31 May 2011

Tracking down the bird's first home

May 2011 How quickly time passes these days. It must be a sign of old age that time seems to accelerate as one gets older. I can still remember how slowly time passed when I was a boy; impatiently waiting for the weekend to roll around so that I could play!

When I began preparatory research on the metal bird DZY, I was never quite able to pin-point the exact location of its first home in the Ukraine. All I had was a place name, Odessa-Lyman, courtesy of a Dutch aviation enthusiast, Marcel de Jong's website. In his entry for Odessa-Lyman 19 September 1996, he had noted a Yak-50 with the serial number 853101 wearing the number 59 in blue.

At that time, my attempts to contact Marcel for the location of the airfield failed (I think the email address on his site was obsolete) and so I was reduced to scanning Google Maps of the Odessa area. I did find a place named Lyman sort of near Odessa but it proved a dead end as I didn't even see the faintest remnants of an airfield around. At that point, I stopped because the exercise was simply one of curiosity rather than necessity.

Fast forward to today.

I was reading an article about the Aral Sea and looked it up using Google Earth. When zooming in to look at some areas, I discovered some people had posted some geo-tagged photos of places around the area. It didn't take me long to wonder if someone by chance, had done the same for DZY's first home. But my old problem was still unsolved - where was it in the first place?

My previous lack of success told me I had to try something better than futile map searches. Using keywords I knew were factual about the bird (DOSAAF Odessa Ukraine), returned about 158,000 results from Google. On the first results page, I found an intriguing reference to a DOSAAF 'outfit' that was located in Odessa-Lyman in the mid-1990s. A kmz data file was referenced to show the location using Google Earth.

When Google Earth displayed Odessa-Lyman, it turned out to be an airfield right next to a town named Naberezhne; about 15km NNE from the city of Odessa. Even more intriguing were the geo-tagged pictures (taken in 2008) for this airfield.

There appeared to be a mixed collection of Mi-2s, An-2s, a Yak-18T and two Yak-50s! One Mi-2, one An-2, one Yak-18T and one Yak-50 appeared to be airworthy. The other Yak-50 was missing its right wing but was supported by jacks. The cockpit, engine and prop were shrouded - all sure signs that it was in service perhaps waiting for some maintenance work on its missing wing.

So was this the same airfield which Marcel visited in September 1996?

Since the Mi-2s and An-2s appeared to have been around for a long time (they hadn't gone very far given they were missing rotor blades or wings) I decided to cross-check the aircraft in the photos against his list to verify the location.

The three best photos from a number documenting aircraft on the airfield were:

Mi-2 marked yellow 29 (USSR) and UR-BSQ (Ukrainian civil registration)
An-2 marked UR-BSK (Ukrainian civil registration)
Mi-2 marked yellow 09 (USSR)

When cross-checked against Marcel's 1996 survey, I was able to verify these derelict birds were indeed on his list!

Hence, I am now certain of the location of DZY's first roost; and it's found here.

While I was elated by finally being able to pin-point DZY's first home, the photos of forlorn An-2s and Mi-2s quietly falling to pieces was a little sad to me.

Even though these are in the end, just machines, somehow these birds assume an almost mystical life-likeness after coming to life with their first flight. Or perhaps it's just me who sees their slow demise as a metaphor for my own mortality!

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