SPARC Avia, Saint Petersburg - 1 June 2010

Although the beginning of our trip was general aviation all the way, it was time to get stuck into the heavy machinery.

Today would be a busy one and also a little tight on time but it revolved around Pulkovo Airport in Saint Petersburg which meant it was doable before we were due to jet of to the far north. Our first port of call was the SPARC rework facility located on the north side of the airport. This facility has been running since 1931 where they started business by repairing light aircraft and their engines before starting on what they are know for these day, helicopters. The Mi-4 was the first type they overhauled and to commemorate this there is an immaculate example just inside the security gate painted in an old style Aeroflot arctic scheme. These days they specialize in Mi-8 and Mi-17 derivatives.

We started off the tour in the main maintenance hangar which was full of Mi-8/17s that were mostly complete. Mi-8T RA-24455 owned by Gazpromavia was having long-range fuel tanks fitted but the star of this hangar was an immaculate Pakistan Army Mi-17 58168. We had no restrictions on what we shot, which in Russia, is pretty unusual especially when military owned aircraft are the subject. In the rooms to the left of where the helicopters were being worked on were rotor hubs being stripped down to individual nuts and bolts, obviously part of a deep overhaul process.

Most of the Mi-8s outside were in a bare-bones state. They were shells with no cockpit instruments, rotors or booms and many were under tarpaulin sheets to protect then from the elements. There were a couple of examples that we suspect were also Pakistan Army as the only markings on them was a very small M02 and M03. This should tie them up to be construction numbers 586M02 and 586M03 making them Mi-17-VM models. We were shown inside each or the other small hangars one of which included a Russian Air Force Mi-8 RF-23148, and again not an issue to take a photo. Unfortunately these hangars were very small and getting photos proved tricky as space was so tight and the lighting was less than optimal.

The gem of the visit was almost overlooked until one of our party asked if we could see inside one of the hangars after spying it via a crack in the door. It was opened up and sitting there in factory fresh condition was a Mi-172 belonging to State Air Company Berkut also known as the Kazakhstan Government. From previous photos on the internet, of which I could only find one, the main difference looked to be the extra upper fuel tanks that have been added. We were then shown the very realistic simulator training facility before taking some photos of the displayed Mi-4. All in all a very interesting tour and extremely friendly. I had the impression that we could have stayed for hours of we were not on a bit of tight schedule for out next stop.

Next stop Pulkovo.

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