747-200 / 747-300 Transaero Airlines UN525/526: SVO-BKK-SVO from Upper Deck
This trip report covers two memorable flights on Transaero’s 747-200 and 747-300. Although the 747-200 ranks high in my top-ten of flown types, this was one of the last opportunities to ride the classic jumbo on a scheduled service and it was also a new engine type for both, the 742 and 743. I have to apologise that I took almost 6 months between announcing this report and actually getting it on paper. Too many other trips came in between so that my backlog of interesting types has severely outgrown my list of finalised trip reports.
Upfront I have to say that on both Transaero flights I was prohibited to take any photos at all, so unfortunately my photo yield of these flights is relatively poor. A contributing factor was that one of the two flights was overnight and the windows weren’t that great either. Nevertheless I hope you enjoy reading this report, and I am looking forward to your feedback. Questions & comments are as usual welcome.
When I was between 4 and 9 years old I had flown on many LH 742s between Germany and Brazil in the early 80’s, and coincidently some captains noted the registration in my LH junior logbook for some of the flights so I was lucky to pin down some tail numbers. Nevertheless I always had in mind to log another flight in full consciousness over 25 years later. Transaero was, or may still be, one of the last 747-200 operators:
Photo © Janne Laukkonen
Photo © Fyodor Borisov - Russian AviaPhoto Team
Photo © Pereslavtsev Alex - Russian AviaPhoto Team
Photo © Javier Gonzalez - Iberian Spotters
In May 2010 I have had the opportunity to spot several Transaero classic 747s while in transit at Moscow Domodedovo (DME) to catch the last S7 A310-200 before retirement. There were numerous 747s departing early in the morning which I observed with great interest from the terminal. Upon boarding a bus to the remote ramp I was able to get up close with VP-BPX:
In 2011 the 747-200 has become a challenge to catch so some action was required. Reading my regular route updates newsletter from CAPA I noted that Transaero planned to base some 747-200 in Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) during the winter 2010 schedule, which is not their primary hub. Transaero’s main base of operation is Moscow Domodedovo (DME), though I have found earlier photos of Transaero aircraft in SVO. So it may be a regular course of operation to swap aircraft between the two airports. If I recall correctly the destinations served from SVO included Bangkok, Punta Cana, Ho Chi Minh and Goa. After checking their booking engine equipment type was noted as the 747-200 all the way into March 2011. Here is a screenshot of Transaero’s booking engine which I captured for a friend for the week after I took the flight:
I chose Bangkok as my target destination because I know it well from many previous trips and it was also a convenient location to do other stuff. In the course of planning the trip I also found out that Transaero is one of the airlines which offers cheap business class fares, eventually the fare difference between economy and business was only about USD 500 for a return trip to BKK. No doubt I would pick business, not only because it is a good way to avoid being squeezed between hundreds of tourists, but also a good chance to ride the 747 upperdeck which I had never experienced before. Everyone who has joined a (Russian) tourist bomber to a holiday destination knows that USD 500 for an upgrade is in fact more than worth the money. I had made my experience before on Aeroflot’s Il-96-300 and S7’s A310-200, both in economy class on long-haul flights.
A quick check in the GDS timetable confirmed equipment types on both ways as the 747-200 so I was all set to book, which unfortunately didn’t work as easily as expected through Transaero’s website. My credit card was rejected twice and I had to call their office to get it sorted. I also got an immediate call from my credit card provider, who expected some serious credit card fraud going on, but I was able to confirm the booking and the transaction eventually went through. Also the check on the GDS timetable revealed that Transaero in fact operated two parallel flights into BKK, both within 30mins and both listed with equipment 747-200. The booking page didn’t show the second flight though.
Having this sorted I looked for convenient ways of getting into SVO and back home to ZRH. SAS offered the best fare connecting through Stockholm Arlanda (ARN), both operated by a 737-600 which was also a new type for me. It also gave some 5h transit time in SVO which was more than sufficient in case of delays.
