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Wings above the Sea

Separate mixed Red Banner Constanta Air Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet under command of Colonel Yuri Bondarev is 90. This is the most aged marine air unit in the Russian Navy and several years in a row it is found one of the best among similar air force units in the Russian Navy.

The complements for the airmen anniversary were sent by the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet Vice-Admiral Alexander Ketskov.

Regiment’s Background

April 27, 1916 Chudski unit of marine aviation was established in Oranienbaum. The airfield created specifically for this unit later became home base for several other aviation elements. The Chudski unit merged with Petrograd School of Marine Aviation, redeployed to Nizhniy Novgorod and reorganized into Marine Division of Special Appointment that on April 27, 1918 was renamed into the 1st Baltic Sea Fleet Marine Air Division. This very day is considered as the Day of the Regiment. That time the division was armed with Ì-9, Ì-15, Ì-20 and Ferry aircrafts.

In 1920 part of the airmen complement of the division was sent to the South to participate in the liberation of the Crimea peninsula from Baron Vrangel’s troops.

In November 1921 the Division was reorganized again into hydrosquadron of Baltic Sea Air Force. B.G. Choukhnovski was appointed commander of the squadron.

For high operational performance in 1929 and achievements in defending of Soviet Karelia during the years of armed intervention and Civil War by order of RVS (Revolutionary Military Soviet) RKKA (Workers’-Peasants' Red Army) # 12 as of January 15 the squadron was named after Karelian Soviet Socialist Republic and awarded with Commemorative Banner forever.

In 1938 the squadron commissioned MBR-2 aircrafts and was reorganized into 18th separate reconnaissance air squadron (SRAS). Starting November 1939 the squadron was associated with 15th Air Regiment and took part in the hostilities of the Soviet-Finnish War. For bravery and courage during this war 22 pilots were decorated with orders and medals and pilots Krokhalev and Gubriy were awarded Hero of the Soviet Union stars.

In September 1941 the 18th SRAS was redeployed to the Black Sea and included in the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet. The squadron based at marine aerodrome at Donuzlav Lake.

As the part of Black Sea Air Force the 18th squadron took part in air engagements at Northern Caucasia, Crimea, Sevastopol, Constanta, Varna, Burgas and Yasso-Kishinev operation. For the model performance of tasks September 7, 1944 the 18th SRAS was honored with title Constanta and September 25, 1944 awarded Order of the Red Banner. Four pilots received the stars of Hero of the Soviet Union.

January 1962 the squadron was reorganized into separate Constanta Red Banner antisubmarine air regiment.

On October 15, 1995 the regiment was subjected to reforming into separate antisubmarine air squadron and redeployed to Kacha.

And again the squadron was reformed on September 1, 1996 now to be associated with an air regiment consisting of antisubmarine air squadron armed with Be-12 aircrafts and air transport squadron equipped with An-26 airplanes.

Anniversary on the Run

The preparations for the anniversary were carried out on the run. As if a reward for the winter rough weather accompanied with cataracts of heaven, low clouds and discouraging weather reports the flight schedule was maximized to the limit: scheduled flights, drills and participation in the conjoint maneuvers with the Fleet, support of airborne training of the marines and other special forces, provision of air transport for Black Sea Fleet sky-jumping team, aerial cargo delivery of military stores, etc.

Of course some emergencies occurred. The urgent need occurred to fly to Novorossisk where the crew of Be-12 hydro-airplane under command of Colonel Yuri Bndarev carried out perfectly search-and-rescue operation.

“Operating altitude of Be-12 above sea is about twenty meters, so when the chance comes to fly on the height of masts trucks it is always a breath-taking experience”.

The screensaver of Bondarev’s lap-top shows water landing of Be-12 –huge dural seagull riding on the water surface and surrounded by rainbow colored breaking wave.

This very picture usually marks the beginning of squadron's leader working day.

When talking of Be-12 Bondarev gets nothing but excited. He speaks devotedly of the plane like of a living being not taking into account those tons of alloys, plastic, cables, wires and glass once joined together by conception of designer Beriev - father of famed amphibian flying boats. The common thing for the true pilots is that usually emotionally selfish they every time change marvelously when begin talking about skies and airplanes.

Why is this so? Three times Hero of the Soviet Union renowned pilot Ivan Kozhedub that all in all can not be considered as addicted to needless lyricism once mentioned in his memoirs: “Supposing there is a soul in the aircraft then this very soul is the one who sits at the controls. Should the soul is taken out the plane, it is no longer a plane..."

“Is your wife jealous, Yuri Ivanovich?”

“A little bit.”

