestay hosts can adapt food to particular tastes, you only need to ask.
I had to move quickly this morning as I wanted to see the new national monument and museum to the "Great Patriotic War" (WW2), before some Russian friends and I attempted to visit the Russian Air Force Museum outside Moscow. The WW2 museum was within walking distance of my apartment and I was soon on my way wandering amongst the locals as they went about their Saturday morning rituals. The sun was shinning and the large apartment blocks took on a more golden colour than usual. This whole area is a prime example of the classic "Stalinist" design period and bought satisfaction to my minds pre-defined expectations of what I should be seeing somewhere in Moscow. All that reading and watching documentaries has certainly left a large mental file that waits for recall. The small "kiosks" outside were already doing a brisk trade as were the local shops that occupy ground floor space. One change I had noted from previous visits is how much more obvious these shops were. The need to advertise, to survive, has generated "signs" with colour and some character. In the past it was hard to see where any shop was. This camouflage effect can be still the case in other areas of Russia, but not in Moscow and St.Petersburg.
A quick left turn and within 100 meters the museum came into view. I still had at least 1Km of walking to the entrance due to the paved concourse leading past fountains to the small hill top. Upon this rise is a sky piercing obelisk whose sides feature a carved relief depicting the motherlands struggle against the oppressor. Sitting at its base is a large statue done in what I describe as "soviet style sculpture" showing the mounted knight spearing the dragon of fascism - the dragon crumbling into square blocks much like a three dimensional jig-saw. The museum building itself sits behind this monolith in a crescent shape. Upon entering you are aware of this buildings grand interior. The lower floor consists of dioramas depicting major epic struggles for the Russian forces during WW2. The battle for Leningrad, Moscow and the tank battle at Kursk are all depicted in stunning realism - Walt Disney would be proud. On the same level is a corridor of awards and testaments to various heroes of WW2. You then climb the wide staircase and enter a circular room with a domed roof where an "angel of the dead" commands centre stage and rises heavenward to the domes centre. The circular walls are inscribed with names of some of the millions lost by the Russians in this conflict - an inspiring and somber room.
The remainder of this level is a walk through museum exhibit with display cases and video screen productions showing the history of the Russian involvement in WW2. The only criticism I can level here would be the portrayal of the war as starting in 1941 with the invasion of Russia. No mention is made of the conflict since 1939 and certainly no mention of the, Ribbentrop Molotov agreement, where the Soviets and the Nazi's agreed on Russia taking over the Baltic's in return for Russia not siding with the allies - naturally Stalin agreed to this! It is pleasing to note that good mention is made of the supply convoys from the west to Murmansk and Archangel, as well as the 'lend lease" programme by America who supplied aircraft from Alaska to the Russian front line.
Time to leave after quickly noting the outside static exhibits depicting military vehicles, with of significant note - Russian armoured trains! My exit coincided with the Saturday tradition of having ones wedding photographs taken in front of the previously mentioned obilisque and the small Orthodox church built in a modern interpretation of a traditional design - failing in this writers eyes to inspire more than scant mention. My return walk down the concourse was punctuated with an assortment of Russian wedding fashions and accompanying guests finery. I noted the extremely young age of the couples, a standard fact here being that Russians marry very young. The nation also maintains a large divorce rate, which age wise is again young. Bands played, vendors sold ice-cream, children skipped along, providing this traveller with a colourful window to Russian life.
My associates were already waiting for me when I turned back into the road leading to my apartment and we were soon battling our way across Moscow and out of this large city. With us was the "dacha or bust" mob! The summer months see the weekend ritual of city based Russians exiting on Friday night and Saturday to spend time at their country dacha, tending the gardens, drinking vodka with friends and discussing the woe's of the world. For some, this excursion means the difference between survival and not during the cold winter, as what they produce food wise during the short summer is put away for later consumption when their meager pension no longer allows them to buy sufficient variety of food to ensure a healthy lifestyle. This situation is usually the unfortunate reality for the older citizens of modern Russia, who after existing in a system which was supposed to care for them from the cradle to the grave find themselves deserted and expected to become entrepreneurs overnight! How someone bought up as they have been, and with the very thought of individualism having been struck from them, is at the age of 60 plus supposed to start a business is a mystery to me as well as the unfortunates themselves.
Moscow has a major traffic problem. Coming with the growing affluence of sections of Moscow society is the desire to own a car. As with other developing economies (and some developed economies), where people have been denied easy access to cars, ownership becomes a prestige symbol, the value of which outweighs concern for the environment. Saturday at least meant an easier exit from the metropolis - my driving experiences during the working week make for a separate discussion! - and we were soon past the "Moscow Ring Road", in the slow moving lines of Muscovites in their Muscovitches patiently enduring the drive to greener pastures. The road at this point was bordered by lush birch and fir tree forest. Cars were filled with a variety of sights, squat looking Ladas loaded to the brim with people and goods only to have the family cat leap from the back seat on to the head of the driver. During this summer period some members of extended families remain at the dacha during the week - grandmothers and children - with the remaining family members joining them at the weekends. Smiles abound, expectant of good weather and good planting - and that bottle of special vodka hidden under the floor boards!