On the return ex-SVO it unfortunately wasn’t that easy. With a scheduled arrival time of 6:55pm into SVO on a Sunday evening meant I didn’t have many options. LOT still had a late departure at 9:00pm, but it required an overnight stay in Warsaw. At least I was able to get into the Schengen area and avoid obtaining a Russian visa or overnighting in the SVO terminal, which is an absolute nightmare. An onwards connection from WAW to ZRH the next morning was at 7:40am and schedule arrival in ZRH was 9:40am Monday morning, allowing me to go to work straight. Scheduled equipment type for LOT was the ERJ-175 and ERJ-170, both new types and LOT was also a new airline for me.
With this part of the trip booked I only had to find hotels in BKK and WAW. In BKK I usually stay in the Silom area, and this time the Sofitel had a good offer. In WAW I booked the Courtyard by Mariott which is right next to the terminal and very convenient for an overnight stop.
My scheduled stay in BKK was 3 days, so I had one more side-trip in mind. I had never flown a 767-200 non-ER, and Business Air in Thailand still operated one of the very early JT9D powered airframes between Phuket and Seoul. Some help from user airpearl resulted in me having contact details of a Business Air ticketing agent in Seoul Incheon (ICN), and through telephone I was able to confirm that their only 767-200 registered as HS-BIA was in fact operating on the HKT-ICN route. I kept hesitating whether I should throw this trip in, but three days before the departure to BKK I thought I rather do it now than waiting and regretting it later. However I will cover this trip in a separate trip report at a later stage.
Everything was set to go and I ended up with the following (scheduled) itinerary:
SK606/09FEB WED ZRH-ARN 0955/1235 737-600
SK730/09FEB WED ARN-SVO 1315/1720 737-600
UN525/09FEB WED SVO-BKK 2335/1145 747-200B
[OZ742/11FEB FRI BKK-ICN 2335/0650 777-200ER]
[8B865/12FEB SAT ICN-HKT 1055/1500 767-200]
[OX8222/12FEB SAT HKT-DMK 1730/1850 DC-9-82]
UN526/13FEB SUN BKK-SVO 1330/1855 747-200B
LO678/13FEB SUN SVO-WAW 2105/2125 ERJ-175
LO411/14SEP MON WAW-ZRH 0740/0945 ERJ-170
Here is a map view of the above sectors:
[Source: Great Circle Mapper]
A few days prior to commencing the trip I had asked user UK_Dispatcher to please check the timetable one more time if the equipment type is still a 747-200. The response I received was as follows:
** XX AIRWAYS - AN ** BKK BANGKOK.TH 7 WE 09FEB 0000
1 UN 523 J4 C2 DR L4 GR /SVO F BKK 2320 1145+1E0/772 8:25
2 UN 525 J3 CR DR L3 GR /SVO F BKK 2335 1200+1E0/744 8:25
NO MORE LATER FLTS 09FEB SVO BKK
CK ALT*ORIG BKA DME JQF JQO VKO XRK ZKD
** XX AIRWAYS - AN ** SVO SHEREMETYEVO IN.RU 11 SU 13FEB 0000
1 UN 526 J4 C1 DR L9 VR X5 GR /BKK SVO F 1330 1855 E0/772 9:25
2 UN 524 J4 C2 D1 L1 GR /BKK SVO F 1340 1940 E0/744 10:00
NO MORE LATER FLTS 13FEB BKK SVO
CK ALT*DEST BKA DME JQF JQO VKO XRK ZKD
Reading this I was shocked and considering cancelling the whole trip immediately, but luckily I was able to find out that this was a mean joke by UK_Dispatcher and in reality both flights were still uploaded as equipment type 742 . An opportunity for payback will come soon, Ian .
