The Almost Forgotten Monino Museum – Part Two

blair's trip to monino air museum russia

Missed part one of my Monino Museum blog? Read it here.

After a walk around red square it was time to catch the metro to the hotel, I was staying just outside the city in the Maxima Irbis Hotel in Partizanskaya. When abroad, I try to fit in with the locals and naturally, I had to order my ticket in Russian.

My car crash attempt at asking for it “Odin Partizanskaya pozhaluysta (One Partizanskaya please)”, to which the clerk replied “triste”. That’s three hundred Ruble, I paid and after getting away with it that time I realised it must be a popular place because she knew the price by memory.

The Metro to Partizanskaya

On the metro I had taken a Russian newspaper with me although I was just looking at the pictures as my reading ability in Russian is not extensive.

I was caught out en-route by an older gentleman who I believed was asking me the time. As it was on the hour I replied simply “Vosem’ chasov (eight hours)”, “Ahhh spasiba balshoye (Ah, thank you)” the man replied. I looked sheepishly back into the newspaper hoping no one else would engage me, later realising that my broken attempt at Russian would have given me away anyway.

I reached Partizanskaya and made my way up the stairs. It was like I had stepped into a time warp and all of a sudden, I’m catapulted back to USSR. Adorning the stairwell was a statue of the partisans from the great patriotic war. Echos of the Soviet Union; the décor of the metro is unlike the western train stations and is a place to visit in itself.

The Partizanskaya station stairwell complete with Soviet Statue
The Partizanskaya station stairwell complete with Soviet Statue

The Maxima Irbis Hotel

I walked across the snow-covered ground toward two grey tower blocks having already committed to memory my route from the station to the hotel. The key for me was to try and keep a low profile, Russian sentiment towards Brits is sometimes hostile and pickpockets target western tourists.

The Hotel for My Monino Museum Trip

After a short walk I found the hotel, it was located in what looked like an old soviet apartment building. I wondered what I had got myself into as the cold exterior said anything but hospitable. Inside, to my surprise, it was completely different.

In fact, it was quite lavish for Russia and had employed westernised décor. Walking to the receptionist I was greeted in English (she must have seen me a mile off) for the first time. After the completing the check in paperwork, I was told dinner finishes in an hour.

Walking up the stairs I entered the restaurant, it was a buffet style spread. I placed my bag at a table and then walked over to grab a plate. The food was a fusion of eastern and western cuisines. I decided to try a bit of everything, my first plate piled high with chicken and pasta as well as Russian items.

The Food at the Hotel

The buckwheat was good even if it did smell like a heated-up rubber and the salami and hams were also very nice. I also discovered a small square jelly that I have absolutely no clue about. It was awful and I can certainly tell you I would never try it again! I can’t even describe the taste except it was rancid. To wash it all down I picked up what I mistakenly thought was apple juice which turned out to be a very coarse, rough tea which like the jelly, was vile.

Dinner at the Maxima Irbis Hotel Moscow
The dinner was a mixed affair

After stuffing my face with all manner of weird and wonderful foods I decided to call it a night. The next destination; my room and more importantly, my bed. I can recall thinking this place is like the house jack built and sure enough the only way to get from the restaurant to my room was to go back downstairs and across the hall then up in the elevator.

The hotel was a labyrinth, poorly designed and executed as best they could. Epitomising this there was another hitch as my room was on the eleventh floor, but the elevator only went to the tenth floor (it was later that I realised the hotel operated one elevator for odd floors the another for even ones).

I had to choose either go all the way back down or walk the up to the last floor, I chose the latter.

My Room – Basic and Comfortable

I was glad to eventually see my room mainly because I was tired. Much like the western hotels that I am more accustomed to staying in, everything was there. I flicked on the TV and quite aptly the first station to light up the screen was Russia Today a news channel much like the BBC.

I inspected the bathroom to find that again like the main part of the room it was fairly modern with a shower and bath combination plus a lavatory. A quick shower and then to bed; my day was done.

My Journey to the Monino Museum, Russia

Many people will tell you I am someone who wakes up early. It was a restless night because I was so excited, I had two museums to go to and both at opposite ends of the city. I opened the curtains to find an amazing sight even at 6am it was light outside, and the view was tremendous, but I had no time to savour it and I got ready as quickly as I could.

