Aircraft Carriers of the West Coast

Among the countless interesting places and sights the States of the West Coast have to offer, even aircraft carriers need to be mentioned. There are three ‘capital sites’ that will surely appeal to war veterans, pilots, seamen, historians, technicians, children and everybody with an interest for ‘CVs’ – an acronym for ‘carrier vessels’. Two are super-museums in California, where the USS Hornet and USS Midway are permanently preserved and open to the public, and a third is the Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, which is an active installation of the US Navy in the premises of the Naval Base Kitsap, where maintenance work is carried out on the current CV-fleet, and where part of the reserve fleet – including most notably some aircraft carriers – is moored.

Here you can find some photos of these sites from visits of mine in 2012 and 2014.

USS Hornet (CV-12) – Alameda, CA

This ship is an Essex-class carrier commissioned in late 1943. Since then, she saw extensive action throughout WWII in the Pacific theatre, being involved in frontline operations leading to the defeat of Japan. As a matter of fact, aircraft from this ship totalled a number of downed aircraft ranking second in the general list of aircraft carriers of the world, behind USS Essex – which enjoyed a full year of service more than Hornet during the war with Japan.

The original appearance of the ship was much different from today’s, first and foremost due to the straight-deck construction of the Essex-class – just like all other carriers until the Fifties. For Hornet the current shape of the deck is the result of SCB-125 modification in 1956, introducing an angled landing deck. This feature, which came along with other major changes to the overall structure also resulting in a significant weight increase, allowed independent take-off and landing operations. Differently from other ships of the class, Hornet wasn’t upgraded in the late-fifties with steam-powered catapults, retaining hydraulically powered ones instead, thus being incapable of launching heavier aircraft like the Phantom, Intruder, Vigilante, or even the Hawkeye. It was then assigned to a support role as an ASW carrier, equipped with Tracker aircraft and helicopters for anti-submarine missions.

In the late Sixties Hornet was involved in the race to the Moon, serving as a rescue platform for the first moonwalkers returning from the succesful Apollo 11 mission, and subsequently in the same role for the astronauts of Apollo 12.

Similarly to all other Essex-class vessels – with the exception of the venerable USS Lexington, operated as a training ship until late 1991! – it saw limited action in the Vietnam War, when much larger and more suited carriers had become available for war operations, and it was retired in the early Seventies.

During your visit you are basically free to move all around the many well-preserved areas under the flight deck.

There you can see the striking proportions of this relatively ‘small’ carrier. The mechanism of the central elevator can be seen to the bow of the ship. An impressive table with the number of targets hit recalls the primary role this ship had in WWII.

On the main aircraft storage level there are some preserved aircraft, not all from the history of this unit. Among the many interesting features in this area, a replica of the helicopter which took the astronauts of Apollo 11 on board. This very helicopter was used in Ron Howard’s movie ‘Apollo 13’ starring Tom Hanks. Also the mobile quarantine facility for the astronauts can be found here. Neil Armstrong’s very footsteps from the helicopter to the quarantine facility are marked with white paint.

Moving back to the stern of the ship it is possible to visit a very interesting technical area for aircraft maintenance and servicing, as well as for mission preparation. It reminds the primary role of aircraft carriers as a frontline-deployed, moving airbases, with everything that is necessary for operating the aircraft onboard on a regular basis for offensive missions. A hatch leading to the compartments on the lower levels has been left open, and this allows to appreciate the actual size of the ship, really huge, with multiple storage levels for aircraft spare parts and ordnance.

Also very interesting are the big fireproof sliding doors for cutting the aircraft storage deck into compartments in the event of fire – possibly due to some ordnance piercing the deck of the ship, as well as to accidental causes.

Further interesting sights in the self-guided part of the visit include the operational briefing room, some service rooms, dormitories and a large area for the anchor moving mechanisms.

A second part of the tour is guided. You move around is small groups and you access the flight deck and the ‘island’, the command and control center of all operations – deck management, flight mission control, and ship control & navigation. The guides are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic veterans, able to tell you detailed explanations of what you see as well as anecdotes from the history of the ship.

