Belarus' only fighter air base, which carries round-the-clock combat duty, is deployed in Baranovichi. Until recently, the air base was home to the fast-paced MiG-29. Almost six months ago, local military pilots started flying the advanced Su-30SM. BelTA reporters had a unique opportunity to spend a day with military pilots and learn more about the romance and the difficulties of a pilot profession.
The life of the 61st Fighter Air Base can be described in a few words: if there are no flights, the base is preparing for them. This is titanic work of many people. The engineering and technical staff prepare fighter jets for the upcoming flights. The conscripts help them with this. They mostly work as drivers of special-purpose vehicles supplying oxygen, fuel and other liquids to refuel the jets. Communication specialists perform their own work. Pilots in between flights study the theory, work out the assignment first on the ground and then in the sky.
“The main task is to prepare for combat duty. Every pilot has a program of improving flight qualifications and obtaining new skills. We never stop improving,” the commander of the 61st airbase Yuri Pyzhik said. “We are the country's only fighter airbase that carries round-the-clock combat duty. It is a high responsibility. The level of training of both pilots and engineering personnel is high and we are able to perform any task of protecting the state border in the airspace.”
The airfield is buzzing with activity. Technicians are scrupulously checking the equipment and systems of jets. Trucks keep coming for refueling. The Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter jets catch our eye. “This is the pride not only of our base, but the entire Armed Forces. The Sukhoi Su-30SM jets are advanced multirole fighters of the 4+ generation. They have unique characteristics. They are capable of serving as long-range interceptors and striking ground targets. We showcased these jets at the parade,” Yuri Pyzhik said.
The four Su-30SM jets arrived at the base last autumn. Another eight jets of this kind will be purchased. Pilots and technicians were retrained to operate the new fighters.
Senior aviation technician Roman Abramovich was one of the first to operate the new jets. Last summer he graduated from the Military Faculty of Belarusian State Academy of Aviation. At first he serviced the MiG-29 jet fighters, and since October Su-30SM. “I am responsible for the entire jet and also for the lives of pilots,” the lieutenant said. Roman Abramovich admitted that he fell in love with aviation from the very first days of his studies.
“I have been into aeromodelling since my first days at the university. When your work has to do with aircraft, it is interesting to build their small models at home. There are eleven airplane models and two helicopter models in my collection. I have almost all aircraft used in Belarus, including Su-30 and MiG-29,” Roman Abramovich said.
Sergei Glushchenko piloted some of such aircraft. He took to the sky as a pilot for the first time in Yak-52 in 1999. After that he piloted L-39, Su-27, and MiG-29. Now he operates Su-30SM. Sergei Glushchenko has over 20 years of experience. According to him, he still continues learning to fly. “We conduct training flights in order to be prepared to defend the Belarusian airspace at any moment. We keep learning our whole life. We need to improve and learn something new all the time,” he noted and added that one flight can last from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours.
Several crews at the airfield of the 61st airbase are on standby 24/7. On signal they are supposed to get inside their aircraft fast and take off once instructed to do so. Various situations are anticipated. For instance, a fighter jet will have to find an air space violator and force it to land. “Belarus is a transit country. A lot of passenger and freight aircraft fly above our heads. If one of them fails to follow air traffic control instructions (deviates from the assigned route or fails to communicate), the duty jets will be scrambled. If the violator fails to follow orders, weapons can be used. As a rule, it doesn't go that far,” Sergei Glushchenko explained.
Pilots are practicing various scenarios until they hone all the maneuvers to the muscle memory since there is no time to think while flying. This is why they polish their responses to every emergency in a simulator on the ground. The simulator looks just like the real thing. Displays are installed everywhere to make it look like a genuine specific location. “In some cases actions need to be taken within seconds. It is a great responsibility since a fighter jet flies above people's heads. You cannot just pull over, pop the hood, and pull wires back and forth trying to fix things. If something malfunctions, the aircraft keeps flying. It doesn't happen often but this possibility always exists,” the pilot noted.
An Air Force pilot is not an easy job, to put it mildly. Pilots experience serious physical strain every time they fly. But they are ready to fly again and again because they love the sky.
Photos by Vadim Yakubyonok