Story and photos by Henry Tenby.
Aviation fans should mark May 18-21 on their calendars and plan to attend an extraordinary weekend organized by Paris-based Merlintour.
BOOK YOUR SPOT HERE: Belarus Aviation Tour VIII
2018 marks the eighth annual Belarus Aviation Tour, which is on track to be the biggest and best opportunity for flight hounds to sample pleasure flights on a huge selection of Russian-built civilian aircraft.
With these dwindling each passing year, this might well prove to be the last time this unique event happens.
The three-day event will be in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which can be easily and affordably accessed from most major cities in Europe. A wide assortment of joyrides will be staged from both Minsk International Airport and Lipki Airfield, a government/general aviation facility on the city outskirts.
The Merlintour itinerary includes all local transfers and hotel accommodations. You can select the aircraft you want to fly on from an à la carte menu and meet an international clientele of like-minded avgeeks.
The flights from Minsk International Airport, scheduled for Saturday, typically last between 45 minutes and one hour, with participants bussed between the terminal and the aircraft parking stands.
During boarding and after each flight, there are always plenty of opportunities to take photos and videos. Of course, there will be unlimited filming and photo opportunities during each joyride, so be prepared!
The staples of the Minsk Airport flights include a Belarus-based AN-26 and an AN-30. The latter is a particularly rare type that usually represents a first- time flight experience for most people.
Motor Sich Airlines (M9), from Ukraine, will bring its Yak-40 tri-jet and AN-140 to the event—both of which are always guaranteed crowd-pleasers. The vintage engine roar of the Yak-40 is pure magic. For classic jetliner fans, this aircraft must not be missed.
As for the AN-140, this is a new- generation Russian commuter that has not garnered an extensive following. Only a dozen examples are operational worldwide, just three of four of which commercially.
The other star attraction at Minsk International airport will be the Ruby Star AN-12. In recent years, the AN-12 has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts due to low fuel costs, and the type increasingly has been operating charters for the auto parts industry from Birmingham, UK, and other airports.
Famous for its four Ivchenko AI- 20L/M engines (in common with the IL- 18) that trail plumes of black exhaust, the AN-12 has plenty of cabin windows, so the inflight views are stupendous. Not to mention the engine racket!
New to the flight program this year is a Turbolet 410 of Transaviabaltika, a Lithuanian airline.
The Saturday evening gala dinner provides an excellent opportunity to mix company with Pilots, Flight Attendants, and other personnel associated with the joyrides.
On Sunday morning after breakfast, you can opt for a visit to the Borovaya Aviation Museum, situated at a small grass airport that is also home to a selection of operational AN-2s that sometimes conduct local para-dropping flights.
The museum has a beautiful collection of Russian historical military aircraft and commercial transports, including a Yak-40, an IL-14, an IL-18, an AN-12, and a Tu-134. It is in a park-like setting that shouldn’t be missed.
In the afternoon, the tour continues with an intense flying program at Lipki Air eld, home base of the large helicopter fleet of the Belarus Ministry of Emergency Situations, the quasi-military civil emergency response arm of the Belarus Government.
The main crowd-pleaser here is the monster-sized Mi-26 helicopter.
It is a unique opportunity unavailable anywhere else on the planet: The Mi-8 and the AN-2 biplane (also operated by the Ministry) will be open for joyrides— but, as is the case with all pleasure flights, availability is subject to last- minute maintenance and operational requirements. Sometimes a type might not be available, and that is par for the course.
New this year is a chance to sample a flight on a Ka-26 helicopter.
With this year’s expanded itinerary, the chance to fly on the Ruby Star IL-76 cargo jet transport will be offered from the main Minsk Airport on Monday, and Motor Sich will also make its AN-74 high-wing utility transport jet available for a pleasure ride. This aircraft, like so many of the others on this tour, is a rare type to get into your logbook.
Although there won’t be a lot of downtime for a private exploration of Minsk, May is a delightful time of year and would warrant an extra few days—before or after the tour—for non- aviation sightseeing.
Space on tour is limited. And several aircraft, especially the smaller ones like the Yak-40, are space limited and can sell out quickly. So you should book with Merlintour as soon as possible.
Given that this may very be the last time this tour is offered, this chance to sample a varied offering of classic Russian aircraft should not be missed.