The Presidential Seal has been placed where president Nixon was standing to oversee the recovery of the moonwalkers from Apollo 11.

This part of the visit will be extremely interesting for more technically minded subjects – you will see original wind signals for landing aircraft, an original LORAN navigation device for sea navigation, the normal and emergency arresting systems, the Fresnel optical landing aid system, and tons of other extremely interesting items which were actually used in real operations.

From the stern of the ship and the flight deck it is possible to take fantastic pictures of downtown SFO.

Extra Feature – Treasure Island Pan Am Terminal

A little ‘extra’ you can find on your way if you are travelling from San Francisco via the SFO-Oakland Bay Bridge to the site fo the USS Hornet is Treasure Island. This artificial island was taken out of the water at the end of the Thirties for the Golden Gate International Exhibition in 1939. Coincidentally, Pan Am, which had recently inaugurated its trans-Pacific ‘Clipper’ air service with the huge Boeing 314 seaplane, built a facility on the island, with a passenger terminal and service hangars for maintenance. Operation of the Clipper were moved here for good, and the aircraft took off and alighted on water between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, the smaller natural island to the south – the cove is today called Clipper Cove. Later on the service was relocated to Alameda as the island was taken over by the military.

Unlike most of the buildings dating from the exhibition, wiped out soon after it, the terminal survived and it is a proportionate, nice example of the airport building style of the late Thirties.

Also the foundations of some of the original passenger pier, as well as concrete slides for seaplane operations on the shore of Clipper Bay, can be seen still today. The Pan Am terminal building was used to simulate the terminal at Berlin Tempelhof in Steven Spielberg’s movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’.

Treasure Island is also a good place for taking pictures of downtown SFO, as well as the most famous items on the bay – Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Getting There

The ship is permanently anchored by one of the piers close to the former Alameda NAS, on the southern side of the island of Alameda. It can be reached very conveniently and quickly from downtown San Francisco via the Oakland bridge (I-80), and from Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro and all districts on the eastern side of the bay. Full explanation and info on their website. Treasure Island is located roughly mid-way along the Oakland Bridge. Visiting the Pan Am terminal is a quick detour from the interstate. Large parking nearby both sites.

USS Midway (CV-41) – San Diego, CA

This is the first and the only remaining of the three Midway-class ‘super carriers’ – which included USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and USS Coral Sea. The origin of the class dates back to WWII, when it was decided that larger, armored, metal decks were to replace the vulnerable wooden decks of the Essex-class carriers. USS Midway was commissioned in September 1945, immediately after VJ-Day, with a straight deck, albeit steel-made. The steel construction was considered a relevant asset for jet aircraft operations, and all three carriers were kept in active service following the progressive transition to the new type of aircraft propulsion, with only minor modifications needed to the flight deck.

USS Midway was involved in the early stages of US missile experimentation, with the first tests of sea launched V-2 rocket clones, originating from the German design, and Regulus I air-breathing cruise missile.

The current shape of USS Midway is the result of subsequent major modifications. Program SCB-110 in the late Fifties added the angled deck to enhance simultaneous launch and recovery operations and flexible flight deck operations. Also the curved ‘hurricane-proof’ bow was added, together with steam-powered catapults.

In 1966 this ship was the only of the three of her class to receive the very expensive SCB-101.66 modification, resulting in a lengthening of the flight deck, the adoption of more powerful steam catapults and a new arrangement of the higher-load elevators. All three ships were on active duty in Vietnam, USS Midway apparently launching the first and last US air attacks of the war.

Even though USS Midway – the largest and best equipped of the three – could not operate the Tomcat, it could take four squadrons of Hornets, thus remaining effective in frontline service well into the Gulf War in the early Nineties, the last major operation in which she was involved before retirement and re-opening as a permanent exhibition – notably among the most popular in San Diego alongside the zoo.

