Display at Chaika and shopping in downtown Kiev - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
Go to content

Display at Chaika and shopping in downtown Kiev

The two air displays by the Red Arrows took place overhead Chaika, a small grass airfield about 10kms NW of the city centre, used mainly by the Soviet equivalent of our Air Training Corps; it was also home for a flying club and for model aircraft flying and go-kart racing. To get to Chaika from Borispol took the Red Arrows seven minutes and involved flying at low level over part of a magnificent forest, across the river Dneiper and around the northern outskirts of the city.

Above: I took this photograph of a Soviet soldier taking pics of the line of 10 Red Arrows Hawks at Borispol. A case of "us watching them watching us". It was all very friendly.
On the Saturday the weather was poor with a lot of low cloud and rain and so the Red Arrows could only perform a rolling display. I remained at Borispol which is how I came to the pic of the Soviet soldier. (He didn't take a pic of me because he had no idea who I was.) Squadron Leader Mick George delivered the public commentary, his own translation of the Red Arrows Manager’s text. He travelled from Borispol to Chaika in a Soviet Mi-8 helicopter and was accompanied by Warrant Officer Fleckney who carried a large pile of Red Arrows brochures, in English and Russian, plus stickers and other publicity material. With the benefit of hindsight, we might have had a version the glossy brochure printed in Ukrainian rather than Russian but, since the Soviet Union was still intact at the time of our visit, that might have been undiplomatic. Anyway, the public at Chaika did not seem to mind.

Above: Mike Pilkington also stayed behind at Borispol and signed dozens of brochures and other gizzits for the youngsters who must have had a day off school. (Soviet generals, I learned, never signed autographs.)
Below:  Only rarely did I get in photographs but someone took this one of me, with a Soviet engineering officer and the Red Arrows engineering officer almost as soon as we arrived at Borispol. I wonder what those kids are doing now.

The Soviets had not advertised the Chaika displays in advance, for reasons best known to themselves, and so the crowds numbered hundreds rather than thousands. In fact there were probably more casual observers at Borispol watching the Team take off and land than there were at Chaika. This was rather disappointing because, like any artists, the Red Arrows perform best when they have a large audience. However, those who were there were in raptures - they had never seen anything like it before. As the Red Arrows cleared off to the east, Mick George and Roy Fleckney were besieged by autograph hunters and souvenir-seekers and eventually the airport officials had to come to their rescue so that the helicopter could take off for the return flight to Borispol.

After the debriefing back at Borispol, the Red Arrows pilots met a group of MiG-29 fighter pilots who had been flown in from a nearby air force base and an interesting and lively question and answer session ensued. The MiG pilots were interested in how the Red Arrows pilots are selected and they seemed very surprised to learn that the RAF do not pay them extra money whilst they are serving with the Team! Although of course we did not know it then, we would meet those pilots again the following year at Scampton when they formed part of the Russian Air Force aerobatic team, the Russian Knights (this page), and four of them would be killed in December 1995 on returning to Russia from displays in Malaysia at the same air show as the Red Arrows (this page).

Above: There was a presentation of uniform caps at Borispol after the briefings. This took us by surprise - and we had nothing we could present in exchange. Here our AOC and Red Leader are posing, rather self-consciously, for me and the Soviet photographers, wearing brand-new, straight out of the box, Soviet Air Force caps. I, too, was presented with one but I was not photographed wearing it. I still have it in my wardrobe at home and I am rather proud of it.

That afternoon we were all taken for a cultural tour of Kiev although most of us would have preferred to have been left to our own devices to wander around the city centre shopping for souvenirs. Our hosts had laid on a special visit to a Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life on the outskirts of the city and it would have been churlish not to have gone along. The museum was set in rolling, green countryside that could easily have passed for England at first glance.

We were told by the Intourist guide and his pretty female interpreter that within these grounds were more than 200 windmills, barns, and cottages representing all parts of Ukraine from the Crimea to the Carpathian mountains. They were spread out along an 11km trail of paths. The buildings, and their very life-like interiors, showed Ukrainian life from the 15th Century to the present time but in truth it was difficult to tell the difference.

Unfortunately, long before our group reached the end of the trail, we had broken up into many small groups and the guide and interpreter were eventually left talking to themselves. I found it rather sad and I felt rather guilty but I suppose this is an occupational hazard for guides every-where.

Later that afternoon most of us had, at last, an opportunity for doing some shopping but there was depressingly little to buy apart from the inevitable matrioshki, the famous wooden Russian dolls that have other smaller dolls inside and, curiously, cheap musical instruments.

Two of the Red Arrows ground crew bought accordions - not that they could play them but they seemed too cheap to ignore! Red 5, Flight Lieutenant Dom Riley, not to be outdone, bought a 'cello for £12, while others bought trumpets, bugles and cymbals at knock-down prices.

Later still, fortified by some beer, there was an impromptu musical concert on the 15th floor of the hotel in a lobby close to our rooms. Unfortunately, although everyone played with great gusto and enthusiasm, not a single person knew how to play the instruments they were clutching so the appalling noise can be imagined. What the Ukrainians thought of it I cannot imagine: perhaps they thought it was decadent western music,
Dom Riley’s 'cello stood, very inconveniently, in the small toilet compartment at the back of the BAe 125 during the flights back to Scampton, the only place Dom deemed safe enough for it!

/continued here or click here to go back to the top of this page
Back to content