This is an Mi-26T; MChS Belarus uses it for firefighting – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Yup, that’s a flying barn. That’s what some pilots refer to it as in Russian. “сарай”.

It may have long, flat sides. It may even have a cargo door in the rear large enough to drive a tractor into. Let’s not forget that this is a helicopter. Not just any helicopter, either.

Those are not small trees in the background. It is hard to illustrate how large this thing is. – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

This is the Mil Mi-26. Specifically an Mi-26T. This one is based at Lipki Airfield on the east side of Minsk, home of a detachment of pilots and other staff who work for the Ministry for Emergency Situations of the Republic of Belarus.

An EVA Air Boeing 747-400 sits at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

An EVA Air Boeing 747-400 sits at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

There are certain questions I get asked over and over (and over) again from doing this gig. There seem to four that I get asked way more than others:

#1 What’s your favorite airline?
#2 What’s your favorite aircraft?
#3 What airline and/or aircraft should I avoid?
#4 Where do you buy your tickets?

I started to wonder how do others answer those questions? So I decided to ask some people who I think are kinda cool. I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out. I ended up with some pretty interesting answers (at least I think so) so compiled them all up in this story. I think it is worth saying that no one saw anyone else’s answers before publishing. Some are shockingly similar, others complete opposites. You will have to wait until the end to see mine (because I assume my answers are the right ones).

Hamburg - Photo: Pedro | FlickrCC

Hamburg – Photo: Pedro | FlickrCC

In Hamburg, you have to pay attention.

Things are moving here on the edge of time. A store doesn’t open at 9:59, it opens at 10:00 exactly.  People still have wrist watches not as an accessory, not as a nod to the 90s, but actually use them for their intended purpose. The train / subway / HochBahn is rarely, if ever, late. Only once in six whole months did I see a train come startlingly late (I would consider “startling late” ten minutes), and it caused panic to ripple throughout the crowd. Where is the train? How could this happen? When the HochBahn comes, it opens and closes its mouth within ten seconds and you better already be there to jump in. One time I made it, but my bag got caught. The doors do not wait for anyone or anything. Every four minutes it arrives and leaves. Time is important here, efficiency is important. Hamburg people cannot live on borrowed time, and there is something to respect in this efficiency.

In Hamburg, people stare at you.

Truly, stoically, painfully, everlastingly look at you. Never have a cold sore in Hamburg. Make sure you brush your hair. The staring, the (perceived but often not real) judgement, and the curiosity only increases between the elderly and the children. You feel 15 and awkward again in Hamburg. Why is everyone looking at me? They are not, in fact; everyone is looking at everyone else. Over the months, the stares don’t feel so strange or threatening. You begin to realize that the staring, the looking-for-longer-than-necessary-look is how people interact with each other here. It is different, it is uncomfortable, it can be unbearable and then… it isn’t. Eventually you will stare back.

In Hamburg, fashion is function over form. There are not a lot of bright colors or varieties of clothing here. Sensible black shoes, a Fjällräven backpack, a jacket that hits your knees that is both waterproof and windproof for the unpredictable dark winter. In some cases, this is a relief. You don’t have to fuss much about your wardrobe in Hamburg. It is easy to wear greys and blacks and the occasional pop of color scarf. You bundle up here. The extreme humidity in the summer means you sweat, but in the winter it means there is a sharper cold. Looking put together, clean, sharp, business ready is very important, but fashion in itself is not. Maybe it is the climate or maybe it is the culture… I can’t tell the difference.

So meta. The current Beluga hauling Beluga XL parts.

So meta. The current Beluga hauling Beluga XL parts

When living large is just not good enough, you need to live XL — Beluga XL that is!

Airbus is in process of upgrading their “oversize cargo airlifter” and recently shared some photos of its progress. The new model will replace the five current Beluga STs (for Super Transporter) that are used to fly aircraft parts around Europe to Airbus final assembly sites in Hamburg and Toulouse.

A mock up of the new Airbus Beluga XL

A mockup of the new Airbus Beluga XL

I typically find two reactions with the current Airbus Beluga. Either “OMG that is freaking awesome” or “what the hell, that ugly plane?” Sure, it might be a look like a plane that only a mother could love, but I find it rather beautiful.