Similarly to the USS Hornet described above, the tour of the Midway starts with a self-guided exploration of the aircraft storage deck and of the air deck. Among the tons of interesting sights here, to the bow you can find under the air deck the steam reservoir for the catapults and the system for moving the anchors.

Further back the main hangar for storing the aircraft is really huge. You can get an impression of the size of the ship by looking at the lower storage levels, where jet engines and air-launched ordnance are still visible.

With respect to the USS Hornet the exhibition is somewhat more ‘lively’, also with some reconstructed scenes, notice-boards, prepared dinner tables and so on. On the cons side, the place can get really crowded.

You can explore the crew areas, with dormitories, kitchens, canteens, medical services – including a fully equipped surgery compartment.

Most interesting is the propulsion system. Midway-class ships, as well as the later Forrestal-class, were all conventionally powered – non nuclear. Oil was supplied to burners, heating water and generating steam. By supplying steam to turbines mechanical power was obtained and transferred to the propeller shafts. This involved monstrous reduction gears. You can see the control room of this very complex system as well as burners, turbines gearboxes and propeller shafts, all explained with technical schemes – this will be extremely interesting for technically minded people. Close by, the similarly important air conditioning and ventilation system – an ancillary system at a first glance, it is absolutely necessary for all computers and electronics.

Other interesting sights are the briefing rooms for both flying and non-flying personnel, the chapel, and the inertial navigation system – buried close to the buoyancy center of the ship to reduce the influence of oscillations.

On the deck there is a collection of aircraft, most of them from the operational history of this unit. Also visible is the Fresnel optical landing aid.

Similarly to the USS Hornet, you can join a guided tour for a visit to the ‘island’. This is much roomier than that of the older Essex-class ship. You are provided clear explanations by very competent guides as you tour the navigation room, flight control and ship control areas.

From the deck you are offered a view of North Island NAS. Until she left for her new home port in Yokosuka, Japan, you could often see here USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a nuclear powered, Nimitz-class carrier commissioned in the 2003 and home based in San Diego at the time of my visit.

Other Nimitz-class carriers are currently based here.

Getting There

The USS Midway museum is among the best known museums in Southern California, and it’s really hard to miss it due to the prominent place on the waterfront next to downtown San Diego. Large parking on the pier nearby. For planning your visit have a look to their website.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Naval Base Kitsap – Bremerton, WA

The Naval Base Kitsap with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard are major installations of the Navy. The Shipyard dates from before WWI, and albeit a small museum on the topic exists close to the ‘civil’ port of Bremerton, clearly the installation is not possible to visit, for it is surrounded by the base. Luckily, the Shipyard is neither much hidden nor far from the street running along the waterfront, and the size of aircraft carriers makes them rather difficult to deceive… This leaves the opportunity to take a look at what is moored here by simply moving around a bit in the hilly area of Bremerton until you find a suitable spot for taking pictures. You can also walk to the waterfront, and find some isolated spots from where you can take some impressive shots without even coming close to violating the perimeter of the base.

Some pictures can be taken from the sea if you are leaving or arriving with a ferry-boat.

The Shipyard is where modifications are carried out on most vessels. Besides running the Shipyard, the Naval Base Kitsap acts as a home port for some ships, including some active aircraft carriers and many submarines. The Shipyard facility has been used for storing vessels in a mothballed condition and for stripping those to be sold for scrap of some lighter hardware. The latter are those placed in the most peripheral area of the base, and the easiest to see.

When I visited in 2012 the base was very busy.

In the pictures you can see two Forrestal-class ships – USS Independence and USS Ranger – and two ‘Improved Forrestal’, Kitty-Hawk-class ships – USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation. As of late 2016 Ranger and Constellation have been transferred to Brownsville, TX for scrapping, while Independence is to follow and is awaiting towing for early 2017.

USS Kitty Hawk remains in a mothballed status and there is some interest to preserve it as a museum somewhere, for together with USS John F. Kennedy they remain the only Forrestal-class ships still in a relatively good shape.

