Russian Air Power – Fallen Stars – Rising Stars

Before Perestroika (Перестройка – Restructuring) and Glasnost (Гласность – Openness), Russian Air Power was strong and respected by many. When political and economic stability degraded in the 1990s, Russian Air Power degraded too because of lack of political interest and, as a consequence, of funds to develop and build new aircraft. At the beginning of the 21st century, political stability returned and the economy started to recover slowly but surely. So did Russian Air Power, at first only with upgrade programmes for existing airframes, but nowadays also with the purchase of new aircraft and the development of new types. After a decade of decay and a decade of recovery, Russia is back on the political and economic maps. And Russian Air Power is getting there too. After many years of almost no aircraft acquisitions, the Ministry of Defence ordered 32 additional Sukhoi Su-34s in late 2008. During MAKS 2009, an order for 64 new Sukhoi combat aircraft (12 Su-27SM, 4 Su-30M2 and 48 Su-35S) was signed for delivery within the next five years. The fallen star is rising again.

 A similar story goes for the Soviet and Russian Air Forces’ historic inheritance.

 During the Cold War, there was a continuous build up of forces at both sides, often inspired by real fear, sometimes by artificially created fear to serve certain political or military reasons. Both sides kept the numbers and capabilities of their aircraft as secret as possible to stay always one step in advance and to prevent the opponent from taking the proper defensive measures.

 For internal political reasons, however, there was often a need to show its military power to the own population. Since the early years of aviation, Soviet leaders showed off the capabilities of their airmen, airwomen and aircraft during an air show held annually at Tushino (Тушино), an airfield to the northwest of what was then the city of Moscow. Many of us will vividly remember the usually somewhat blurred newspaper photographs of the latest, until then secret Soviet aircraft and helicopters taken at that annual event at Tushino.

 As both sides tried to conceal their newest weapon systems and prohibited photography in the vicinity of military installations and aircraft factories, intelligence people sometimes had to have resort to other, indirect means to collect information. One of these means were museums. Western intelligence people will without doubt recognise some of many prototypes of the major Soviet design bureaus that were, although still very recent, exhibited at Khodynka Field (Ходынское поле) to present the realisations of aviation industry to the public.

 Both historic places are now declining as they fell into disuse because they became surrounded by the growing city of Moscow. Elsewhere, however, other people are resuming the task of preserving aviation history.



Mil Mi-8T Hip RA-27132

Tushino, the place where decades long tens of thousands of Soviet citizens gathered together every year to watch the latest creations of design bureaus like those of Antonov, Bartini, Beriev, Ilyushin, Kamov, Mikoyan and Gurevich, Mil, Myasishchev, Lavochkin, Polikarpov, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Yakovlev as well as the power of the Soviet Air Force, is now reduced to an empty open space in the city. Only a few derelict aircraft and helicopters and a rare aviation related activity remind here of glorious days gone by. Five years ago, the two lonely Mil Mi-8T Hip-C helicopters RA-27132 (c/n 9744121) and R-27133 (c/n 9754905) at Thushino were still in fairly good condition. Today, they are completely stripped of all useful parts and plundered and vandalised by souvenir hunters and looters.

Ilyushin Il-14T 01707

Ilyushin Il-14T 01707 ФЛА РФ of the Федерация Любителей Авиации Российской Федерации (Federation of Aircraft Enthusiasts of the Russian Federation), comparable to the Royal Belgian Aeroclub, reminds that Tushino was once the cradle of sports aviation in Moscow. Behind it is Antonov An-26B RA-13339 (c/n 12-08). Both aircraft are still in a more or less good condition.


The only aviation activity worthy of that name which remains active at Tushino is Airbridge (Воздушный Мост), a small factory with a dozen or so employees producing between 40 and 50 motorised hang gliders per year. The company is specialised in the construction of hang gliders with a modified (Japanese) car engine for which no certification is required and for which no restrictions apply except for flying over large inhabited areas. A hang glider on inflatable floats is an excellent pastime for adventurous inhabitants of Russia with its many large rivers and thousands of lakes.



