Monino – Central Museum of the Russian Air Forces

Probably the most famous air museum in Russia – and formerly in the whole USSR – the Central Air Force Museum in Monino doesn’t need a presentation for aviation enthusiasts from every part of the world. As a matter of fact, still today this is probably the world’s largest collection of military and experimental aircraft manufactured in the Soviet Union.

Similar to many air museums in western Countries, this aircraft collection has been located on the premises of an active airbase since it opened its doors back in 1958. For this reason, in the years of the Soviet Union and even for some time after its collapse, the collection couldn’t be visited without prior permission. A specially restrictive visiting policy was applied to foreign visitors, due to the technological content of the exhibition. Today things have greatly improved in this respect, and visiting is absolutely free for everybody, both Russians and foreign tourists, like it is the case for most similar sites in the West.

To be sincere, I expected something like what you can find in former peripheral Countries of the Soviet bloc – an array of rotting fuselages, landing gears, rusty jet engines and no information around. It turned out I was totally wrong. What caused my inaccurate prevision was I had failed taking into account the singular passion and nostalgia that Russians show still today for their Soviet past, at least when it comes to military power and technological glory. In this respect, many other more ‘western’ and politically correct neighbor Countries in Europe, like Italy and France, have a much colder attitude towards aviation and their own past aeronautical endeavors.

So, at Monino the conditions of the aircraft both inside and outside are extremely good, especially if you consider the harsh weather that aircraft bodies have to sustain in the terrible Russian winters. From photographs on the web you can rapidly realize most aircraft are covered in snow in winter, so visiting may be also not much rewarding in that season. I visited in September, and except for a Soviet-grey, cloudy day I could enjoy a normal visit.

From the technical viewpoint, the collection is composed of many aircraft and engines up to WWII, hosted indoor, plus a huge outdoor collection of aircraft covering the majority of military models deployed by the Air Force of the Red Army over the years of the Cold War, in their respective roles – strategic bombers, fighters, …

Also some really rare prototype aircraft are part of the exhibition – some of them, like the Tupolev Tu-144 and the Sukhoi Su-100, are unique and very famous. There are also some iconic (gigantic) Mil helicopters, and some liners. There is much information around for less experienced enthusiasts, almost all placards both in Russian and English – a very rare sight in English-unfriendly Russia! If you can speak or understand Russian – unlike me – you can also have guided tours with former Air Force staff, which are reportedly much interesting.

The following photos were taken during a visit in September 2015.

Getting there

One of the reasons for so few interested people actually include Monino in their visit plan is the fame of the place as almost unreachable, inconvenient and expensive. This fame is due to the many companies on the web chattering about permissions, passport requests, tickets in advance, many hours to get to the place and so on. These companies usually ask for many hundreds dollars for taking you on the trip.

These are genuine tourist traps. There is no need for any permission, the place is not any more an active base (since long) and you are not asked any document. Plus, getting there with the local railway system serving the greater Moscow area is very easy – the train has Monino as destination – and the totally inexpensive trip takes about 1h 20min, only due to the countless stops.

First of all, note that I don’t speak russian nor can I read the Cyrillic alphabet. Nonetheless, I managed to get to this place about 20 miles from center Moscow to the East without troubles and traveling solo.

Trains going to Monino depart Moscow Yaroslavskaya in central Moscow rather frequently, about two to four times per hour – accurate timetable available briefly googling for local trains from Moscow to Monino. The terminal is the local railway terminal, placed right behind the main cottage-like building of the railway station (from where you can go as far as Vladivostok…). You can buy a ticket from one of the countless automatic vendors – in Russian, impossible for me – or from one of the countless ticket offices – this was my option. I got a ticket for both ways – you just have to say “To Monino and back”, even though Russians are not friends of English, this request was immediately understood by the officer. The fare is very cheap. The line I considered terminated at Monino, reached after many many stops and about 1h 20 minutes later. Note that the railway ticket is required also for leaving the station on arrival, so you’d better keep it safe.

If all you had seen before in Russia is St. Petersburg and central Moscow, you might be a bit shocked, and feel like you had leaped in the past and well back into the Soviet era – large and cheap concrete buildings, partially paved roads, many elderly people walking around along silent streets and more bicycles than cars around. Sure the village is nothing special and far from monumental, but it’s not dark nor scary or unsafe. Plus you can notice signs of its past vocation, as ghost insignia and abandoned control booths typical to a former military installation can be spotted immediately close to the railway station and around the village, together with a Lenin’s statue still proudly placed in a small square on your path to the museum.