The eight Forrestal/Improved Forrestal-class aircraft carriers were the first conceived with an angled deck. They constituted the backbone of the US carrier fleet of the Cold War in the late Fifties, Sixties and early Seventies, when the nuclear powered USS Nimitz was commissioned. Many of them were deeply involved in Vietnam operations. All of them remained active until the Nineties and were involved in operations all over the world, a true icon of the might of the US Navy.

Besides the mothballed or scrapyard-due fleet, you can find in Bremerton some carriers on active duty at the Naval Base Kitsap. At the time of my visit, I could see the Nimitz-class USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) – the latter is the one undergoing maintenance in the pictures. Kitsap is a huge base of the US Navy, among the largest in the US, and home port for many strategic submarines.

Getting There & Moving Around

The most convenient way to see the mothballed fleet is from Charleston Boulevard, approaching from the west along the waterfront. There is chance of parking in a somewhat deserted area out of the perimeter of the base. When leaving with the ferry from Bremerton port, you are allowed a view of the easternmost part of the base.

Soviet Airbases in the GDR – First Chapter

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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Like other satellite countries in the Soviet empire, the German Democratic Republic – also known as ‘Eastern Germany’ before the Nineties, ‘GDR’, or ‘DDR’ in German – hosted two armies, which not necessarily occupied the same installations, nor had access to the same resources.

Speaking of air forces, up to the dissolution of the GDR after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there were two distinct bodies operating from airbases all over the country, namely the Air Forces of the National People’s Army (‘Luftstreitkräfte der Nationalen Volksarmee’ in German), which was the national air force, and the Soviet Air Force (‘Voyenno-vozdushnye sily SSSR’ as they would pronounce it in Russia).

While East German military forces were composed of local personnel, Soviet forces were mainly composed of troops coming from the various republics of the Soviet Union. Operations of the two military powers were of course coordinated, but the two organizations were split, and both had their airbases.

Most airbases in the GDR actually developed on the area of former airfields from before WWII, but some peculiarities in the way they were refurbished and equipped after the conflict reflected the needs of the new respective owners.

Signs of this difference can be spotted exploring some of the surviving relics of these now inactive sites – for Soviet bases, writings in Cyrillic alphabet, Lenin’s sculptures like you can find in Moscow, and typically more barracks with more amenities for Soviet soldiers, made to let them have what they needed without passing the gate of the base.

The following photos were taken during visits to four former Soviet airbases, Merseburg, close to Halle, visited August 2015, and other three between Berlin and the Baltic, Wittstock/Dosse, Rechlin/Laerz and Ribnitz/Damgarten, visited April 2016. More airbases are covered in other pages on this website (see this post, and also this). Ribnitz/Damgarten in particular is partly abandoned, while an interesting museum has taken the northwestern part of its premises – the museum is covered in another post.

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Getting there and moving around

This site is located halfway between Berlin and Hamburg, just a few miles to the East of highway N.24, close to the junction with N.19 going North to Rostock.

The site can be easily reached by car. You can spot it very well on Google Maps and plan your trip – just search for Wittstock/Dosse. There are actually two airstrips concentrated in a rather small area, placed along an east-west line. The easternmost one is a still active, general aviation grass strip (Berlinchen).

The former Soviet airbase is the one to the west. It has been converted into a solar power plant, like most similar sites in former East Germany. Solar panels occupy the area of the former runway and taxiways, but the hangars and former barracks have not been included in the conversion plan – at least that was the picture in April 2016.

The access road you should go through is the one to the west of the airbase, going straight to the former barracks from road L153. You can park your car immediately after turning away from the L153. Actually there is a ‘no passing’ sign for cars, so you’d better go by foot to avoid misunderstandings. As it’s often the case with airports, be prepared to walk a lot, cause distances are not short.

On the pros side, apart from the grim appearance of the Soviet relics, the area is very peaceful and the countryside is relaxing and nice to see. During my stay lasting a couple of hours, I encountered only a few people out for a stroll in the countryside with their dogs, two technicians with a minivan going to the plant and some folks training their rescue dogs.