Part 1: Transfer to Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) on SAS 737-600
I will make this part short since it is not the main attraction of the trip. As usual I checked the reg operating the flight ex-ZRH on the airport’s website which lists the regs many hours in advance. I was happy to see that in fact the baby Boeing 737-600 will operate my flight. Also on short trips I usually travel with carry-on luggage only to minimise the risk of lost bags and missed connections, though I admit the size and weight of my bags was border line but it went through the check-in without problems. The aircraft scheduled to operate SK606 was LN-RRO. Here it is arriving from ARN on a dull Wednesday morning in ZRH:
Shortly before boarding I was surprised to see a 737-500 in Kon Tiki colors:
It was registered in Macedonia and I later found out that it operated for Macedonian Airlines, but the first thought was that Kon Tiki now carries its backpacker tourists by air…
The SAS flight was uneventful, though I was once again stunned by the amount of traffic over Europe’s skies:
In Swedish airspace we crossed the flight path of this narrowbody heading east:
Here is the flight path we took into ARN:
Upon descend I was able to observe a typical Swedish landscape, also a novelty for me since I have never been in Sweden nor transited in ARN before:
We arrived on time so there was no hurry to proceed to the non-Schengen area. I was glad to find another 737-600 at the gate operating my flight into SVO. Initially I was a bit worried about the short connection time, but it turned out to be fine. The aircraft to operate SK730 into SVO was LN-RCT. Not a great photo but at least the reg is visible:
Here is the route we have flown from ZRH to ARN and onwards to SVO. Nothing unexpected I must admit:
The flight into SVO was also uneventful and it was getting dark outside. Upon arrival in SVO, LN-RCT was greeted by some heavy snowfall:
Recently the new SVO terminal had opened and SAS is using the new facilities. I was hoping the old SVO terminal would be shut down with the opening of the new terminal, but I was proven wrong. The logical question was then from where would Transaero operate. I couldn’t see any of their aircraft when we taxied in so I had to wait and see when I disembarked the SAS flight. We docked at gate 27 and I proceed to the transfer desk where the adventure would finally begin.
Part 2: 747-219B Transaero UN525, Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO) – Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International (BKK)>
Arriving in the new SVO terminal will lead straight to the transfer desk which is occupied by SU staff. I enquired if they could issue me a boarding pass which the friendly lady tried, but eventually after a couple of minutes I was advised that I need to proceed all the way to the old SVO terminal to a Transaero office.
After a long walk I found a transfer desk in the old SVO terminal which I hate so much. As usual people didn’t line-up properly because there was simply no room for doing so, and there was a mob pushing forward to the poor guy who had to serve all these pax. When it was my turn I was advised that I should proceed to an office adjacent to the transfer desk. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Transaero had its own office in the SVO terminal which was totally empty, and a couple of ladies took care of my transfer. The staff was very friendly and I was able to pick my preferred seat from the computer monitor, which was 3G, the last row in the upperdeck:
The system also listed the tail number of today’s flight, it was VP-BQH, one of the ex-NZ and VS airframes.
Photo © Tek
Photo © Vlad Moskvin
I was also handed a lounge voucher which I took with pleasure, preventing me from spending 4h in the SVO terminal. The lounge turned out to be very basic but still way better than spending the time in the terminal. I was able to use free wifi and there was some well deserved food & drinks.
I can’t exactly recall if boarding was announced in the lounge but at some stage I proceeded to the gate only to see that hundreds of passengers had lined-up in front of the gate already, resulting in a queue which went around half of the SVO terminal . When boarding commenced I realised that I would have been one of the last in that queue and there was no designated business class boarding lane. Turning around and spotting the endless queue I did something I usually wouldn’t do, I went straight to the gate and asked the staff where business class boarding is. As expected I was allowed to bypass the queue and was one of the first to board VP-BQH.
