If you’re a fan of Russian aircraft developed back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Central Air Force Museum at Monino Airfield is a must-visit attraction. The awesome collection, located around 25 miles east of Moscow, is home to around 173 aircraft and 127 engines, making it one of the world’s largest aviation museums. Many of the artefacts were developed at the height of the Cold War, representing some of the greatest advances in Soviet aerospace innovation during that tense period of history.
The Central Air Force Museum was founded in 1958, but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that its doors were finally opened to the public. This was due to a number of classified Soviet prototypes being among its exhibits.
(If only the USA could reveal some of its classified prototypes and top secret demonstrators, which are said to be stored (or perhaps even preserved) at Area 51.)
In addition to Monino’s extensive collection of planes and aircraft engines are other artifacts, including weapons, spy instruments and flying uniforms. Among them is the flight suit worn by CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down in 1960 by an S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile.
Situated adjacent to the Gagarin Air Force Academy, the Monino museum has been known by a variety of names over the decades, including the USSR Air Force Museum and later the Russian Federation Air Force Museum. Tours are offered by ex-pilots who volunteer their time to take visitors through the history of Russian aviation.
According to this unofficial website: “The facilities are largely unimproved and the majority of aircraft are exposed to the harsh Russian weather… Despite these conditions, the aircraft are in surprisingly good shape and most are sitting on the original tires they landed at the Monino airfield with. This is a testament to the museum employees who have a great historical legacy to preserve.”
However, rumours have circulated about the Central Air Force Museum’s imminent closure, so those planning a visit would be wise to book a ticket to Moscow sooner rather than later. If that happens, it’s likely many exhibits would be moved to another location, and the larger ones scrapped.
But as of December 2016 it was still open to the public, just one among numerous historic landmarks of Cold War Moscow and its surrounding area. CNN wrote of Russia’s capital and most populous city: “From bunker complexes to rusting MiG fighter jets to the vestiges of long-defunct secret weapons programs, Moscow is a living museum of the epoch that shaped the 20th century.”
One of the most unusual exhibits on display at the Monino museum is the Bartini Beriev VVA-14, an amphibious wing-in-ground-effect aircraft, of which only two prototypes were ever built. Nearby, Myasishchev M-50 and Sukhoi T-4 prototypes stand alongside MiG and Sukhoi fighters/attack aircraft, mighty Tupolev bombers and other examples from early Russian aviation to the present day.
The Central Air Force Museum’s exhibits may represent outdated tech, now superseded by more modern jet aircraft, but it’s hard to imagine that the rows of warplanes wouldn’t make for an impressive air force even today. You can check out the official website (in Russian) here.