Flyover Cancelled on Parade Day Due to Weather, But Rehearsal was Interesting and Impressive.
May 9, 2017
A structural silence cloaks Red Square today. Cold humidity hangs over expansive rows of military formations under the weight of history.
You can hear air moving between the ranks of silent soldiers frozen at attention. The tanks, the missile launchers, the artillery cannons sit motionless. The quiet hangs for 60 seconds. A muted, dignified tribute to the millions lost. Then the great Spasskaya Tower clock bell tolls brightly through the grey. It is the hour of victory, the greatest military victory in the history of all mankind. A crack in the Russian grey sky reveals a shard of sunlight. Seventy-two years have passed since the Russians defeated Germany in WWII, the Great Patriotic War.
It is Victory Day today in Moscow and across all of Russia, a country so vast it spans 11 time zones, nearly half the globe. This is the largest military display and celebration anywhere in the world by a massive margin. The Victory Day parade in Moscow accompanies large military parades in 26 other large Russian cities to observe the solemn holiday.
The red banner, raised over the Reichstag in Berlin on this day in 1945 by Sgt. Mikhail Yegorov and Jr. Sgt. Meliton Kantaria is marched down Manezhnaya Street in Moscow today. This very same Red Banner, frayed but still vibrant in defiance, flew over the ruins of Hitler’s headquarters when Germany was reduced to ruble in 1945.
The Great War was a cataclysm that claimed a staggering 20 million Russian civilians and soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Twenty million lives…
“This was a tremendous tragedy” says Russian President Vladimir Putin in his remarks from the reviewing stand. Dignitaries flank President Putin along with aging Russian Heroes of the Russian Federation, their faces long and their lapels sagging under an unlikely volume of medals. During the Siege of Stalingrad Russian soldiers like these men lured German invaders into the ruins of bombed-out buildings and dropped concrete blocks on them to kill them. They had long since run out of ammunition. And food. Disease, frostbite, hypothermia and starvation claimed more casualties on both sides than battle did.
Private Aleksey Vakav carries that Red Banner today, goose-stepping in precise marshal cadence between saber-wielding guards of the 154th Independent Commandants Regiment. A descendant of a soldier who fought in the Great War, Private Vakav is one of 10,000 soldiers, 100 vehicles and 72 aircraft in the parade today.
The weather over Moscow today cancelled the sweeping flyovers of wave after wave of new Russian combat aircraft, but yesterday’s rehearsal produced an impressive procession of Russian air power. Everything from heavy bombers to tankers to the latest fighter aircraft flew in formation over Red Square yesterday in rehearsal before the weather cancelled the flying portion of today’s parade.
Mr. Oleg Chernikov granted TheAviationist.com permission to share these outstanding photos taken by a number of his photographers around Moscow during the rehearsal day yesterday prior to Victory Day when the low overcast cancelled the flyovers.
One of the most conspicuous surprises on the rehearsal day flyovers was the new livery on the Russian Knights’ Sukhoi SU-30SMs. The aircraft featured a new solid blue vertical stabilizer with a Russian star insignia. The new livery is cleaner looking and photographs better in most sky conditions compared to the older, more complex tail graphics. The newly painted Russian Knights’ Su-30SMs flew in a beautiful formation with MiG-29 aircraft of the Russian Swifts aerobatic team. The MiG-29S of the Swifts also had some new tail markings for the 2017 demonstration season.
Heavy bombers overflew Red Square on rehearsal day also including an Il-78 tanker with a huge Tu-160 in trail simulating aerial refueling.
Four MiG-31 long range heavy interceptors overflew the parade venue on rehearsal day, an especially exotic sighting since the large relative to the MiG-25 “Foxbat” was never imported outside Russia or Kazakhstan.
While the cancellation of the flyovers was disappointing, the scale of the Victory Day parade never fails to impress. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about today’s version of the parade is that international media provided excellent real-time streaming coverage and tourists from around the world are free to visit Russia to see the parade in person, a worthy destination for any aviation enthusiast. The Victory Day parade in Moscow is an even greater showcase for the might of the Russian military but with the new openness since the Cold War era it is also a greater source of unity and historical reflection making the event even more valuable internationally.
Top image: A formation of heavy bombers including three Tu-22M “Backfire” bombers and a huge Tu-160 Blackjack (credit: Strizhi.ru).