Strange Bed Fellows

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After the Cold War ended, The World took a left turn and was twisted into an atmosphere of pure weirdness. Old foes became friends, the Soviet Union broke up into at least a dozen different countries, and the world really began to look like it was becoming a true example of what the United Nations has been hoping for since the late 1940’s, Cooperation.

Naval Air Field El Centro sits in California’s Colorado Desert, and with nice weather  year round, it has been a training base for US Navy and Marine air units to fly out of since the 1940’s.

During the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, other countries such as Canada, Great Brittan, and Denmark have also sent their military units to NAF El Centro to train in the desert environment, and prepare for their deployments to Southwest Asia.

In order to get the other countries equipment to California from their home bases around the world, these countries need large transport planes to ferry the equipment back and forth, and this is were things take that twist.

When the Soviet Union broke up into various countries, much of the old regimes military equipment was sitting on military bases, that now belonged to these newly formed countries. Russia still being the dominate power in the region, also sold alot of their military aircraft to commercial companies and to other countries.

On November 25, 2013, a small group of photographers were invited to come and shoot a Russian AN-124 (The Antonov) as it arrived at NAF El Centro to pick up some British Chinook CH-47’s helicopters, which had been training at the base for several months.

The An-124 Ruslan (Nato reporting name Condor), designed by the Antonov ASTC, based in Kiev, Ukraine, is a very large cargo transport aircraft. It is manufactured by Aviant State Aviation Plant, Kiev, and Aviastar, Ulyanovsk, Russia. The Ruslan is designed for long-range delivery and air dropping of heavy and large size cargo, including machines, equipment and troops. The development of the first AN-124 airframe commenced in 1979. The An-124 completed its maiden flight in December 1982 and entered service in January 1986. The aircraft was first showcased at the Paris Air Show in 1985. It was accredited with civil certification in 1992. Around 60 aircraft have were built. The Russian Army operates 25 An-124 aircraft.

This is where it really gets weird. As the old Russian cargo plane (owned by a Ukrainian transport company) was landing on the American base, it was being piloted by a Polish crew, again being there to pick up British Helicopters. To add to the mix, as the AN-124 was landing, a Danish Merlin was landing and taxiing down the ramp area. Cooperation at it’s best, wouldn’t you say?

Thanks goes out to NAF El Centro, the Operations Officer, and the Public Affairs Office for the kind invite to witness this event.

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Douglas Aguillard

Douglas (Doug) Aguillard is a Freelance Photojournalist who specializes in the Military & Aviation fields. Based in San Diego, CA, he is a Marine veteran., He currently is a photojournalist for the Military Press Newspaper, the Historical / Archival Dept. photographer for the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar, and a very proud member of Photo Recon, and has been published in various magazines and books such as "Combat Aircraft Monthly" magazine, "Vertical " magazine, "Wings of Gold" magazine, Sikorsky Frontlines newsletter, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum's Book: "Celebrating the San Diego Air & Space Museum: A History of the Museum and it's collections".

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