The only problem is that there are no signs for reaching the museum – not any until you are in front of the gate -, which is about .7 miles from the station to the other end of the village (South). You can take a (rare) taxi, or enjoy the walk. The latter was my option. The road is extremely straightforward. Actually it’s basically straight. If you don’t have a digital map, you can simply print the Google map of Monino with a satellite view of the buildings – this again was my option – and this is definitely enough to get to the place. I prepared this small map with the path I’ve followed and some notable sights.

The ticket to the museum is less than 3 dollars, very cheap.

For going back you just reverse the plan. Travel time in total for the trip both ways may be 3h 10min, including train and transfers between the gate and Monino station by foot. Adding about 3 hours for visiting the museum with a relaxed pace, a visit to Monino from central Moscow may take about 6 hours, so you may plan something more than half day for this visit.

Opening times can be obtained from the official website http://www.monino.ru, some Google-translation is needed if you like me don’t know Russian.

Sights

Including descriptions of all aircraft in Monino would be impractical and probably uninteresting. For this reason I will include only photographs and some comments. For an almost-full list of the aircraft in Monino, with something about each of the preserved exemplars, I would recommend the book in English A guide to the Russian Federation Air Force Museum at Monino by Korolkov and Kazashvili, published in the US.

In the blue-roofed building of the ticket office some early aircraft engines and panels about the history of aviation in Russia are presented.

Then you can enter the neighbor hangar, with some unique aircraft from up to WWII. These include an exemplar of the world-famous Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik.

The rest of the exhibition is hosted on the other side of the road. Immediately past the gate on one side you have probably the world’s largest helicopter, the twin-rotor Mil Mi-12. Facing this monstrosity, some iconic bombers, including the Tu-4, i.e. a licence-built Boeing B-29, and a prototype Tupolev Tu-22M, with ancestral engine fairings later replaced on the production version. Also notable are a Tu-22, Tu-128 – a really massive interceptor – and two very famous Soviet prototypes, the Myasischev M-50 and the Sukhoi Su-100, with its characteristic Concorde-like deflectable nose.

In a hangar nearby it is possible to find some further experimental aircraft, including rocket-propelled aircraft, high-atmosphere balloon capsules and other curious items.

Placed on an off-limits grassy area nearby the hangar there are some very uncommon aircraft awaiting restoration, and on the other side a good collection of Mil and Kamov helicopters, including the Mil-24A featured in the third chapter of the John Rambo series, a Mil-10 flying crane helicopter and a huge Mil-6 which used to work as a flying command station.

Nearby is the ‘Yakovlev alley’, where most aircraft from this high-tech design bureau are presented.

Approaching the far end of the exhibition grounds you can spot some of the Soviet ‘big ones’, including an Antonov An-22 Anthei, an Ilyushin Il-76, an Il-62 and a very rare Tupolev Tu-114 turboprop with counter-rotating propellers. This was among the fastest-flying propeller-driven aircraft in history.

Recently added to the collection, on one corner of the exhibition are two truly iconic Cold War veterans, a Tupolev Tu-142 and a Tu-22M Backfire, both retired production exemplars.

Other interesting items are a rare Beriev Be-12 huge seaplane, a pretty old Ilyushin Il-18 and a Il-2, and obviously the world-famous prototype Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic liner.

Before taking to the ‘MiG alley’ and ‘Sukhoi alley’ reaching to the exit, three unique prototypes should not go unnoticed, namely the Lavochkin La-250 supersonic interceptor, with a 1956 variable incidence delta wing, the high altitude Myasischev M-17, a twin tailed, ultra-high aspect ratio wing, the Buran flight emulator, created to reproduce the flight dynamics of the ill-fated Buran orbiter in terminal maneuvers, and the Bertini-Beriev VVA-14 ekranoplane. The latter was off-limits when I visited, and could be spotted sitting derelict in the backyard, awaiting restoration.

Approaching the exit you can notice a full array of MiGs, including some more rare to find in the West, like the MiG-25 ‘anti-Blackbird’ Mach-3 interceptor, and various Sukhoi designs ranging from early prototypes to the more modern exemplars. Among them a Lisunov Li-2, a licensed Douglas C-47, was undergoing active restoration when I visited.

Finally, some photos of the ‘pleasant village’ of Monino, a former militarized village.

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