But this is a mere excursus. Lyrical if you prefer.

Born to Fly

Group commander is ace flier Yuri Bondarev. He experienced over 2500 hours of flying time, including 1100 night-time.

Should any even not veteran film director while casting for a military pilot character put an eye upon a man of Bondarev’s type he would sure pick him out of thousands of other candidates.

This is probably the way our perception works when involuntary seeking for a sort of a model character leaving no doubts that the man before your eyes is cut for this profession.

One more thing the Colonel is not for the lofty language unless speaking of sky and planes, he keeps his temper when something or somebody is not to his liking, makes “evasive maneuvers” when conversation starts touching on his personal matters but can run on for hours about his comrades, colleagues, subordinates, friends, and family.

He is not a public person not counting working meetings and more likely prefer a couple of gliding maneuvers with overhanging clouds above runway to a role of a speaker on an elaborately decorated platform. But if the duty or other necessity calls he bears such imminence with fortitude.

By the way there is no such Cardain or Yudashkin born who might do better clothes for Bondarev than his flight coveralls that seem to be granted him from the day of his birth.

Clear cut professional and personal charisma of a leader is catching and inevitably finds its reflection in the look of his subordinates. According to one of old-timers of Kacha garrison – “Bandarev’s breed is seen three nautical miles away with low ceiling even.”

The Sky in the Palms

In daily use the regiment in brief referred to as “cargo”. That is actually not completely right. Not lessening laborious service of those An-26 planes the regiment is cargo transporting only in half. The second wing of the regiment is purely military and consists of a squadron of antisubmarine Be-12 aircrafts.

Several years in a row already the regiment is rightfully considered as one of the best in the Air Force of the Russian Navy with regard to main parameters of battle readiness: combat training, provision of weapons and military equipment, good condition of aircraft inventory.

The regiment of ace flier Bondarev not counting Bondarev himself has three other pilots of the same high rating (the higher rank is the “honored” only), ace navigator and nine 1st class pilots plus the same number of 1st class navigators. These ace fliers, deputies of regimental leader are Colonels S. Kornakov, S. Karpenko, P. Khinev, V. Ageikin.

“I’d like to mention the work of my deputies and navigators team commanded by Yuri Devin”, said Bondarev. “They carry the main burden when assigned to combat training of aircraft personnel. The deputies despite the difference in positions, spheres of action, know and can carry out work of each other. They skillfully coordinate with flight personnel, staff officers, engineering service.

Today as oppose to yet fresh memories of the hard times when even top pilots stood in a line awaiting their turn for a flight the regiment has got no problems with flight training.

“There is plenty of work for both Antonovs and Berievs", said the CO. “Let the cargo planes pilots take no offence but I’m especially delighted that Be-12 planes can use their capabilities to the full extent.”

Be-12 is all-purpose aircraft. Except for its direct function of searching and destroying submarines it is used much more widely in the daily routine of the Navy. Here we should count antisubmarine escort of ships, support missile and gun firing exercises, reconnaissance and scouting tasks of all sorts.

“Actually I consider the capacity of Be-12 planes is not yet fully appreciated. For instance search and rescue operations at sea. In this sphere it has no competitors at all. Or another instance, delivery of target drones for gun firing exercises of ships. We by the way are often asked to render similar services for other Fleets. Not so long ago one of our planes worked for the Northern Fleet and now we are preparing deputy squadron commander Major Ageikin for business trip to the Baltic Sea Fleet."

But nonetheless regiment leader and the pilots of amphibian flying boats complain that there is still a long haul ahead to the full capability of Be-12: “not much time with the boats", “Should during the Soviet times operations were carried out at least twice a month and now we are lucky to get it twice a year”, “the sonar buoys do not meet the modern demands", “we have to make the flights over the territory of so called friendly nation that imposes lots of restrictions for operational usage of Beriev aircrafts.”

For instance water takeoff. Nowadays only regiment commander Bondarev and antisubmarine squadron leader Lieutenant-Colonel Igor Mankov can perform it in practice. Of course in theory all pilots perfectly aware of water surface takeoff and landing but only two have hand-on experience.

“In connection with this I’ve got long but yet unrealizable plan to provide all crews of Be-12 with water takeoff and landing experience", said Yuri Ivanovich. “Regret to say there are too many objective “buts” in these plans…”

The theory is of course good and necessary but when land on water at a speed of 210 kilometer per hour and only a couple of seconds left before the touchdown and the same time to take a proper decision the previous practice is nothing but a must.