The police are in abundance and I notice cars being stopped on a regular basis. At this time there was a genuine crackdown on speeding and speed cameras were much in evidence. In addition it had recently become law for the front occupants of a car to wear a seat belt. However Russian male machismo comes into play here and it is decidedly "uncool" to actually lock the belt into its slot, instead to be laid across ones body, but not locked into place. This maintained ones "mana"! Statistical proof of the benefits of wearing a belt has not reached the airwaves of Russia as yet!
An interesting pint to note here, is that the police officers who had the speed cameras and maintained the control positions at all the major intersections were all clad in body amour and carried small machine guns. I guess the reaction of some drivers must be more than a verbal retort!
Suddenly the wail of a siren reaches us from behind, but I note my friend Oleg does nothing to either slow down or allow better passage to what ever was descending upon us. Suddenly a dark coloured Mercedes with equally dark tinted windows races down the highways median line weaving its way past those that pull over and those that don't. "What was that I asked?"
"Oh just some person who has installed a police siren in their car so as to give an image of authority and therefore have traffic move over so that they can get through". Only in Russia I thought!
I am engrossed in the reading the map - as we had passed our turnoff to the left - when I notice a sudden swerve to the left and as I look up I see we are driving across the median line on to the verge of the opposite side of the road! Oleg had decided that if we were to continue it would be another 15 Km before we could U turn officially and so be able to make the turn to the left we required. Therefore, he had seen a gap in the opposing traffic and decided to "change direction"! After a quick 2 point turn we were heading back towards Moscow and our turn was now on the correct side! Quite breathtaking when in the back seat with no seat belt (only required to be fitted in the front).
After turning off the main highway and we were absorbed in looking for signs showing the way to the airforce base. True to form a lack of good signage was very evident, but with due diligence and a bit of the old " Russian feel" we found a pot holed road that reminded me of the trans Zaire highway. After zig zagging our way along this "track" we pulled up in front of this gate which offered entry to an extensive area of apartments, but was guarded by a young man in military uniform. This was the town attached to the airbase and was home to the many personal and their families who's existence depended upon this establishment. Dimitrie wandered over to find out what he could about how to get to the actual museum. I would add here that my two compatriots - Oleg and Dimitri - had for several weeks previously tried in vain to find out about entry procedures. Their attempts at phone calls had resulted in either the phone not being answered or simply lifted up and placed back down again to terminate the intrusion!
My friends knew that it was difficult to get a foreigner into this institution and had been trying to secure official permission prior to our visit. Naturally this had failed and we had now turned up to "try our luck". Where we had "turned up" was of particular importance. Dimitri returned to tell us that the guard had said that the museum was closed, but Dimitri had also secured permission for us to walk (would not let the car in!) to the complex and have a look, Dimitri can be so persuasive! There was a brief exchange of Russian between Oleg and Dimitri, most of which was lost with me. Oleg then turned to me and explained that I must pose as a Russian as NO FOREIGNERS were allowed into this area! Le Carre here I come! This beats any computer game and "cops and robbers" as a youngster suddenly looks very tame. This would probably be the only time in my life that I would feel as if I was actually "going undercover"! "Da tevarich, niet problema" was my immediate retort as I eagerly opened the door and "casually" stepped into the limelight! Oleg was more concerned about his car and parked it within good visual distance of the gate guards. As we strode towards the gate he whispered that he hoped the car was there when we returned! Well the heart rate increased as we walked through the gate with Oleg and Dimitri in animated conversation with myself nodding profusely and adding the required "Da and Niet" as required. Oleg did slip back and remind the guard of the location of our car!
We soon found that we had about 2Km to walk through this area of apartments - the whole area of which was in a rather untended state. A sign of just how significant the lack of finance towards the military area really is - a sign that should be well understood by the government! After several "course corrections" extracated from various citizens. We eventually arrived at the complex known as the "Soviet Air Force Museum", and to our mutual delight it was open and functioning, contrary to the advice given at the gate. One hopes communication between central control and the "nuclear deterrent" is better than between the gate 2 kilometers away and the museum entrance! The guard at this next gate told us to go into the covered area of the museum and purchase the entry ticket. We could then wander throughout the complex which also included a large outdoor area adjacent to the base runways. I reminded my friends not to suddenly revert to English as we pushed open the doors of this rather dilapidated building and entered an entrance hall decorated with superb models of early Russian aircraft. Oleg approached the head attendant, engrossed him in conversation and then instructed Dimitri and I to start looking and that he would "look after the administration" - was this to be a karate chop or a sedative in their tea!
