Today’s Pontificate – There I was, standing face-to-face with a mighty behemoth made for war against America. All alone against the unknown threat that might be hiding in it’s belly.. likely waiting for the right time to disgorge its minions to spread Communist domination. I raised my fist……………
Well, that’s one way of getting interest in reading this post. Actually… my “confrontation” was with one of their parked aircraft…. only to have that same aircraft come back to “haunt” me decades later.
Ok, ok… enough drama. Here’s the rather interesting story. When I was in the Air Force, following basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas, and after the debacle of me going to electronics school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS (another post in here someday), and after my on-the-job-training at McCoy AFB in Orlando to be a Security Policeman, it was my time to get assigned to some overseas deployment. At the time of the Vietnam War the general transition of “base hopping” for an enlistee usually included a year overseas, typically “unaccompanied” (meaning without benefit of spouse because of its relative remote location or being in a danger zone). Mentally I was ready to go to Nam or Thailand as this was the big event of that era, and most were going to some point in Southeast Asia, even if it wasn’t Vietnam. Literally.. when I got orders for Iceland it was the 1970’s version of… WTF!? But let’s get on with the story. My Iceland adventures in another post.
Keflavik Air Base (a rather generic term for what was then “Air Forces Iceland”).. or otherwise known as Reyjavik International Airport these days, was an official NATO base in those days, operated by the U.S. Navy (as an air station where their P3 Orions would drop sonar buoys to track Soviet subs coming down from Murmansk). The Air Force was a detachment in support of four alert Hughes F-102 Delta Daggers (relatively obsolete even at that time) fighter interceptors that would launch when the Norwegian radar detected Soviet aircraft leaving Murmansk. Our fighters would go up to rendezvous with the Soviet Bear bombers heading down to Cuba. Not much went on.. lots of waving back and forth in those encounters, and pilots took photos to pass down to DoD. Pretty much the usual cat-and-mouse where we are saying “We are watching you.” and they do their Russkie version of “Neener-neener.” back to us.
Anyway.. one day while on duty we got word of a “recall”.. meaning all us SP’s had to report for duty. It seems a Soviet transport aircraft had some mechanical problem and was allowed to land. Ostensibly we were rendering aid and they were permitted to land. But our job once we reported to duty was to assist Naval Security in cordoning off the aircraft and keep an eye out for anything poking out the windows or hatches. Interesting Cold War encounter actually… but friendly. The plane itself had those strange Russian multi-propeller configurations. I actually was in a bit of shock & awe at seeing the Soviet flag on the tail.. the “CCCP” on the fuselage, and a “real” hammer & sickle logo. It was an Antonov An-22 transport.
The Antonov was staying for a few hours and when my duty shift was over I went back to the barracks, changed to civilian clothes, and got my camera. Since this part of the “base” was also a civilian airport, civilians meandering about going to and from other aircraft is normal. So I managed to be across the flight line where the aircraft was parked and I had a buddy snap the picture you can see above. Not overly clear, but I had a pose where I was holding my fist toward the aircraft in defiance to the godless Communist horde that might be inside waiting to jump out and attack democracy. Yay Cold War!
Cool pic.. fond memories. Let’s fast forward 40 years.
It’s 2008 and I’m living in Las Vegas and I was working on The Strip itself at one of the many very high end clothing stores. My route to work took me down the Boulevard, right past the McCarran Airport private aircraft parking flight line and hangers. I daily would see the comings and goings of different private jets as I drove past… and any hint of their identities was limited to the large tail numbers painted on the sides. I had the idea one day in seeing if I could look up any of these aircraft registration numbers online to see who owns these things. Sure enough… I ended up with a new hobby. Now, this didn’t necessarily mean a registration would reveal “This is Bill Gates airplane”. More often than not it listed corporations.. many I never heard of before. But I did find a sub-culture of online aficionados who would actually try to identify.. and actually track the airports where certain planes landed at and were seen, and speculate their destination intentions. I tend to favor looking up tail numbers of aircraft used in Hollywood movies. Many have interesting histories. But I digress……………
One day as I was going over a box I had in storage of 35mm slides… the preferred photographic medium with my folks and myself through the 1970’s.. with the projectors and everything. I came across my Iceland slides… and saw the tail numbers on those F-102’s I guarded. When I checked online it seems the ones from my circa 1970’s Iceland days that didn’t get scrapped ended up in museums. In fact, one regional air museum I went to shocked me when I entered the large display hanger and there was an F-102 in complete 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron paint job from Iceland. I even recognized the tail number. I immediately felt older that dirt. The plane that I guarded in support of our nation’s defense is now nothing but a museum piece.
Anyway… also in that decades old box of slides was the pic of me and the Antonov transport… and I could see the tail registration. Whoa. So.. I looked online and after the old “I’ll be damned!” when I saw a pic of it in a Russian plane boneyard, I looked further and got a little history on that specific plane. Apparently RA-09339 was built in 1973.. the same year it landed at Keflavik. According to the data on the site RussianPlanes.net for this aircraft its first flight was earlier that year.. Feb. 28, 1973. My encounter with it was that June. Very likely it was heading to Cuba at the time. The aircraft’s “RA” designation represents the post-Soviet Russian military… the old being the USSR’s “CCCP” in the Iceland photo. Transfer of ownership in 1994 after the fall of communism.
From the documentation I read online the aircraft served to 1998, January 21st to be exact, when it was sent to Migalovo Air Base.
An interesting postscript.. while updating the research for this post I ran across a military blog from a Russian blogger, Vitaly Kuzman, who apparently enjoys taking photos (above) of military vehicles and equipment… and posts them with captions in English. He describes his visit to Migalovo Air Base in a….. believe it or not in Russia….. a base open house to the public of aircraft on static display. Go figger. This was in 2011. There in his portfolio of aircraft is “my” Antonov.. still there. He describes the open house day….
Migalovo Air Force base Open day 2011
Photo report from 6955th Guards Minskaya Air Force base located in Migalovo. Migalovo is a home base for all Russian An-22 fleet. There are also units with IL-76 and An-12. There was a celebration of 80th anniversary of foundation of Military Transport Aviation.
An-26, An-12, An-22, IL-76M and airfield vehicles were fully opened for the public, but the event was static only.
If you are into this sort of thing, you might check out his blog as he’s got some really great photos of Russian military vehicles.. old and new…. HERE.
Well, that’s my story of facing off the Soviet military in Iceland. After all, I outlasted the plane so I guess I won. Or maybe it’s more like, I can identify with that plane. We first met like two ships passing in the night when we were both young and had the world at our fingertips… and we now share the inevitable end to our active contribution to having existed…. in our respective “boneyards”… still there, waiting for some unknown end yet to come.
Damn.. I just depressed myself.
Wouldn’t it be cool if I went there and took the same posed pic of me with the plane? Hey.. start a GoFundMe to buy the plane and bring it to the States! Me and the plane could sit around together and bond. I could live inside it! Hmmmm…………..