Since I was already in Minsk, after having made my way there on a Tu-154M, there had to be another plane to fly on, or some other diversion to pass the time in Minsk. Well, other than the ominously-named “Texas Show Bar” in the hotel. That place was scary!
Anyhow. Thankfully, my friend had already taken care of this and set up an An-12 with quite the livery! Built in 1961 for the Soviet Air Force, its history becomes murky after the collapse of the USSR. We know it was floating around Bulgaria in 2001 and, heck, it is unclear if it was even built in Voronezh, Tashkent, or Irkutsk! It didn’t matter — I wanted it to fly — with me on it.
There were two differences immediately apparent from my previous An-12 flight. First, there was no hilariously-outdated physical examination prior to boarding. Second, we were given boarding passes prior to clearing security. Did the boarding passes say anything? No. But they were boarding passes none-the-less. Must’ve been for security to have something to count. I honestly have no idea. Also, instead of just walking straight on to the ramp, we went to a gate in D Concourse to wait for our bus.
Sadly, the sun was behind a cloud when we got to our hard stand on a far right-hand corner of the ramp. I took some pictures for the sake of taking pictures, not for show. I made my way up the rickety ladder into the cabin to be greeted by a lot more light than I was expecting. I knew that this An-12BP was just a militarized An-10, but it’s a lot less dank in there than you would think.
Once again, I opted for premium seating as I like a bit of padding. This cabin was much cleaner, freshly upholstered, and painted too. There was also only an image of one saint. Either this aircraft needed less luck, or it was under-represented.
Due to the lack of house-style window curtains and the extra windows in the pressurized section of the aircraft, I chose to sit facing rearward to get an excellent view of the Ivchenko AI-20 engines mounted on the wings. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the flight, as I have flown facing every direction but backwards, but my bravery was spurred entirely because of the view.
Start-up was a slightly noisier affair than the last An-12 I flew – about the same volume and noise as my Il-18 ride. Taxi was a bit different, though. Like I said, I’ve never sat backwards in an aircraft and the first few turns towards the runway at Minsk National Airport were a bit disconcerting. Especially with no seat belt (I discovered there was one later in the flight).
Take off was not as abrupt, sadly. It was a steady and beautiful roll. Soon we were at roughly 5,000 feet and heading towards the outskirts of downtown Minsk.
I got up to go into the flight deck; after all, the door was open and it was right there. Except by the time it was my turn to visit the navigator’s station, I could see we were setting up for final approach into Minsk-1 Airport.
Minsk-1 has a painfully short runway. Ordinarily, I would love to land in the glazed nose of an An-12 with no seat belt, but remembering that last year’s experience nearly threw me out of the seats, I scampered back to film it from a passenger window instead. Especially fun was that Minsk-1 Airport will be closed by the time this article runs — we were the last passenger flight in!
The airport will be demolished and turned into a housing development. What about Plant 407, overhaul center to the rich and famous owners of Tu-134s and Yak-40s? That will move to Minsk National Airport. The ones that cannot fly will be scrapped. I am very grateful we even got to go to Minsk-1 this year; the government originally did not want us to see that there were some strangely Arabic Tu-134s being stored there for safe keeping. We couldn’t take pictures of them as they had been pushed into a hangar, but if you knew where to look…
On the ramp there was the same Tu-134A-3 from last year: UR-UES. This year, the door was open. It was in great shape until near the aft cabin, where it was clearly incomplete.
This is the only Tu-134 I have ever seen with a Panasonic microwave in the galley. It is, strongly, alleged that this belonged to Ukraine’s very own Princess Leia- Yulia Tymoshenko.
I still did my best to make my way around the cabin taking photos (and look for war prizes). But it was soon time to get out of there; it was getting hot, and there were many more hulks to see!
After about an hour on the ground, it was time to reboard my An-12 chariot for a new destination. A sad moment, as next time I am in Minsk, there will only be one civil airport.
We were the last passenger flight out of Minsk-1 as well, and our destination was Vitebsk. Departure offered great views of the city, but the photos turned out painfully backlit. Instead I just enjoyed the sedate climb towards our (much higher) cruising altitude.
As seems to be tradition with flights in Belarus, the cargo door was opened in cruise. It’s not quite the same as on an Il-76, because you are flying lower, slower, and the An-12BP’s cargo hold leaks like a sieve. There’s a bit of a pleasant breeze, but it’s not as deafening.
43 minutes later, we were in Vitebsk. There’s not much to see in Vitebsk, or so the morning passengers had told me. How wrong they were. We were greeted by a lovely MAZ bus, with a friendly airport cat aboard.
Exciting, I know. Fly all the way to Vitebsk to see a cat! It gets better.
The ramp was a haven for An-2s operating on behalf of the Belorussian Ministry of Emergency Situations. There is no real American equivalent to this, so I have no idea how to explain what they do. Just think that this is an aircraft that would show up somewhere if there was a natural disaster. Either way, they seem to be very well cared for and in great shape.
After our ramp tour, it was time to get back aboard the An-12BP once more. For some reason, all of the exterior writing is in English. Including a “gronding” panel. I wonder if that could be grounding? After another very short roll, we were in the air back for Minsk.
The rest of the flight was amazing, but identical in every way to the previous. Once landed, I was able to confirm my upgrade to Business Class on my flight back to London, but that is another story.
The An-12, BP or otherwise, is a truly spectacular airframe. I can’t wait to fly on more!