The former installation is totally deserted, and some of the residential, i.e. not technical buildings are really just waiting for the right day to collapse. There are danger signs scattered all over the area. Walking around should already give you an interesting and unusual picture of a ghost base from the Soviet era. I know of people who went inside most of the buildings, exploring them thoroughly. Personally I would recommend to think about it more than once before going in, especially the barracks, where concrete walls look really rotting – don’t forget it was made with Soviet quality… Risk connected with collapsing structures is not a remote issue here.

In the photos it is possible to see the hangars – very large – some rather old and small shelters, and the barracks. I don’t know the specific history of this airbase – I’m currently trying to find a book on the matter, but it seems out of print and very difficult to find. Anyway, it is apparent that there are at least two groups of barracks built up in very different architectural styles, suggesting the base was built and later developed further. The two-storey buildings in a typical German style were probably built in the early days of the base, possibly before or during WWII. The cubic-shaped, all-concrete residential buildings are in pure functional Soviet style, and may date from the late Fifties or later.

The hangars – as I wrote these are not shelters – are very large and tall, suggesting they were used as maintenance shops. If this was the real role for this base, meaning it was a reference point for many others on the territory, this might justify the uncommon size of the barracks and living quarters.

A building probably used for movable service equipment and vehicles can be spotted among the hangars. It can be distinguished from the buildings connected with sheltering aircraft by the very (very) low ceiling. Interestingly, traces of a translation of the most typical German road signs to Russian can be still spotted on an inner wall, together with other less clear writings – unfortunately I don’t know Russian. The emblem of the Soviet Army (‘CA’) can be spotted on one of the doors of the same building.

Two pinnacles of the exploration can be found very close to each other. The airbase apparently hosted a rather large indoor ‘sporting club’, with basket courts and other sport equipment. Most of the wooden floor in the gym is still there, with also other remains – including a Soviet newspaper from 1989 with stains of wall paint, probably used when repainting the walls. Curiously, the building hosting the gym is aligned at the level of the hangars, nearby the apron, and not among the barracks.

Moving through a courtyard just outside of the gym, it is possible to spot an incredible statue of Lenin, still perfectly preserved except for the missing face and inscription. Looking better at the statue, it is possible to notice it was placed in the middle of a perspective, leading to the statue from the main road crossing the service area of the base. Nowadays the perspective is less visible, due to newly grown trees.

All in all, the place is pervaded by a grim aura, the almost unreal and unnatural quietness of the buildings and maintenance shops making the site really unique and very evocative.


Comparing the satellite photos with those above, it can be clearly seen that almost all trees have been cut and vegetation has been wiped out. The presence of some sorts of roadworks service trailers, even though apparently not recently used, may indicate some work is going on, and maybe there are plans to demolish the remaining buildings soon.


Getting there and moving around

This base can be reached driving on road 198, between the villages of Rechlin and Mirow. Rechlin hosts also a museum dedicated to aeronautics which is covered in another chapter. This is indicated with an official sign when you are close to the airport. That museum is not located in the area surrounding the airport. The former airbase can be reached with a pleasant 10 miles drive from Wittstock/Dosse (see previous section).

Rechlin is still operating as an active general aviation airport – with the name Mueritz Airpark – but during my exploration I saw no flying activity. Anyway, no solar cells here.

Compared to other bases, this place is much more populated. To the west of the airfield, accessible from the road running along the western limit of the airfield, it is possible to visit a very small air museum – a different entity from the one in Rechlin. Very few aircraft can be spotted just besides the main building, including a Dassault Atlantique formerly of the GFR (German Federal Republic, or ‘West Germany’) Luftwaffe, a Lufthansa Training Beechcraft King Air and some Soviet or GDR aircraft and helicopters – markings have been removed making identification difficult. There are also some jet engines, and other service material and pods partly of Soviet origin. The visit of this museum may not offer much to the more experienced aircraft enthusiast, but approaching the museum can be done driving on the path of a former taxiway, still retaining its typical Soviet pavement made of concrete slabs.

