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Beeing in the air with the Caucasus Warriors, riding a Su-25UB together with an operational Georgian Air Force Su-25 above the mountains of the Caucasus is surely one of the most breathtaking experiences.

Here is the report:
It was my fourth travel Georgia and my fourth visit at TAM (Tbilaviamsheni) factory. TAM produced military aircraft since 1941, last in the line were 825 Su-25 and the modernised Su-25 KM Scorpion in cooperation with ELBIT (Israel). Emmediately after my arrival at TAM factory my friend Robert informed me that they can offer me a test flight with the possiblity to meet a Georgian Air Force Frogfoot in the air. This was the result of 3 years planning. Three options were taken into consideration. Flying a Su-25UB, a L-29 or Yak-40, all flights together with a Georgian Air Force Su-25. Fortunately the best option, to fly a factory fresh Su-25UB together with operational Su-25UB taking off from Marneulli was possible. Nevertheless the option of flying the Yak-40 was also prepared for the case that any problem with the Su-25UB should arrise.
During the day of the flight we drove from the factory to the test field on the same approximately 3 miles long road where the produced Su-25 are towed from the production line to the airfield.
After arrivel I had of course to stand a medical examination. The following preflight briefing included reports from the engineer, the navigator, the doctor, the deputy director for flying activity and last but not least the Pilot Gocha Schingasrdilov. Every statement was recorded on tape and documented in the flight protocol.

The task for the flight as written in the protocol:
  • demonstration flight with Su-25 together with a second Su-25 in the flight areas UGR-323:224 and UGT-227
  • formation flying
  • horizontal flight with 150km/h at 1000m
  • turn at 70°
  • decent with 30°
  • pulled up turn (30° up, 60° turn)
  • landing at Vali (TAM test field)
For the flight the most experienced test pilot of the team at Tbilisi was chosen: Gocha Schingasrdilov. I know Gocha for years now as I met him every time I was in Georgia and he was the display pilot when the Su-25KM Scorpion was presented at the Paris Air Show. He also has war experience as he was on duty during the war in Abkhazia. The conflict in Abkhazia, strategically located on the Black Sea in the northwestern region of the Republic of Georgia, began with social unrest and the attempts by the local authorities to separate from the Republic. It escalated into a series of armed confrontations in the summer of 1992 when the Government of Georgia deployed 2,000 Georgian troops in Abkhazia. Fierce fighting resulted in some 200 dead and hundreds wounded. The Abkhaz leadership abandoned the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi and retreated to the town of Gudauta. After one flight in this conflict Gocha managed to return safely a heavily damaged Su-25. So, this pilot is the best guarantee for a safe flight.

After the preflight briefing Gocha and me went out the aircraft where a dozen mechnics were preparing the flight. The flight line was crowded with 7 Su-25 (6 single seaters, 1 two seater), 3 Mi-24 and 3 Mi-8, factory fresh or ready after an overhaul waiting to be handed over to the customer. 3 additional Su-25T still waited for a customer.

I was strapped into the seat and introduced to all safety equipment including emergency procedures with the ejection seat KM 34. Meanwhile Gocha went through the preflight check and spoke with the pilot we intended to meet in the air with his Su-25. They discussed the photo flight, meeting point and time and all maneuvres in the air. After I stored my photo equipment the canopy was closed. Gocha began to start up the engines and we taxied out to the last chance point. After backtrack runway and lining up on the runway we had to wait for four minutes because of incoming traffic at the nearby Tbilisi Aleksevka International Airport. The awaited Airliner passed above us and Gocha run up the engines. Seconds later we speeded down the runway. After lift off we saluted all observers of the test team in a hard left turn and a fast climb to 1000m. We began with some planned test procedures, he accelerated to 950 km/h, tested a controls at lower speeds, deployed the speed brakes etc.. Minutes later we headed south towards Marneuli. We approached the airfield at low level and pulled up above the shelter area of this former russian Su-15 airfield. I was able to see a line up of five covered Su-25. Exactly one year earlier I walked past this flight line taking my first photos of georgian Su-25s and L-29s. The Su-25UB we planned to meet was already in the air. When we approached it I was able o see that it was ‘Blue 21’. Was it the aircraft which I saw exactly one year earlier at TAM test field as ‘Red 21’ in a quite weathered painted with numbers and national markings allmost disappearing? This aircraft was in mint condition, freshly painted and armed with two missiles on the outer pylons. The next twenty minutes we performed formation flying at different altitudes including low level rides above the breathtaking landscape of the Caucasus. Together we apporached Marneuli airfield again and waved the pilot of ‘Blue 21’ good bye. ‘21’ broke away in a hard left turn over the runway and went into the pattern for landing. Gocha pulled up our Su-25 slightly and performed a left roll. Moments later we saw ‘Blue 21’ taxiing from the runway trailing its brake chute. After climbing up to 1000m again we went through the rest of the test schedule. The Su-25 turn out to be a highly agile and powerful aircraft. G-forces were breathtaking during some maneuvres, especially for an untrained person witout any anti-g equipment (‘speed-jeans’). Apon completition of the test program Gocha contacted TAM test field and Tbilisi International Airport for the landing approach. We were advised to approach directly from the east. From my seat I was perfectly able to follow the approach as the back seat is 44cm high than the front seat and therefore the view to the front is quite good even without deploying the front view mirror. Exactly after 38 minutes we touched down on the runway again. It was not necessary to deploy the brake chutes as the runway of Vali airfield is very long and wide. After arrival at the flightline, shut down of the engines and unstrapping from the ejection seat Gocha and me went to the debriefing room and fixed all testing results in the flight protocol.

With this unique experience I was for sure the first (foreign) civil person to accompany a flight, especially a test flight, in a Su-25 in Georgia. Do not speak about the possibility to shoot air-to-air photos of a Gergian Air Force Su-25UB.
The author wishes again to thank his friends Nodar Beridze and Robert Papandopulov for their assistance in organizing this unique flight and Manana for her fine translation work.

Text and pictures by Marcus Fülber, www.hat-home.de


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