I went straight upstairs and I was the first in the upperdeck. The flight attendants were very friendly and I was offered drinks immediately. Over the next 20-30 mins a couple of more business class passengers arrived, but I think the load was no more than 6/12 seats. Here is the empty cabin seen from row 3:
I can’t exactly recall how long boarding took, but I remember it was long. When we eventually pushed back, I got to see the sister ship operating flight UN523 in parallel to us. This one was operated by a 747-300, so I had to consider myself as lucky to be flying on a 747-200. Due to the heavy snowfall which was still going on, a couple of de-icing vehicles started to get engaged on VP-BQH. I had a good view of the wing and observed the activities with great interest:
The deicing was lengthy and the leading edges were sprayed four times alone. The snowstorm outside was quite heavy and the de-icing procedure definitely took much longer than usual, lasting some 70 mins. This resulted us running about 90 mins behind schedule and it was already well past midnight. The 747-300 operating flight UN523 was done after only 20 mins of de-icing and I could observe it departing 75 mins earlier than us almost on schedule. Nevertheless the flight attendants took well care of us and I had plenty of drinks and nibbles.
Eventually we had the engines started up and I was able to hear the famous RB211 rumbling at start-up. We received a safety demonstration and all announcements were made in Russian and English language, although I was probably the only non-Russian speaking passenger on-board. We slowly taxied to Rwy 07R, which is the slightly longer Rwy of two in SVO. Lined-up on 07R and ready to go, let’s look at the flight details:
||Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
||Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO/UUEE) – Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Int’l (BKK/VTBS)
||00:50 – 13:15, flying time 8:25h
||09.04.1981 in Everett Paine Field, USA
|| 98% (assumed)
When take-off thrust was set the RB211-524D4 engines produced the distinctive rumbling noise one more time. I suppose VP-BQH was at max payload and due to the distance of 4416mi also well fueled, hence we would have been at MTOW or very close to MTOW. While thundering down Rwy 07R I could see that we were probably the last aircraft to depart from SVO, I couldn’t see any other activity around the airport.
Check out the long take-off run with the distinctive RB211 rumbling and fan noise:
We passed some layers of clouds and the seatbelt sign was switched off when cutting through 10’000 ft. The flight attendants started with their service and I was served a nice dinner:
With not much to do afterwards I tried to catch some sleep, although the business class seats showed their age and none of the buttons to adjust the leg rest or back of the seat worked. I had to arrange myself with sleeping in a fully upright configured seat, which was a pleasure given the fact that I was flying on a 747-200 in 2011 .
Maybe a couple of words on VP-BQH: The aircraft originally entered service with Air New Zealand in 22.05.1981 as ZK-NZV. In 1999 it was sold to Virgin Atlantic as G-VZZZ with whom it operated until 2005. G-VZZZ was then sold to Jumbo Finance, a leasing company which leased the aircraft to Transaero. Transaero took delivery in 2006 as VP-BQH. As of October 2010 VP-BQH had clocked some 105’827 hours and 19’293 cycles, not bad for a 747-200 but still lower utilized than some freighters which are approaching the 130’000 hours design life.
The night was uneventful and I was hoping to grab some good shots of the engines and wing during sunrise. I picked the right side because I thought the sun may shine directly into the engines when we would be somewhere over India early in the morning. I kept checking the light outside during the entire night to spot the sunrise early enough to prepare my camera. I was hoping for a scene like this:
Photo © Ken Iwelumo - Global Aviation Images
Photo © Glenn White
Reality unfortunately turned out to be different on VP-BQH. Due to the scratched window there was no chance to get anything better than this view :
Here is a copy of the Transaero 747-200 safety card:
Approaching Burma we were served a breakfast and everyone was awake. I kept trying to grab some good shots of the wing, but even trying my best there was nothing better than this:
I also took some shots of the cabin, since it would be the last chance to capture the short upperdeck of a 747. I absolutely love the atmosphere in the short upperdeck of the 747, and despite its age the cabin didn’t have the 70’ies flare which I have seen on photos of other 747-200 operators. Maybe it’s due to the lack of colorful wall paintings and furnishings.
This was also the point when one of the two flight attendants came up to me and asked me in a very firm way to not take any more photos. The crew was two-fold, the younger flight attendant didn’t care at all and was very friendly whereas the older one appeared to be very grumpy and impolite. Nevertheless I respected their advice and stopped taking more photos – for a bit.