From the area of the museum it is possible to take pictures from the distance of a peculiar installation which at the moment occupies a group of relatively modern aircraft shelters on the northern part of the airfield. The function of this place, which is fenced and cannot be accessed freely, and is named ‘Kulturkosmos’, is not very clear. From the distance it looks like a kind of hippie village or stuff like that. Unfortunately, they occupy a part of the former installation encompassing some pieces of military history and taxiways, which would have been otherwise extremely interesting to explore.

An interesting part of the former military installation in Rechlin is to the south of the runway, and can be approached driving along 198 from Rechlin in the direction of Mirow. After passing the runway – you can clearly spot it to your right, as the road runs along the perimeter of the base in this part – and after passing a crop, it is possible to spot a large unpaved road taking to the right. It is basically the first road to the right after passing the runway, about half a mile from it. There is room for parking at the beginning of the unpaved road. There are no ‘don’t’ signs here, but you might prefer parking here and going by foot as the road is bumpy and there are no other parking places next.


The road points straight into the base. As usual with airports, expect long walks. After about half a mile, you reach a wreck of a gate, intended to stop larger vehicles, but it can be crossed by foot or bicycle – say a MTB. Already before going through the gate it is possible to see a large and relatively modern aircraft shelter. The size – its height in particular – suggests it was made for larger aircraft – possibly MiG-23/27 – with respect to those of the early jet age, albeit MiG-29 needed yet another size. The gate of the shelter used to be moved with dedicated motors, which are still there but not functioning. Somebody is using this as a hay storage depot.

A very mysterious building is located next to this isolated Soviet shelter. It appears as a very large concrete building having collapsed, or more likely blown up. The size and appearance are similar to the partially demolished bunkers you can visit in Hitler’s ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in northern Poland, so I guess this was built during the Nazi era. Furthermore, there are various writings in Cyrillic alphabet on the walls, including years from the age of the Soviet occupation. They are most probably ‘souvenirs’ from Soviet troops. I guess the Nazi or Soviets actually blew up this large building, which was never totally wiped out nor reused.

Going further towards the runway – there are no prohibition signs, but I would recommend staying at a respectful distance from the runway, as this is an active GA airport – you come across a small door leading to a subterranean passage. This cannot be explored, as it is full of debris and dirt, but gives you an impression of what was the complexity of this installation. By the way, from, satellite images it is clear it had two crossing runways at some point in its history, so at some point it used to be much larger and prominent than it’s looking today.

Further on, you cross a former taxiway, today covered in dust, where really many couples of rather old Soviet aircraft shelters are still in place. There are herds of grazing cows around, and most shelters are used for storing hay.

Taking to the left (south-west-wards) along this road, between the first and the second shelter on the left, you find a narrow paved road heading South-East. It is marked by a small electric cabin painted in a camo colorway – Soviet – now disconnected. Following this road for more than half a mile – the road bends right at some point – until its end, you pass besides some deserted service buildings, including some garages possibly for service vehicles, and finally you reach a very interesting item.

From the side it looks mostly like another aircraft shelter, but there is no taxiway and the entrance is very small, and there is a small and bulky security door instead of the usual shelter door. This is actually a former deposit and shelter for weapons, possibly not conventional ordnance to be mounted on aircraft. In front of the weapon bunker there are more service buildings and a truck loading platform, probably used to move ordnance that was transported by road. Similar bunkers can be found only in Finsterwalde and Brand over the territory of the GDR (see here).

This bunker is probably larger than it looks, as vents can be spotted on the ground pretty far from its perimeter.

All in all, this site is less grim than Wittstock/Dosse, and may be less evocative of the Cold War times, but it is not dangerous at all, and still retains some mystery and has very special items to show. By the way, while walking the southern part of the installation I didn’t meet a person, but came across much wildlife, including deers and birds of prey, much surprised to see somebody around! There are also partly signed trails in the trees, just for ‘normal’ trail hiking. The countryside all around is relaxing and enjoyable.