The Flight

“My priority task as regiment commander as well as aircrafts commanders is to prepare reliable followers. Not to assign to a commanding position and only then to train but give such post to a ready-made commander”, said Colonel Bondarev who by the way developed quite efficient technique of aircraft commanders training.

“We use this technique since the year of 2000 and I’m quite satisfied with the outcome.” "The core of the technique not going deep in the details is that by the time of appointment to a commanding position a candidate is at the completion stage of commanding training. We have such candidates in every unit. Thanks to this method in particular we have the system of “painless” replacement of aircrafts commanders dismissing from military service due to the age.

Let’s take deputy commander Lieutenant-Colonel Tsitovich as an instance. He is only preparing for discharging but the position is known to be filled by trained pilot Captain Zybenkov. The latter is yet to complete the “night course” of the training program and can be considered as perfect commander.”

For the last years Colonel Bondarev trained six aircraft commanders, five 1st class pilots. Here are the real fruits of his labor.

“The pilots are aware of my strict position: I need not pilots only but leaders.” said regiment commander. “To teach a man how to fly is only half a deal. The thing is to make him take efficient, reasonable and timely decisions. And responsibility of course. Responsibility for the taken decision is the core of leader’s features.”

Speaking of the unity of command. One would think the word is too formal but its meaning is understood differently there in the sky. The unity of command is not over subordinates by the way but over yourself in the first place. Command over experience and nerves, feelings and emotions, checked courage and controlled fear, speed of response and information processing, plane control and piloting. Only you can and must calculate everything. There are too many things to consider: reserve in attack angle, indicated airspeed, air temperature change aloft, height of thunderstorm clouds and glades between them and then ask men on the ground and advise with your crew that is also a part you and your personal unity of command. You created this crew, trained it on personal example, flew together, get familiar with like yourself and trust it like your own hands.

You trust your aged aircraft, its engines of retirement age, and far outdated instruments.

Yes, something may fail with the plane but he considers this all and as a human being, he considers something may occur to him in the view of health.

He is ready to this. His crew is ready for this. The land personnel also keeps an eye out on it. Should something needed the experienced men from underneath will always give a piece of advice with regard to equipment or abnormal situation in the air.

Such approach of course does not appear just on the spot. These all are the lessons of Bondarev, first teachers and commanders with who you shared a plane sometime, who you could not abuse or bawl out. Those who used to refer to a plane as a living being “You should love her!"

"To begin with this is wing commander Trembach Oleg Alexandrovich", said Yuri Ivanovich. “I was lucky to have him as my first teacher and tutor. Being a fresher lieutenant I wanted to take after him. Even now almost 30 years later he is still the same kind-hearted friend and a wise guide. He is a pilot that starts his every day by casting a glance into the sky.

The way to the sky starts from the ground. To be more exact it starts from laborious study of plane equipment and mechanisms. A plane is not a toy and without serious attitude a man can not become a true pilot”. Such school Yuri Ivanovich once passed under Deputy Commander for Aviation Engineering Service Alexander Grigorievich Sys.

And the latter according to Bondarev "could not only hear, but teach as well”.

Newton's Third Law

And right there I recalled Newton’s third law. You can ask how can Newton's law could be related to all this. The proximity of these things can be traced at least to the fact that Newton's low is ingenious due to its universalism. Both men of technics and art respect this law equally. Even the folklore has its traces: as the call, so the echo; as you sow, so you reap, etc.

Of course in the original wording it sounds like: whenever a particle A exerts a force on another particle B, B simultaneously exerts a force on A with the same magnitude in the opposite direction. Aircraft – earth, for instance. Or aircraft – pilot. What can be more obvious than such interaction?

This is the fact that Be-12 and An-26 today are considered as morally obsolete crafts. For instance Antonovs are in their late thirties (the youngest manufactured back in 1982), Berievs are even older. But as they say in the regiment the crafts are obsolete only morally. The machines are good. Thanks to designers and maintaining crews mainly.

“There are no replacements scheduled for them yet”, said Deputy Commander for Aviation Engineering Service Lieutenant-Colonel Vyacheslav Surkov. “Alas, but all the speculations about renewal of the aircraft inventory of the military transport aviation remain speculations only. In the foreseeable future at least. That is why we’ll continue flying and maintaining what we have. When several years ago our aircrafts reached 30 years of age their service life was extended to 35 years. But we hope if keep on carefully maintain them they can easily make it to forty and fifty years.”

Nowadays, if to use the wording of inventory auditors there are no “irreparable losses” in regimental flying stock.

