Soviet aviation history on display at the Riga Aviation Museum

Check out MiG and Sukhoi supersonic fighter jets, giant Mil helicopters and more relics of Cold War aircraft at this unique museum.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Riga Aviation Museum

The Riga Aviation Museum has the strangest entrance to any public museum I've visited. Located at the Latvian capital's airport, you just walk over from the main terminal and ring the bell. 

For more about this unique and fascinating museum, which I visited pre-pandemic, check out Ghosts of Soviet aviation at the Riga Aviation Museum.

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Red Hound

The owner and curator of the museum let me in and took my 7 euro payment. The museum has many Russian and Soviet aircraft not seen in most western museums. 

This Mil Mi-4 Hound is right next to the entrance.

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Big hero 6

The huge Mil Mi-6 dominates the front half of the museum. 

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Big rotors

When it first flew in the late 1950s it was the largest and fastest helicopter in the world. Even today it's impressively huge.

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Heavy speed

The helicopter's top speed was 186 mph. It could carry over 26,000 lbs.

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This is an early Soviet transport helicopter, the Mi-1, specifically the more powerful M variant that sat for 3 passengers. It first flew in 1948.

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Like most museums, Riga has little placards next to each aircraft with what it is and a few facts. Here though, they're in Latvian, English and Russian. 

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This is the second prototype built of the MiG-29UB variant, which first flew in 1982.

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The UB was a 2-seat training variant. Its top speed was Mach 2.25.

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Here's a supersonic, swing-wing MiG-27

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New nose

The -27 was a ground-attack version of the MiG-23 flown, primarily by the Soviet/Russian and Indian air forces. The flatter nose is a giveaway this is a -27 and not a -23.

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Boxy bat

There's also an RBS reconnaissance variant of a MiG-25.

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Side scanning

The RBS had a side-looking radar instead of cameras, allowing it to survey an area from greater distance.

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Latavio Antonov

This Antonov An-24 was flown by Latvia's own Latavio airlines. These could carry up to 52 passengers. All were built between 1959 and 1979, but some are still flying.

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Old nose

This is the MiG-23, note the difference in the nose from the -27. This is the MF variant, also called the Flogger-B, which was the main export version.

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This is also a MiG-23. The "M" variant was the first mass-produced model. It had, generally, better radar and communications tech compared to the MF.

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Beds of fish

Next are two MiG-21 Fishbeds. On the right with the longer cockpit is the -21US trainer variant.   

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In flight

There are still some MiG-21s still flying. I recently saw one at the Royal Air Tattoo and took photos as it did flybys.

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Headless horsemen

A few cockpit sections for some larger aircraft are sadly off limits for closer inspection.

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Forever 21

Not surprisingly, the museum has so many MiG-21s. it's the most-produced supersonic jet ever and was flown by dozens of countries all over the world.

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Mini MiG

The famous and once fearsome MiG-15 is tiny in person. This is even the slightly bigger "UTI" two-seat trainer variant.

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Mean MAZ

This mean machine is a MAZ-7310, an 8x8 heavy multi-purpose truck built in the then-Soviet (now Belarusian) city of Minsk. This is the airport fire-fighting version. If you've seen any movie or news footage of Soviet mobile rocket launchers, those were a version of this truck.

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Big power

It's powered by a massive 525 horsepower V12. This one was stationed at Riga airport, so it didn't have to go far for its retirement.

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Eastern Bloc trainer

This might look like several more familiar jet training aircraft, but it's an Aero L-29 Delfín, designed and built in Czechoslovakia. 

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It was quite successful, over 3,600 were built and it was used in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.

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Two Sus

Two Su-7s. The one on the left is the 2-seat "U" trainer variant.

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The Su-7 first flew in the mid-50s, and many were in service into the late 1980s. It's expected that North Korea still has some.

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Landing rough

The museum's other Su-7 is the "BKL" variant that was ruggedized for landing and takeoffs on makeshift runways, hence the skids mounted on the landing gear.

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Missing pieces

Some of the museum's collection is more complete than others. This is the fuselage of an Antonov An-14.

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Czech box

This Zlín Z-37 crop duster was built in Czechoslovakia in 1963. Z-37s were mostly used there and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

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Big Yak

The Yakovlev Yak-28 had various roles in the Soviet, and later Russian, air forces. They included a medium bomber, an interceptor, electronic warfare, and more. 

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Glassy nose

This was the -28R reconnaissance variant, identifiable by its almost fully-glass nose.  

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Training Yak

While most civilian pilots in the west learned on 2- and 4-seat Cessnas, many in the Soviet Union (and later, Russia) learned on Yak-18Ts, which were designed especially for training Aeroflot pilots.

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Early Ant

The Antonov An-2 first flew in 1947, but was in production until 2001 and many are still flying in Russia, China and elsewhere.  

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Any cargo

This passenger variant seats 12, but the An-2 have served almost every aircraft role due to its reliability, robustness and forgiving flight characteristics.

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I love the weirdness of the Kamov Ka-26, with its co-axial rotor design powered by twin radial engines. This is a two-pilot training version.   

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Boxy Hind

This is actually an early Mil Mi-24 Hind, the second production "A" variant. It looks like a completely different helicopter compared to the later versions due to the boxy, flat windows. We got a better up-close look at a later Hind at the Helicopter Museum.

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The museum had several aging airstair cars. They seemed safe enough to get a look down onto a few aircraft.  

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Many MiGs

This is also where I ended the video tour I made of the museum.  

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Heavy lifter

The small wings aren't for show, they actually supply a significant amount of lift while cruising. Interestingly, the starboard wing has a slightly greater angle than the port wing.

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In the nose

I asked if I could have a look inside. I was given a very quick and final "no." This look into the nose through a broken window was as close as I could get. Most Mi-6s had a crew of 6.

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The Riga Aviation Museum was a wonderfully fascinating. There aren't many easily-accessible aviation museums with this many ex-Soviet aircraft. Riga is a lovely city to explore as well, when we're all able to travel again.

For more info about the museum and these hard-to-find aircraft, check out Ghosts of Soviet aviation at the Riga Aviation Museum.

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