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Rzhevka, Saint Petersburg (ULSS) - 31 May 2010

The next morning George met us at the hotel and we drove to the abandoned airport of Rzhevka. This has been closed since 2006 and the runway is now full of western cars awaiting sale and is also home to a go-cart track. The old terminal is still there and is locked shut but appearances can be deceptive. Locked inside the airfield is an immaculate Il-14 and George had arranged the owner, Aleksandr Poddubnij, to come out and show us his pride and joy. Not only that, but the Aleksandr had promised to run the engines on this beast, and this would be the first time the engines would be run in eight or nine years! We hung around the old entrance waiting for someone to arrive with the keys to let us in. In the mean time a local television crew pitched up and started filming us and general scenes around the old entrance. We were eventually led inside and walked to the old ramp where Il-14 RA-0543G was sitting, leaving the TV crew outside. We later learned that they had got wind of the engine run and the foreigners arriving but were told that they wouldn't be allowed inside the airfield with us.

The Il-14 used to be the mainstay in the Soviet Air Force and Navy as a personnel carrier and transport aircraft and was built as a replacement for the Li-2, first flying in 1950 and entering service in 1954. Total production was 1112 including licensed production in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. As late as 1979 there were still an amazing 235 still in service in Russia, which serves as a testament to how good this aircraft was. The An-24/26 and Yak-40 eventually replaced all these as time slipped by. This Il-14 is ex RA-02117 and originally served with Tarom and the Romanian Air Force before returning to the Soviet Union. It made only two flights in its current guise before the crash of Li-2 RA-1300K in 2004 grounded all older aircraft from flying pending a new certification system that this aircraft has now complied with.

We hung out and took some exterior shots of the aircraft while Aleksandr and George checked things over in the aircraft. Unfortunately there was a whole line of old car tyres in front of the Il-14 that formed part of the kart track. Aleksandr said we were free to take some interior shots but only two at a time. A couple of the guys took up the offer and went aboard and almost as soon as they finished their photos the first engine was started while they were still aboard. A huge cloud of white smoke as expected billowed out before the exhaust was cleared, and outside next to the perimeter fence the TV crew got blasted with smoke and turbulence, as they had commandeered someones back garden. After a couple of minutes the second engine was started and before long the gorgeous hum of a pair of classic radials filled the airfield with the noise it would have been used to in the old days. After the run I went onboard and George suggested I climb out the window onto the wing. Cool, that's exactly what the 10-22mm "rivet spotter" lens is built for.

So what happens to this aircraft now? Well, it's in an airworthy state and they hope to be able to position the aircraft to the nearby airfield of Pushkin to enable it to be easier to be sold. I do hope that a permanent home is found for this great aircraft and even better if it is kept in its current flyable state, but these days unfortunately finding homes for these classic aircraft is getting harder to do.


News Update: On November 9th, 2011 the aircraft was flown to Gorelovo airfield.



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Comments:
12th June 2012 Paul Davey
I was one of the lucky 2 'trapped' onboard when the engines started. I was near the back of the plane and got yelled at to move forward in case my weight made us jump the chocks!! An amazing experience to feel the power of those engines being gunned and seeing all the smoke pour out from inside.
16th July 2010 Robbie Shaw
Great photos - must have been a magical day. Well done.

Robbie