“If to compare material and technical figures of our regiment with similar air units of other Fleets and Flotillas, then the results of inspections give us the highest rate of running order of the flying stock”, said the “chief engineer” of the regiment with obvious satisfaction. “Of course there are problems with regard to consumables and spares, but thanks to our experts we find a way out of difficulties. If my memory serves me right, there was not a single engine failure.”

All this achieved by virtue of experience, skills and attitude of such experts as the First Deputy Commander of Transport Squadron for Aviation Engineering Service Major Vladimir Nekrasov, Head of Aircrafts and Engines Maintenance Crew Major Sergey Podtoptanniy, Head of Avionics Equipment Service Team Major Vitaly Kovalev, And many others.

“Almost everybody out of my subordinates deserves many thanks”, said Lieutenant-Colonel Surkov. “Especially I'd like to highlight skillful performing of duties of Be-12 technician Lieutenant Edward Shemanchuk. I’d like to mention that we’re very encouraged that lately the commissioned staff of the regiment finally started to get younger, so to say. As the last several years our regiment was considered as rather aged. The mean age of was within 37-38 years, that is far from perfect.


Flying personnel for the last couple of years was reinforced by five graduates of flying schools: three copilots and two pilot-navigators. In addition two lieutenants from helicopter regiment were re-trained. By the way this kind of thing namely to "give wings" to a heliman is not an easy matter. There is a saying that sometimes it is easier to converse a figure-skater to a top scorer of national hockey team than to re-train a helicopter pilot to a pilot of a plane.

“Lieutenants right from the flying school gates are weak as water nowadays”, said regiment commander. “What is several dozens of flying hours for a pilot? Almost nothing. If to take into account that frequently such hours are merely figures in the diplomas, it becomes clear then what efforts are needed to make a true pilot out of a graduate”.

That is why the experienced tutors treat primary pilots as their own sons and frequently with rough tenderness hammer in the young heads what is good and what is bad. It is easy to explain that the tutors’ primary motive is to keep the level as it is today, and if lucky to get it even higher.

The team spirit is already inside these “infant” lieutenants and in some time they would make it to die hards: strong, clever, with cold blood in the veins, snap reaction and advanced sixth sense.

"Today they are fully combat-ready pilots and at the stage of completeness of all the hardest types of trainings", said regiment commander.

Actually a primary pilot can occupy a seat of pilot in command in four years and in case of lucky set of circumstances even in three, but "unfortunately to get ideal set of combat training is far from reach due to objective reasons".

However neither commanders, nor pilots grumble a lot at this. As they bless the starts that even their service life will see the end of the hopeless times when nobody cared of the military aviation, times of the aircrafts nailed to the ground due to the lack fuel, say nothing of any serious assignments. And what is a pilot without the sky?

Another encouraging fact is that recently they started getting decent wages for the beloved job. Yet any of them will surely say that they used to fly and will continue flying not because of money. But for the adrenaline, call of duty hammered yet in the childhood, and sough of the front wind. This is the very example when money is not a result of an equivalent of qualification and skills but a mere necessity for home, family, kids, and etc.

When you see them, you give absolute credit for them to fly not for financial incentive. Should their money allowance have to become a motivation at all? It is hardly so, especially to the fact that the president himself lately noted that out of the majority of the Russian aviation the military pilots are elite by word of mouth only and in fact they are mere roughnecks with wages much lower as oppose to their colleagues bearing chevrons of commercial airlines on the sleeves.

Fathers and Sons

The tradition in the officers’ families of the regiment is still strong, as they say “never buy your son a cap with the big peak”. All pilots aware of this saying and for those out of touch with it we can translate. “To buy a cap for a son” means to break a dream of a flying school for your offspring. “Why a peak then?” “Not to see the sky above!”

With this regard the regiment of Yuri Bondarev can be considered as model one.

“Regimental dynasties is a feather in our cap”, said Deputy Commander for Education Colonel Valery Atasov. "There will be not enough fingers at the palms if start counting!” Just of hand there are flying families of Yurin, Nesmachniy, Fedorov, Bashkatov, Bazylchukovm Kuprin, Narchukov, Nikolaev, etc. Out of the families of technical personnel can be named the families of Nekrasov, Sysov, Verevki, Kushnarev, Slesarchukov, ets. Here we are!

But not only emotional part of such families is encouraging the commanding staff of the regiment.

“The sons of those fathers who served in the regiment are in the perfect know of our service, life, traditions", said Valery Atasov. “Their way to professional pilots after graduation is way easier and simpler than other young officers".

Source: Krasnaya Zvezda, Authors: Vadim Mamlyga, Vladimir Pasyakin. Photo: Vladimir Pasyakin
Translation: RusNavy.com