Not too many opportunities exist in this day and age where one can still take flight on a classic Russian aircraft, let alone in a VIP configuration. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in a flight onboard a Slovak Government Flying Service (SSG) Tupolev TU-154M. For me, this would be my first-ever flight on a Russian aircraft, and to say I was excited would be an understatement.
The flight would be an empty ferry sector from Prague-Bratislava, a short 40-minute hop, but I knew I would savor every minute. SSG presently has four aircraft in its fleet, but only three are in operational service. The fleet consists of two Tupolev TU-154Ms (reg numbers OM-BYO and OM-BYR), with the latter being used for spare parts.
The remaining two aircraft are Yakovlev YAK-40s (reg numbers OM-BYE and OM-BYL). The Slovak Government not only carries out various head of state and other VIP missions, it also participates in various humanitarian and troop-carrying missions on behalf of the Slovak Government.
Upon my arrival at the airport and once all the formalities had been completed, I made my way onboard the aircraft, where I was welcomed by four flight attendants as well as a five-person cockpit crew (two pilots, one radio operator, and two mechanics).
After a brief tour of the aircraft, it was time to buckle up and begin the journey to Bratislava. The cabin crew offered to me a seat in the VIP suite, but knowing that this was my first flight on any Russian aircraft, I declined in favor of a seat in the cockpit.
Being an empty ferry flight, it was not surprising that our take-off was very impressive, not even using up half the runway in Prague. What did surprise me, however, was how quiet the whole cockpit area was, even with take-off thrust applied – it was no noisier than a modern commercial jet airliner.
After seeing numerous TU-154M take-off videos, I do suspect that with this being a state aircraft there have been a lot of modifications made, including significant sound proofing over commercial variants of the TU-154M.
Following our departure from Prague, I made the most of the short flight time testing out the seats in the various cabins, as well as taking plenty of photos of this stunning aircraft. There are three cabins in total on this aircraft, the front VIP suite, followed by a “business class” section, and finally an economy class.
All too soon unfortunately it was time to begin preparations for landing into Bratislava, and I made my way back to the cockpit.
It was a rather fun approach, as there were numerous storms around the area which also gave me a nice chance to experience turbulence penetration in the aircraft. I have to say it handled the bumps pretty well, even if the autopilot does tend to over-correct pitch slightly when moderate turbulence is encountered.
Following our arrival into Bratislava, I took a few more shots of the cockpit before bidding farewell to the crew and making my way to the passenger terminal for my evening Czech Airlines flight back to Prague. Needless to say, the ATR-42 flight was much less exciting then the inbound one.
This would have to be one of my best aviation experiences of all time, and I would like to make a special thanks the excellent crew for the possibility to accompany them on-board the aircraft, allowing me to experience my first flight on a Russian aircraft in such style!