Well, words fail me with the material displayed. So different in style, design, colours and presentation form any other aircraft related museum that I had been to. The first section was dedicated to the first aircraft seen in Russia, with models, photographic displays and original engine parts and other memorabilia relating to early Russian aviation and the development of fighting aircraft during WW1. Oleg then joined us and whispered that all was OK, I could also take photographs as an "extra fee" had been paid. We opened the large set of doors at the end of this room and my eyes opened wide as an Kingcobra came into view, the shape of which was confused in my mind due to the red star on its fuselage. For me this was first face to face meeting with such an aircraft and my hands were soon running over its skin. The aircraft looked as if you could start the engine and taxi out to the airstrip! Everything looked in place including the cockpit controls and seat straps. To the left my eyes detected a Yak 3 and behind that were 2 examples of bi-planes. There were twin engined dive bombers a Polikarpof, more Yaks, many static displays of bombs, under carriage, uniforms and medals. The walls were adorned with maps and photographs depicting conflicts during WW2. The YAK 3 would be one of the few Russian aircraft of WW2 vintage seen on a regular basis in the West and those examples are usually modern reproductions. The bi-planes were of particular interest and dated from the inter wars period, but were used in the opening stages of WW2. They were in immaculate order, their cockpits being of particular interest with all instruments, seats and running gear being in perfect condition. The rear observer/gunners seat was fully rigged with its machine gun and spare ammunition drums were also in their correct storage positions. I wiggled a few control edges and the joystick responded, the propeller moved with that familiar feel of compression - ready to roll! On past the twin engined dive bomber and through the next set of doors into the area depicting the period after WW2. Again there were many wall displays with diagrams and pictures, a MIG15 cockpit and static displays showing the development of Russian high altitude flying suits.
We now moved outside into the sunlight and walked over to the open air display which is housed alongside one of the airstrips. After an exchange of nods with the gate attendant, who's style of hair, cut of clothes and body shape was the archetype Russian female often parodied in the west.
My attention was easily drawn to the dramatic sight that now befell us. Row upon row of Russian aircraft, in fact a static example of every aircraft produced since the second world war - both commercial and military. Of immediate interest was the B29 (Russian Copy) with red stars parked to my right. Again despite how many years in the open this aircraft was in great condition with machine guns still in place. I positioned myself under the nose area and looked up through the perspex - which was still clear despite being exposed to the outside elements - and from what I could see the interior was in remarkable condition. Instruments, seat belts padding on seats etc was all evident.
We continued on along corridor after corridor of parked aircraft. There were other examples of western aircraft, these being a C47, Mitchell and Boston bombers - yes all out in the open! By the presence of the latest MIG and SUKOI it would seem that the government is still adding exhibits.
On to the massive nuclear bombers both jet and prop varieties, from the a 1960's and 70's. To stand under the bank of 4 jet exhausts of one of these birds was a moving experience. Across to the Russian "Concorde". It seems rather sad to see such a magnificent piece of equipment looking like a disappointed athlete who had failed to make the distance. For the helicopter enthusiast there is an example of most, if not all varieties, made by the Russians. Down one corridor we found the Russian example of their attempt at verticle flight (Harrier emulation).
Time did not permit a full examination of every aircraft. This exploratory trip was to gain some first hand experience of the exhibits and check out the entry requirements. After a refreshment visit at a local 'cafe' we wandered back to the car - which was still there! Now we had to face the traffic back into Moscow the tedium of which was squashed by the hobby of people watching.
RUSSIAN AIRFORCE MUSEUM
Established in 1958 the Russian Airforce Museum is the largest museum of this type in Russia and consists of 20 hectares comprising, hangers, halls and open tarmac. Currently the collection numbers more than 160 aircraft types. In addition there are models, engines, flags, ammunition, radio equipment, flight insignia, art works and the personal effects of many famous Russian pilots. Time period covered are from the early dawn of Russian aviation - gasoline engine form O.Kostovich's airship of 1883 - through the first world war, the civil war, WW2 to the present day. It would be hard to list every exhibit wthin this article, but the following is an example of what is lined up on the tarmac!.
AIRCRAFT OF THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR - WW2.
Li-2, Tu-2, Il-10, A-20 Boston, DB-3, SB(ANT-40), B-25 Mitchell.
AIRCRAFT OF THE POST WAR PERIOD
Tu-4, Tu-16, Tu-22, Tu-22M, Tu-16K, Tu-128, Tu-95, Tu-104A, Tu-114, Tu-124, Tu-144, M-141
Il-28, Il-12, Il-18, Il-62
Yak-17, Yak-23, Yak-25, Yak-25RV, Yak-27R, Yak-28L, Yak-36, Yak-38, Yak-24, Yak-40,
Mi-1,2, 4,6,8,10. Mi-12(V-12), Mi-24, Mi24V, Mi-26
Mikoyan & Gurevich design.
Mig-9, Mig-15bis, Mig-15UTI, Mig-17, Mig-19PM, Mig-21, Mig-23(experimental), Mig-23,
Mig-25RB, Mig-25, Mig-31, Mig-29(prototype), Mig-21(analog of Tu-144), Ye-166(experimental), Second stage of the space orbital plane.
3M, M-50, M-17
An-2, An-14, An-8, An-10, An-12, An-22, An-24
Su-25, Su-7B, Su-7L, Su-7BKL, Su-17M, Su-9, Su-11, Su-15, Su-24, T-6(experimental), Su-27(T-10 experimental), Su-35, Su-100(T-4 experimental).
Vertol-44, M-15. And there are also some parts from Garry Powers U2 Spy plane!