As usual I tagged the route with my GPS logger, unfortunately it disconnected several times so the graph is not complete. Nevertheless let’s look at the flight path. Like most flights to SE Asia we were bypassing the Himalaya on the southern side:
The speed/altitude graph is also not complete and not very accurate due to the disconnection, however we can see the initial cruise altitude was in fact quite low.
Over Thailand we commenced our descend into the Bangkok metropolitan area. We came in from northwest and headed straight south to enter a Rwy 19R approach pattern. Here VP-BQH is seen navigating around Bangkok’s northern suburbs with the slats fully deployed and intercepting the localizer of Rwy 19R:
And established on the localizer of 19R:
I have also recorded the landing on video, despite the poor window quality it is still interesting to see the wing and landing from the upperdeck. Similar to the 707 the slats are retracted during reverse thrust to reduce the exposure to FOD and jet wash. Once the reversers are disengaged, the slats revert to the fully deployed position. Also note that the reversers were engaged down to a very low speed, looks like less than 80kts:
The landing was not as gentle as the ones I have experienced on other flights with Russian crews, but still it was a great flight coming to a smooth end. You can hear the pax are all clapping upon touchdown, common practice in Russia. We vacated Rwy 19R and taxied back to the E concourse of Suvarnabhumi’s terminal.
When everyone got up in the upperdeck, I was the last one to stand in a queue of the business pax in the upperdeck waiting to de-board. This blocked the line of sight between the two flight attendants and me, who had their seats next to the cockpit door. Hence I was able to capture the cabin of this great 747-200 on camera before check-out:
All economy passengers had to wait until the upperdeck was empty, then around 480 people pushed behind us to de-board VP-BQH. With all those people behind me, I still held short for one last shot of VP-BQH. Unfortunately the air bridges in BKK don’t allow for a clean shot:
Upon walking to immigration along the D-gates, I looked for an opportunity to catch a clean shot of VP-BQH, but again the terminal layout didn’t allow for a clean shot. As usual in BKK I proceeded to the immigration counters of the east side nearer to the A, B and C gates which is usually much less crowded. Since I didn’t have any luggage to claim I was in a taxi within minutes of having proceeded through customs. In Bangkok downtown, I was greeted by this nice view of the Silom area seen from the Sofitel.
Part 3: 767-222 Business Air (8B865), Seoul Incheon (ICN) – Phuket Airport (HKT)
As mentioned earlier I committed myself to riding the super-rare 767-200 non-ER with Business Air only three days before departing to SVO. Since this trip report is meant to cover the Transaero 747 classics, I will keep this one short. I departed BKK on Friday night on Asiana’s 777-200ER to ICN, arriving at 7:00am in ICN. I then flew HS-BIA to Phuket where I would have some 2h to fly back to Bangkok’s Don Muaeng Airport (DMK) on a DC-9-80.
I had a small hope to ride OX’s newly acquired DC-9-81 which was still missing in my list, but I was unlucky and flew on HS-OMA, one of their DC-9-82s.
Having successfully logged the 767-200, I was lucky to be back in Bangkok Silom for another night in the Sofitel. Here is the nice view from my room:
I had a good night’s sleep since I didn’t catch a single minute of sleep on-board Asiana’s 777-200ER. The next morning I was scheduled to depart BKK at mid-day on Transaero’s 747.
Part 4: 747-346 Transaero UN526, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International (BKK) – Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO)
Arriving at Suvarnabhumi, I proceeded to the Transaero check-in area about 2.5h prior to the scheduled departure. I was stunned to see the amount of people lining up. As mentioned Transaero operates two parallel flights to SVO alone, both on the 747. Then there were other flights departing to Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg and Moscow Domodedovo, explaining while there were easily 1000 people lined-up for check-in. I can’t say how glad I was to have booked business class, because there was not a single person waiting at the designated check-in desk. Check-in was smooth and I was able to pick the seat I wanted. Again I chose seat 3G, the last row of business class. My carry-on luggage was well above the permitted limit, an out-of-control session at my tailor resulted in additional 10kg of clothes carried in a suit-bag, on top of my trolley and camera bag with laptop. Nevertheless the check-in staff said it is fine since I fly business class. Again I was handed a lounge voucher which I took with pleasure.