View from the Maxima Irbis Hotel Moscow
The snow-covered view from my hotel room

I power walked to the train station, well more skated to it if I’m honest as the ground was covered in ice and snow. Reaching the station, I was dismayed to find my two trains had been cancelled. Undeterred, I hailed a taxi.

Getting to Monino

When I said “Monino Museum”, the driver’s face said, “Are you serious?”. I didn’t realise how far it actually was, not that it bothered me as I took in the sights as we drove up the M10 motorway without a care in the world.

My pleasant journey was short lived as I watched a police car try to do a U-turn across the centre of the road (they have no central reservations in Russia) and to my horror watched as a Lada Riva ploughed into the side of the police car destroying its front end. The plucky Lada Riva bucked the famous trend of unreliability and kept going.

Monino – Central Air Museum

Arriving at the Monino Museum, a place I had seen on TV many times before, I was struck by the normality of it all. I could have been in any city in any country, nothing looked unusual until I turned a corner and the rotors of a helicopter rose above a wall. My first physical glimpse of what lay in wait.

One of a Handful of Foreigners to Visit

As I entered the building, I heard a large crash. Peering back out of the door, I discovered a fresh pile of snow that had just fallen from the roof top. Inside, the museum staff looked just as perplexed as me but not because of the snow but because I am a westerner. It is almost a sixth sense of theirs – they can spot you a mile away even with my efforts to blend in.

I asked for a ticket in my best Russian attempt, to which came a reply “Americansky?” Of course, any westerner is considered at first American. I replied that I am from England.

After purchasing my ticket, I went into the first hanger. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, and I was greeted by the welcoming sight of all the early aircraft; the famous PO-2 bi-plane that the “night witches” flew during the siege of Leningrad along with the Mig 3.

Also present in the line-up of aviation from yesteryear was the most famous of them all, the IL-2 Sturmovik. These planes among others helped defend the Soviet Union against the Germans during the great patriotic war.

Outside at the Monino Museum

After a brief tour around the aircraft, I then decided to venture outside where more planes are housed in a sort of airplane graveyard. Trudging across the snow-covered walkways and road I went through a gate to be greeted by a sight that I had once only dreamed of.

Monino Russia Museum inside a Hangar with World War 2 Aircraft
A Selection of World War 2 (Great Patriotic War) Aircraft

I was one of only a few westerners that has visited the Monino Museum since it was opened in 2004. The museum has a large collection of all types of aircraft many of them prototypes. The rotors I saw above the wall on the way in belong to the world’s largest helicopter the Mil V12.

It dwarfs most other aircraft around it and to know this is one of only two ever built made it an extremely rare and welcome sight. The idea of this huge plane flying seems alien, but it was flown and is a testament to Russian ingenuity. This massive helicopter still holds many world records and yet this technology dates back to the late 1960’s.

v12 helicopter largest helicopter in the world
Mil V12 – Largest Helicopter in the World

Across the row is another aircraft that is more than noteworthy. If you didn’t know the difference you would swear blind you were looking at an American B29 Super fortress.

You would be half right, when three B29s crashed in Russia in the 1940’s Stalin ordered them copied to the last detail and here it is an exact Soviet copy – well almost exact, the engines are different. The Tupolev TU-4 Bull would carry Russia’s nuclear arsenal from 1949 to the mid 1950’s.

tupolev tu-4 bull
The Russian Version (Copy) of the B29 Super Fortress – The TU4

The Bombers

Alongside the TU-4 Bull are other bombers, the Tupolev TU-16 Badger, the mighty Tupolev TU-22 Backfire and the Myasishchev M-4 Bison, the bomber that caused all the stir during the missile gap years. There are however two bombers that really catch my eye, the Sukhoi T4 the Mach 3 bomber, and the odd looking Myasishchev M-50 bounder.

Tupolev TU-16 Badger
The TU-16 Badger
Tupolev TU-22 Backfire
The TU-22
Myasishchev M-4 Bison
Myasishchev M-4 Bison
Sukhoi T4
The Sukhoi T-4

The T-4 project was designed in response to the American XB70 Valkyrie programme and like that programme the T4 was cancelled, and it never reached Mach 3. Its legacy would end up being implanted into another aircraft sitting just across the way the TU-144 Concordski.

The M50 would also endure cancellation but not before it was part of a famous hoax article in Aviation Week.