The area of the former airbase is in the focus of an ambitious design, intended to create luxury living estates in most of the shelters which will be directly accessible with private aircraft, mostly like John Travolta’s house in Anthony, FL. It’s unclear how long the completion of the project will take – no housing had been erected as of May 2016. Nonetheless, some lots have been reportedly sold, and the former airbase may not remain accessible for long.


Getting there and moving around

This former Soviet airbase, reportedly very active in the last days of the Soviet occupation when Soviet Forces were moving back into the inner Russian territory, was only partially explored during this trip (April 2016). It is located less than 20 miles east of Rostock, close to the coast of the the Baltic Sea. It can be easily reached by car, immediately to the west of the village of Damgarten.

About one third of the runway to the East is covered with solar cells, plus part of the area is used as a storage of road materials or by local farmers. There is also a small museum of technology in one of the former hangars (website here). So there are tons of activities in the area of this former military installation.

The most important thing to know – which actually hampered my plans – is that the main gate of the base, which can be reached following the road signs leading to the museum of technology north of the base, is open to the public only when the museum is open. Needless to say, this was not the case when I visited. Due to the fact that there were workers going in and out at every moment, there were CC cameras, and somebody also photographed my plate with his cell phone while I was taking pictures of the external wall, in order to avoid misunderstandings I renounced to step inside. Hence I couldn’t explore the northernmost part of the complex, which I expected to offer something very similar to Wittstock/Dosse in terms of appearance and significance – large maintainance hangars, former barracks and sculptures with some typical Communist pomp. The large and many buildings and the abandoned railway track leading directly into the base – you can spot it to the right of the main gate – suggest that this installation was probably of some strategic relevance.

I tried to approach the site from the North, experiencing a public road made of concrete slabs which was too obviously of Soviet manufacture. To the north, the base is surrounded by a concrete wall. There are some unofficial pedestrian accesses I was tempted to use, but there were signs warning about danger of unexploded ordnance. I thought it was not advisable to explore further.

Then I moved to the south of the airbase, which is basically unguarded and unfenced, to the aim of photographing at least the taxiways and the former control tower. The former south entrance of the base can be conveniently reached by car on a paved road starting from Puttnitz (to the South of Damgarten) leading to an aparted residential area. The road reaches a dead-end by the former entrance to the base – differently from the northern one, it is now totally deserted.


Walking to the north towards the area of the base from the road leading to the southern gate you cross a small forest and reach the former fence of the base, where barbed wire has been removed and only concrete posts are still standing. From here you can rapidly reach a groups of former service buildings which are numbered and placed on a circle. A paved road can still be seen, even though the area is being vehemently reclaimed by nature.

These buildings were probably service buildings for vehicles, ordnance or other material. It is unclear why they placed them around a circular track, but I guess this was a typical Soviet construction technique, for I found similar assemblies also in other bases.

From the circle it is already possible to see the taxiways and the area of the runway covered by solar panels. Walking north, it is possible to spot some smaller mystery buildings. Once on the taxiway, you notice the view of the northernmost part of the site is obstructed by a heap of debris, which probably was not there when the base was operative. From this point to the south of the runway, it is possible to spot the former control tower looking north.

With a walk to the east along an unpaved trail it is possible to reach a ditch from where you can see some old-fashioned shelters on the northern side of the solar plant.

All in all, this place has much more to offer than what I was allowed to see without disturbing local activities. I kept out of any prohibited area, yet I took care not to be spotted by anybody. I would recommend to try visiting during the opening times of the museum of technology, in order to be allowed in the installation without going undercover. This way you would be granted access to the northernmost part of the complex, which is probably also the most interesting.


