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Splendid Shannon

Quality or Quantity…………depends in what context really. Aircraft traffic at Dublin Airport – pre Covid – was slanted more towards quantity with a runway movement guaranteed every 2 to 3 minutes (600+ per day) but variety was also to be found in abundance. Shannon Airport however, was never known for sheer volume but carved out a niche for quality visits and the out-of-the-ordinary.

Image by Dominique Meunier

One weekday morning in May last, taken as a snap-shot of interesting visitors to the west of Ireland gateway, highlights just what a mixture of aircraft use Shannon. Of course, this activity is nothing new here. The 1970’s, 80’s & 90’s saw tremendous diversity come and go at SNN especially Soviet era types, which enthusiasts remember fondly as Shannon’s golden era.

On this blustery showery morning in question, the big-ticket item at the moment and the one on most enthusiasts ‘radar’ Rada Airlines Il-62MGr(Cargo) EW-505TR had just spent another over-night at Shannon Airport in the course of the airlines current contract delivering Coca-Cola concentrate to Larnaca, Cyprus.

As the Il-62 freighter started its four Soloviev D-30KU turbofan engines, slowly warming them and bringing systems up to working temperatures and pressures, B747-481(BDSF) of Air ACT cargo was on short finals for RW24.

Image by Mark50d

Arriving to a wet Shannon from Istanbul, the 1993-built jumbo TC-ACF first operated with All Nippon Airways from 1993 as a passenger aircraft before being converted for freighter duties in 2011 for ACT Airlines of Turkey. A regular visitor to Shannon, which is just as well the flight crew are familiar with the location, as the spray produced upon touch-down rendered the B747 shrouded in mist with visibility reduced significantly.

As Air ACT cleared the runway, the brooding Ilyushin took up position for departure on the soaked runway. In traditional Soviet era style, the crew brought the Il-62 to full power for several moments, before releasing its brakes, lurching with momentum building. The conversion to freighter permits the Il-62M to lift a 40 tonne payload within its long narrow fuselage, on its way to Larnaca, almost five hours away.

Image by Laurent Gary

No delay for the Air ACT B747-400F as it was readied for the next stage of its operations. Cutting its way through the standing water down RW24, departing at 13:14, en route to Chicago. While these two aircraft of interest conducted movements at Shannon, an enormous event was unfolding among this activity at SNN.

Slightly earlier that morning, an unusual visitor arrived into Shannon from Toulouse, France as Airbus Beluga XL – A330-700 (F-WBXL), yes the new Beluga variant, touched down, here to experience the famous Atlantic winds which were present in force on the day. Crosswind trials are crucial for flight deck crew training especially given the Beluga’s unique design and its susceptibility to the elements.

Image by Dan Stijovich

Landing at 10:51, after a 2hr 15min flight, the Beluga performed several touch-and-goes, close circuits, landings and take-offs, and in-flight handling characteristic manoeuvres. The weather didn’t disappoint for the occasion, with plenty of wind gusts, strong wind speeds and lashings of precipitation added to the mix.

The ‘smile’ across the front lower fuselage on the Beluga managed to avoid fading throughout activities, not sure if the same could be said of the flight-deck crew who remained under scrutiny throughout the two hour exercise.

By 13:00 it was all over at Shannon for F-WBXL as the over-sized heavy-lifter completed its test flights and headed for Newquay, England 54mins away for a similar exercise. Touch-and-go’s completed, sorties in the bag, the wind-masters pointed the Beluga towards Toulouse at 17:15.

Image by Eric Gutierrez

It appears ‘Airbus Transport International’, the company which operates the Beluga fleet on behalf of Airbus, has now received three Beluga XL’s, F-GXLH XL2, F-GXLI XL3 and now the Shannon visitor with test registration F-WBXL will become F-GXLG XL1, from an initial order of four to replace the older but still operational (bar two) Beluga ST fleet of which totalled five.

Maiden flight of the new XL variant was in 2018, with first entry into commercial service being January 2020. The aircraft will service 11 destinations across Airbus operations. With its increase to 51 tonne payload and a maximum range of 4,000km with that payload, brings the MTOW to 227 tonnes. Rolls-Royce Trent 772B engines provide 30% extra transport capacity over the ST, accommodating two A350 wings compared to one in the ST. Progress indeed.

Image by Daniel Pereira

As a side-show at Shannon Airport during the activity just discussed, a USAF EC130H Hercules (73-1583) ‘DM’ arrived from US Air Base - Ramstein in southern Germany around the time the Beluga was departing, for refueling en route to Lajes, Portuguese Azores where the US Air Force have a presence. A few days previous, on May 15th two Air France B777-328’s were on the apron at Shannon Airport (F-GZNH & F-GSQC) as one received new paintwork the other took up position in the paint hangar immediately after.

Before rounding off this account its worth noting the significance the sighting of the Il-62MGr is at Shannon, on the western most edge of Europe. The airport has been tremendously fortunate in receiving both Il-62’s of Rada Airlines in recent months. Apart from a few operational with the Russian Air Force and a pair used for government duties with Air Koryo of North Korea, EW-505TR and EW-450TR of Rada Airlines, are currently the world’s only commercially operated Il-62’s. Up until December 2020, there was only one carrying this honour, EW-450TR returned to the sky in 2015 and was joined by sistership EW-505TR when acquired by Rada recently.

Image by Jan Severijns

The Il-62’s have been freighters in-part due to the effects of Covid-19 and the first visit by them to Ireland was on the 18th of March this year when EW-450TR overnighted having arrived from Orsha, Belarus and departed for Zagreb, Croatia the following day. Since then both Ilyushin’s have landed at Shannon several times, in fact as fortune would have it, some enthusiasts even managed to record the two Il-62’s on the ground at Shannon on May 16th as EW-450TR arrived in from Libya en route from Cyprus, while EW-505TR was waiting on the apron at Shannon having landed the day before. A most poignant sight especially for those with fond memories of Soviet-era aircraft transiting through Shannon Airport back in the day. For this injection of nostalgia we thank Rada Airlines.

Images by Dominique Meunier, Eric Gutierrez, Laurent Gary, Jan Severijns, Dan Stijovich, Mark50d & Daniel Pereira


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