Thursday, June 18, 2015

Flying on a Antonov An-12 for a Second Time. Even An-12’er.

This is the oldest An-12 still flying, and recently repainted. EW-338TI is an An-12BP of RubyStar. Here it is in Vitebsk. - Photo: Bernie Leighton |AirlineReporter

This is the oldest An-12 still flying, which was recently repainted. EW-338TI is an An-12BP of RubyStar. Here it is in Vitebsk – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

But Bernie, you already flew on an Antonov An-12 last year! Do you really think I’d settle for one An-12? Come on now, who am I?

Since I was already in Minsk, after having made my way there on a Tu-154M, there had to be another plane to fly on, or some other diversion to pass the time in Minsk. Well, other than the ominously-named “Texas Show Bar” in the hotel. That place was scary!

Anyhow. Thankfully, my friend had already taken care of this and set up an An-12 with quite the livery! Built in 1961 for the Soviet Air Force, its history becomes murky after the collapse of the USSR. We know it was floating around Bulgaria in 2001 and, heck, it is unclear if it was even built in Voronezh, Tashkent, or Irkutsk! It didn’t matter — I wanted it to fly — with me on it.

You fly in the light you get, not the light you deserve. Either way, boarding an An-12BP is a blast. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

You fly in the light you get, not the light you deserve; photographer problems. Either way, boarding an An-12BP is a blast – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

There were two differences immediately apparent from my previous An-12 flight. First, there was no hilariously-outdated physical examination prior to boarding. Second, we were given boarding passes prior to clearing security. Did the boarding passes say anything? No. But they were boarding passes none-the-less. Must’ve been for security to have something to count. I honestly have no idea. Also, instead of just walking straight on to the ramp, we went to a gate in D Concourse to wait for our bus.

Not as fishing-boat like as my last An-12, but more comfortable. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Not as fishing-boat-like as my last An-12, but more comfortable – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Sadly, the sun was behind a cloud when we got to our hard stand on a far right-hand corner of the ramp. I took some pictures for the sake of taking pictures, not for show. I made my way up the rickety ladder into the cabin to be greeted by a lot more light than I was expecting. I knew that this An-12BP was just a militarized An-10, but it’s a lot less dank in there than you would think.

Okay, so it's about as bright inside as Moe's tavern- but I could actually find my way around. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Okay, so it’s about as bright inside as Moe’s Tavern, but I could actually find my way around – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Once again, I opted for premium seating as I like a bit of padding. This cabin was much cleaner, freshly upholstered, and painted too. There was also only an image of one saint. Either this aircraft needed less luck, or it was under-represented.

I am not sure what saint is the patron of this aircraft, but they all have one! - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

I am not sure what saint is the patron of this aircraft, but they all have one! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Due to the lack of house-style window curtains and the extra windows in the pressurized section of the aircraft, I chose to sit facing rearward to get an excellent view of the Ivchenko AI-20 engines mounted on the wings. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the flight, as I have flown facing every direction but backwards, but my bravery was spurred entirely because of the view.

Start-up was a slightly noisier affair than the last An-12 I flew – about the same volume and noise as my Il-18 ride. Taxi was a bit different, though. Like I said, I’ve never sat backwards in an aircraft and the first few turns towards the runway at Minsk National Airport were a bit disconcerting. Especially with no seat belt (I discovered there was one later in the flight).

Take off was not as abrupt, sadly. It was a steady and beautiful roll. Soon we were at roughly 5,000 feet and heading towards the outskirts of downtown Minsk.

A better view of the oddly homey cabin on the An-12BP. This was after landing at Minsk-1. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

A better view of the oddly-homey cabin on the An-12BP – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

I got up to go into the flight deck; after all, the door was open and it was right there. Except by the time it was my turn to visit the navigator’s station, I could see we were setting up for final approach into Minsk-1 Airport.

Minsk-1 has a painfully short runway. Ordinarily, I would love to land in the glazed nose of an An-12 with no seat belt, but remembering that last year’s experience nearly threw me out of the seats, I scampered back to film it from a passenger window instead. Especially fun was that Minsk-1 Airport will be closed by the time this article runs — we were the last passenger flight in!