Khodynka airfield

Khodynka Field was once the cradle of pioneering Russian and Soviet aviation and played an important role in the air defence of Moscow during the Great Patriotic War. It was the site where numerous experimental aircraft of the design bureaus situated along the nearby Leningradsky Prospect (Ленинградский проспект) made their maiden flight and it was Moscow’s first and only airport until the opening of Vnukovo (Внуково) in 1941. For years, it was home of an invaluable collection of prototypes of mainly military aircraft and helicopters built and tested by Russia’s major design bureaus and could be considered as a kind of Soviet counterpart of the American National Air & Space Museum. Today, only the central part of Khodynka’s two crossing runways remain, surrounded by recent apartment buildings and used for car races, as parking lots or practice area for young drivers.

Khodynka general overview

This general views shows part of what was once one of the finest, most valuable and probably most secret collections of military aircraft in the Soviet Union. The white, blue and red building behind the line-up of aircraft is Moscow’s new ice rink. The control tower of Khodynka Airport can be discerned in the left background. The collection was carefully preserved in the open air museum until 2004. The first signs of decay became visible that year, when new rich, slick boys and girls laid their hands on this financially interesting open space in central Moscow and turned it into a huge real estate development site. They literally pushed aside the aircraft collection, which is now in deep decay, prey to playing children, souvenir hunters and common vandals.


Hoods that could not be opened in a normal way were simply smashed to pieces to steal the avionics, leaving the inside of the aircraft exposed to the harsh Russian winters.


Intelligence people will without doubt recognize some of these prototypes from aircraft recognition handbooks or magazines of the Cold Word era.


This Yakovlev Yak-38 Forger is being treated well by a lady-photographer. She can be called a “fair abuser” of the collection as she had at least the decency to put off her shoes before climbing on the aircraft…



Yak 141

Only two flying prototypes have been built of what was known in the West as Yakovlev Yak-141 Freestyle and in the Soviet Union as Yak-41M. Prototype 77 White is preserved at Monino’s Air Force Museum with the fake serial number 141 White. 75 White was stored at Zhukovsky until it was recently acquired by the Technical Museum of Vadim Zadorozhny (Музей техники Вадима Задорожного), situated just outside Moscow city in western direction. The aircraft came complete with an instrumented cockpit and all of its three engines. The lady in white coverall spraying the aircraft worked for 40 years with Yakovlev. She started on the Yak-40 Codling and ended on the Yak-130.


The Technical Museum of Vadim Zadorozhny has more ambition than restoring aircraft to static display conditions. At present, work on the restoration of a Mikoyan and Gurevich MiG-15 (Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-15) Fagot to flying conditions are advancing well. The front fuselage and one of the wings have already been refurbished.





A big surprise at Vadim Zadorozhny’s Technical Museum was the presence of a former Belgian Air Force Republic F-84F Thunderstreak, probably the first Belgian military aircraft in Russian possession ever. The aircraft was acquired from the Musée européen de l'Aviation de Chasse in Montélimar two years ago, but remained in storage in Moscow until it was moved to a spot near the museum’s entrance on 28 August 2009. The aircraft is now being assembled and will soon be repainted in... Belgian colours. Upon inspecting the aircraft, traces were found of no less than five different serial numbers (FU-26, 116, 146, 186 and 194). Much confusion reigned about the exact identity of the aircraft but since this years a group of researches from BAHA and Air Britain has identified the machine as being FU-29 combined with the tail-section of FU-123. The Musée européen de l'Aviation de Chasse told the new owner that the fuselage is that of FU-26 and the aircraft will – regrettably – be repainted with that wrong serial number.

FU-29 Cockpit

The aircraft’s cockpit was void of instruments, but fitted out with a relatively well preserved ejection seat.


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 © Jos Schoofs  (September 2009)

Last updated 07/09/09 09:03   Daniel Brackx