Arkhangelsk-Talagi, Russian Federation (ULAA) - 3-4 June 2010

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After our relaxing day in Murmansk it was time to ramp up the tempo and this started with a late afternoon An-24RV flight with Aeroflot-Nord to Arkhangelsk, which is to the south-east but still above the latitude where the sun does not set. Paul Filmer reports on the next part of his Arctic Adventure.

90 minutes later and we landed at the main airport in Arkhangelsk called Talagi. Much to our surprise our transport was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps airside, an old bus, which was in stark contrast to the luxury coach we used in Murmansk. Then even more bizarrely the aircraft baggage handlers sifted through all the baggage as it was offloaded from the aircraft finding and picking out our individual bags to put on the bus. What should be a short wait for the passengers in the terminal for their bags to arrive ended up much longer than normal while the comedy on the ramp took place. All bags accounted for and the bus was off to take us to the hotel gears crunching on every change.

Again our hotel was very modern and again the sun didn't quite manage to go below the horizon, but being further south than Murmansk it just hovered at a sunset angle. After dinner we took a wander along the boardwalk next to the White Sea and every 100 meters or so there were tables and chairs with a beer stand waiting for us to try out.

The next morning our bus arrived for our tour of Talagi. First stop though was just outside the airport where a MiG-31 is preserved on concrete slabs. The significance of the MiG-31 is that these aircraft were based at this airport from the 1980's to 1998. Nowadays there is a small transport military presence plus a few scheduled airliner services. After this we were taken around to near the terminal where a lovely Il-14 is preserved.

We were then taken airside crunchy gears and all. The first parking area saw the sad sight of eight immaculate Aeroflot Tu-134s which really drives home the way that Russian hardware is being phased out in favour of cheap western surplus aircraft. They all looked like had been pained recently in Aeroflot's new scheme in a mixture of Aeroflot and Aeroflot-Nord titles and could be fired up and flown away at a moments notice. One of the most interesting was RU-65568 which is a Tu-134AK and used to fly with the East German Air Force before transferring to the German Air Force after reunification as 11+12, and was transferred to Aeroflot in 1993 - I but this airframe has some interesting stories! Parked next to them was the requisite old Aeroflot An-26s plus an Aeroflot-Nord An-24, again in brand new colours.

Around the other side of the hangar was another old Aeroflot An-26, an Aeroflot-Nord Tu-134 and a perfect AVL Arkhangelsk Tu-154. AVL Arkhangelsk was the forerunner to Aeroflot-Nord was was renamed in 2004. Aeroflot-Nord was then re-branded as Nordavia due to bad publicity after Aeroflot flight 821 being operated by Aeroflot-Nord crashed on approach to Perm Airport in 2008 with a Boeing 737-500. I didn't know this story before flying with the airline but it doesn't change my mind as to whether I'd fly with them again as, even with all the horror stories regarding Russian aviation, it's no more dangerous than crossing the road.

We were then taken to the active ramp where was an An-24 in full AVL Arkhangelsk colours being worked on by engineers and another two An-24s of UTAir. There were also three An-26s lined up belonging to Transvia Garantiya. On previous trips Steve mentioned that they had always been denied access to the Tu-134 parked next to the fire station used as a rescue trainer, but, true to form, if you keep asking eventually someone says yes. The aircraft is parked between the parallel taxiway and runway and it was announced that we would now drive along the runway. I assumed that this was simply a miscommunication and that we would simply cross the taxiway - oh no, not at all.

The quickest route would be to cross the taxiway from where we were currently situated, maybe 200-300 meters. Instead we drove all the way along the southern side of the airport on the taxiway bordering runway 08/26. This took us along the military ramp where two An-26s of the Russian Air Force were parked up. One of these had a polar bear squadron badge on the nose, and as much as I search, I cannot find which one operates it. So we got to the end of the runway and drove along it to the fire station - I think they just wanted to show us the runway for some reason. Anyway it was a bonus as otherwise we shouldn't have been able to photograph the Russian Air Force An-26s, albeit from a moving bus through the windows.

When we arrived at the fire station another An-26 had taxied to the end of the runway to depart, this time operated by FSB/Border Guards and again we were allowed to shoot it, which in most places would be taboo. After this departure our attention went back to the tailless Tu-134 which even included bullet holes on one side of the airframe.

We assumed that this would conclude the tour but no. Earlier our guide had told us about how they sometimes cleared the snow at the airport with an aircraft engine strapped to a truck. Well we were about to see this strange piece of equipment. It was basically a jet engine placed sideways behind the cab and pointed to the ground. It was hooked up to a fuel tank further back on the chassis and this set-up literally melts the snow. Yet another example of Russian ingenuity using resources available.

We were then allowed to the passenger aircraft part of the ramp to shoot a pair of Aeroflot-Nord An-24s. Now there was nothing on the airfield that we hadn't had access to, but the tour was still not over. After exiting the airfield we proceeded to take a dirt road to the south and sitting behind a school was an Su-9 "Fishpot", yet another aircraft type I'd never seen before.

What a fantastic morning and our host seemed to know exactly what we wanted and was obviously an aviation person, as opposed to a security person that we are sometimes given as an guide. We assumed the day could not get better, how wrong would we be...

Next stop Arkhangelsk-Vaskovo.