Getting there and moving around

This former airbase is still an active airport for general aviation, so access is not totally free, albeit the place is not very active. On the plus side, the formerly interdicted area has been greatly reduced since the conversion to civil airport, and now it is even possible to move with your car on some of the former taxiways once used by aircraft. There are various activities on the field of this airport, including companies offering skydiving experiences and an air museum. There are also various deposits of hay in the former aircraft shelters, and parts of the former free areas of the airport have been reassigned as land for agriculture.

Due to the many activities on the field, arriving with a car is very easy. The airport is located between the small town of Merseburg and less than 3 mi south of the big city of halle, in a very well served area. I arrived from L172, running along the airport to the north, from where you can already spot the shelters. There is a traffic light where L172 turns into a local road, with signs with the name of some companies having their quarters in buildings near the airport, taking to the south of L172.

Soon after turning on this street going south along the eastern border of the airfield (named ‘Fischweg’), it is possible to spot a strange-looking road taking to the right – from the concrete slabs making the pavement, you soon realize it is a former taxiway of a Soviet base. You can drive this road which reaches to the base of skydiving and general aviation activities.

Going back to the ‘Fischweg’ road and going further south, you pass a round about and reach the air museum – which regrettably I couldn’t visit because I was slightly late – with a Tupolev 134 in the colors of the former flagship company of the GDR ‘Interflug’ parked in the courtyard, and visible from the outside.

From nearby the museum it is possible to spot a former taxiway going west. I guess it is not possible to go by car, as it points straight into the base and reaches to the runway. On the other hand, going by foot should not be a problem, but unfortunately there are no old buildings at all to the south of the runway.

In order to get acceptable photos of the more recent shelters, it is advisable to go back to L172, turning south on the 91 crossing the village of Merseburg, and turning west on ‘Geusaer Strasse’, a local paved road going west to some small and aparted residential areas (Geusa and Atzendorf). After about 1.25 miles going west on this ‘Geusaer Strasse’ you reach Geusa and you find a local street called ‘Rohrwisenweg’ taking slightly to the right. After .25 miles you find a narrow paved road to the right going straight north. It is impossible to miss it, as at the beginning there is a large scrap dealer. This road is only for locals and agricultural traffic, there is a conditional ‘no passing’ sign, but I encountered no problems driving all the way to the other end, which is again on the L172 to the north of the airport. You might take the same road directly from the L172 in the opposite direction, but due to the intense local traffic, you have more chance to be noticed ignoring the ‘no passing’ sign taking that road to the south.

This connection road is aligned in a north-south direction and runs along the western border of the airport. From there with an average zoom lens you can take pictures of the more recent aircraft shelters. Getting closer by foot might be possible, but I couldn’t find a good place for parking safely, and you should keep in mind that this is an active airport, so you’d better avoid misunderstandings with the locals.


As mentioned in the previous instructions, the main attraction is the opportunity to drive on the former Soviet taxiways. I was very worried about having a flat tire, but I noticed there were many cars at the opposite end of the road going to the local GA terminal.

In the old-fashioned aircraft shelters located in this area it is still possible to spot some writings in Cyrillic alphabet. There are also unsheltered parking aprons for single aircraft. You may like to photograph your car in a place where once stood a Soviet MiG-17!

I won’t cover the air museum (website here) as I unfortunately couldn’t step inside, having arrived after last admittance time. In one of the pictures you can see the Tu-134 of ‘Interflug’ mentioned above.

The last photographs show the larger shelters as you can see them from the distance, from the connection road to the west of the airfield. Merseburg hosted MiG-29 in the latest stage of the Cold War, so I guess these shelters were large enough for hosting also that type of aircraft.

All in all, this former airbase is not very ‘dark’ nor difficult to visit, on the contrary there are many people and activities around. The countryside is not much interesting, as the area is mostly urban, being in the outskirts of Halle. So, it is not a great place for a relaxing walk. Notwithstanding its original size, the site has less to offer than other Soviet airbases – no barracks or service buildings -, but on the plus side you can move around by car getting pictures of what is still in place without spending much time exploring the site by foot.