M-50 Bounder
The M50 Bounder

The M-50 Hoax

The M-50 was displayed to the world in 1961 at the Aviation Day Parade, unfortunately, it would never fly again. The hoax that caused all the uproar as well as panic from the US and UK was that the M-50 was a platform for testing a nuclear power plant that would power it. Had this been the case it would truly be an intercontinental bomber with no range limitations.

Although this was later established to be a hoax when the truth came out in 1992, it turned out the Russians had flown a nuclear-powered aircraft as early as the 1960’s. Conducting as many as forty test flights between 1960 and 1969. This wasn’t the M50 but another type of aircraft, the project in the end was scrapped due to environmental concerns.

First World Problems with Urbex at Low Temperatures

In cold conditions, modern technology begins to lose functionality, by the time I got past the bombers the cold was starting to get to my camera and my phone. I always bring spare batteries, but the cold had been sapping the power each time I took a picture. The same was occurring with my phone, the temperature is hanging at a cool -9*c (16*F) the snow crunches underfoot and I continued on as there was so much still to see.

Battery Power Problems in the Cold

Having this power bank with me would have been a lifesaver! Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the problem before I set out.

In one part of the display between two empty hangers (I did look inside, disappointed to find them empty) are the helicopters. They are of all different sizes from the massive Mil MI-26 to the tiny Mil MI-2. There are other odd helicopters are here too, like the twin counter rotating helicopter Kamov KA25.

Walking further, I spot the rather unusual Mil MI-10 Sky crane, and then I stumbled on two unmistakable helicopters: the world’s most numerous helicopter the Mil MI-8 and one of the most feared helicopters the mighty Mil MI-24 Hind gunship.

monino russia museum
Selection of Helicopters on Display at the Monino Museum

The Difference Between Russian and American Design

Walking around Monino, one thing becomes apparent, the design of Soviet/Russian equipment is crude in comparison to their western counterparts. Each and every aircraft is designed to perform in adverse weather and in rough terrain, while America builds planes like Rolls Royce cars, Russians build them like rugged tractors.

Staring at a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 you can clearly see the differences between it and the American counterpart the F86 Sabre, although closely matched the Sabre has a more refined look. If John Deere tractors made aircraft, the MiG 15 would be the result. Its basic, rudimentary, rugged, cheap and practical. This is what made them so great.

monino russia museum mig 15
MiG 15

The Concordski and Other Iconic Jets

Trudging through the snow which is now up to my ankles I take in the entire outdoor aspect of the museum. In the distance I see the TU144 Concordski (the Russian version of Concorde), below and beside it stand three famous aircraft from the second and third generation:

  • The legendary Mach 3.2 high altitude interceptor the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat
  • The swing wing Sukhoi SU-24 Fencer
  • And the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum was a plane that struck fear into many western governments and lead to the standing order in the 1991 Gulf War “Do not engage in a turning fight”.

An External Shot of Aircraft at the Monino Air Museum

Under the other wing of the TU144 is the Balalaika or as we know it the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 a famous plane in its own right and even 60 years after its first flight it remains in service. This Mach 2 aircraft bought terror to the skies of Vietnam taking on the beast that is the F4 Phantom.

Final Thoughts at Monino

There is so much history here at Monino and in every corner I look there is a story, be it the Fencers and Flankers at the front to the Bears and Backfires at the back. There is even a spaceship here – it truly is a wonder to see so many famous aircraft including the TU114. I am awestruck knowing that I am stood in this snow-covered field surrounded by aircraft that have been part of world history.

monino russia museum
The Monino Air Museum – Snow-covered ground resembles an airplane graveyard

While this place may seem to many as a graveyard of relics it is the holy grail of Russian aviation, there is no place on earth that you will find such unique aircraft. More impressive is that many of these aircraft have modernised versions and even more impressive still, is the fact that some of these aircraft you see here are still in production.

monino russia part 1
One of my last pictures before my battery got killed by the cold

My time at Monino Central Air Museum was coming to a close, I had half a day here exploring and I wish I had much more time, but I had to get to the other side of the city for my next adventure. I had one last walk around taking pictures of the aircraft with the remainder of my battery, making sure I had not missed anything. Then I got in a taxi returning to the train station, walking along the icy road I was saddened to leave but my next adventure was only half an hour away!

monino aviation museum
MiG 21

Blair Shaw

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