Astute observers may remember this Tu-134A-3 sitting at Minsk-1 from last year. You are know wrong. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Astute readers may remember this Tu-134A-3 sitting at Minsk-1 from last year – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The airport will be demolished and turned into a housing development. What about Plant 407, overhaul center to the rich and famous owners of Tu-134s and Yak-40s? That will move to Minsk National Airport. The ones that cannot fly will be scrapped. I am very grateful we even got to go to Minsk-1 this year; the government originally did not want us to see that there were some strangely Arabic Tu-134s being stored there for safe keeping. We couldn’t take pictures of them as they had been pushed into a hangar, but if you knew where to look…

Oh Yulia, you should come pick up your jet. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Oh Yulia, you should come pick up your jet – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

On the ramp there was the same Tu-134A-3 from last year: UR-UES. This year, the door was open. It was in great shape until near the aft cabin, where it was clearly incomplete.

This is the only Tu-134 I have ever seen with a Panasonic microwave in the galley. It is, strongly, alleged that this belonged to Ukraine’s very own Princess Leia- Yulia Tymoshenko.

The navigator's station of a Tu-134A-3. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The navigator’s station of a Tu-134A-3. – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

I still did my best to make my way around the cabin taking photos (and look for war prizes). But it was soon time to get out of there; it was getting hot, and there were many more hulks to see!

After about an hour on the ground, it was time to reboard my An-12 chariot for a new destination. A sad moment, as next time I am in Minsk, there will only be one civil airport.

Goodbye Plant 407, next year no one will be able to get near you! - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Goodbye Plant 407 – next year no one will be able to get near you! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

We were the last passenger flight out of Minsk-1 as well, and our destination was Vitebsk. Departure offered great views of the city, but the photos turned out painfully backlit. Instead I just enjoyed the sedate climb towards our (much higher) cruising altitude.

If you look carefully, you can see the smoke from the AI-20s out the back door. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

If you look carefully, you can see the smoke from the AI-20s out the back door – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

As seems to be tradition with flights in Belarus, the cargo door was opened in cruise. It’s not quite the same as on an Il-76, because you are flying lower, slower, and the An-12BP’s cargo hold leaks like a sieve. There’s a bit of a pleasant breeze, but it’s not as deafening.

43 minutes later, we were in Vitebsk. There’s not much to see in Vitebsk, or so the morning passengers had told me. How wrong they were. We were greeted by a lovely MAZ bus, with a friendly airport cat aboard.

Travel Cat's Belorussian cousin: Airport Cat. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Travel Cat’s Belorussian cousin: Airport Cat. – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Exciting, I know. Fly all the way to Vitebsk to see a cat! It gets better.

There are a good deal of Belorussian Ministry of Emergency Situations An-2s on the ground in Vitebsk. No idea why. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

There are a good deal of Belorussian Ministry of Emergency Situations An-2s on the ground in Vitebsk. No idea why – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The ramp was a haven for An-2s operating on behalf of the Belorussian Ministry of Emergency Situations. There is no real American equivalent to this, so I have no idea how to explain what they do. Just think that this is an aircraft that would show up somewhere if there was a natural disaster. Either way, they seem to be very well cared for and in great shape.

After our ramp tour, it was time to get back aboard the An-12BP once more. For some reason, all of the exterior writing is in English. Including a “gronding” panel. I wonder if that could be grounding? After another very short roll, we were in the air back for Minsk.

This took more tries than I'd care to admit. - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

This took more tries than I’d care to admit – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The rest of the flight was amazing, but identical in every way to the previous. Once landed, I was able to confirm my upgrade to Business Class on my flight back to London, but that is another story.

The An-12, BP or otherwise, is a truly spectacular airframe. I can’t wait to fly on more!

 Bernie Leighton – Managing Correspondent 

Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience & photograph different types of planes. Bernie will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport.

 @PowerToTheThird | Flickr | bernie@airlinereporter.com

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