At that time I still didn’t know which type would operate today’s flight, but I was not too worried since I had nailed the 747-200 on the previous flight and I have flown the 747-300 before.
I made my way to the lounge which had just opened when I arrived. I was greeted with a nice choice of food and drinks, which I enjoyed with some free wifi:
About 15 mins prior to the scheduled boarding time I decided to proceed to the gate at the E-concourse to check-out the designated aircraft operating UN526. From the distance I could see that this time it was a 747-300. Again BKK’s airport architecture doesn’t allow for a clean shot, but here it is anyways:
The reg was VP-BGU, a former JAL airframe:
Photo © Maurits Vink
Photo © Alex Beltyukov - RuSpotters Team
In that moment sister ship VP-BGW arrived from SVO docking at the opposite gate over an hour behind schedule. So both flights today were operated by a 747-300, and looking at the overall performance this week, three of four flights were operated by the 747-300. I can consider myself lucky I got on the -200 on the outbound flight then. On some web pages VP-BGW is listed as a 747-300(SR), it would have been a nice addition to my logbook but I can’t ask for too much. On the other hand the 747-300s are still around well into 2012, so another chance exists to fly it.
Again the gate area was crowded like I have barely seen it before. Seeing that Transaero is able to fill four weekly flights each with 500 passengers, it really makes sense ordering some A380s. Boarding was called about 30 mins behind schedule, and I started to get a bit worried due to my limited connection time in SVO for one of the last flights out of Moscow that night.
Upon boarding I met the same crew again which also served me on the outbound flight, and friendly younger flight attendant was also happy to see me again, in contrast to the grumpy one who barely could spell out a ‘hello’ to me. In the course of boarding other passengers proceed into the upperdeck and the economy part of the upperdeck was fully occupied. The business class section was again not fully booked, I think it was about a 10 / 12 load:
You can see the flight attendants on the 747-300 are not sitting next to the cockpit door in the front of the upperdeck, but right behind me facing backwards. The small mirror above the exit door turned out to be trouble for me a bit later on. Here are the seats 3A and 3B, which are not much different to the ones installed on VP-BQH:
The characteristic shape of the 747 upperdeck requires to arrange the seats a bit off from the side panels, resulting in this space which can be used for storage of equipment:
Again boarding was lengthy, and we pushed back about an hour behind schedule. This reduced my transit time in SVO to under 90 mins. Still doable but there wasn’t much more room for delays due to the possibly long walking distance between the SVO terminals and slow transfer procedures. I also didn’t hold a boarding pass yet for my connection. Here is a great view of the JT9D motors while taxiing out to Rwy 19R:
We approached the holding point of Rwy 19R and held short. I grabbed a few pictures, discrete but apparently not discrete enough because suddenly the grumpy of the two flight attendants opened her seatbelt, jumped up and came up to me and firmly said ‘no more photos!’. I acknowledged but politely asked if I couldn’t just take a video of the take-off, and obviously the response was no . She also quickly advised her colleague sitting right behind me to keep an eye on me through this small mirror above us. This turned out to be a major disappointment, only seconds prior to sitting ahead of four JT9Ds spooling up for take-off thrust. There was nothing I could to but behaving and missing one of the last opportunities to record a video from this perspective.
Anyways, let’s look at the flight details:
||Sunday, February 13th, 2011
|| Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Int’l (BKK/VTBS) – Moscow Sheremetyevo (SVO/UUEE)
||14:19 – 19:44, flying time 9:25h
||21.03.1986 in Everett Paine Field, USA
|| 99% (assumed)
All set and ready to go the crew spooled up for take-off. I cannot say how much I suffered not be