´Blue Bird´ is ready for the 2021 space season

The specialized search and rescue group of the Central Military District (Поисково-спасательная группа ЦВО) has recently completed a training programme, in order to prepare the unit for this year´s space flight season.

For the first time, the Odyssey lander, which returned from the Earth´s orbit in 2013, was used during a live-exercise. The Odyssey capsule worked as a basis to create a training model, fully imitating both the external structure and onboard equipment of the real re-entry module of Soyuz spacecraft.

The training scenario included a full range of measures involved in the search and rescue of the spacecraft crew. Firstly, an aviation group – consisting of An-26 aircraft equipped with radar device and Mi-8 multipurpose helicopters – determined location of the capsule and its coordinates, as well as a landing area for a parachute rescue group, that was then dropped close to the re-entry module.

In the next step, medical specialists and rescuers were delivered to the landing area by the Mi-8 helicopters and specialized evacuation vehicles. The rescue team evacuated a cosmonaut from the capsule, provided first aid and transferred him into passenger module of Zil-49061 ´Blue Bird´ evacuation vehicle. While staying in the vehicle, the cosmonaut was carried to the nearest airfield for further transportation.

Another part of the scenario focused on evacuation of cosmonauts from a hard-to-reach area. The SAR group used an external winch and lifted the spaceman onboard the Mi-8 helicopter, hovering approximately 30 metres above the landing site. Then, the army aviation rotorcraft took care about the landing capsule, transporting it to the base on an external suspension

In 2021, military personnel of the specialized SAR group will participate in at least six space operations, ensuring safe launches of Soyuz MS spacecraft and then landings of their returning modules.

The search and rescue group of the Central Military District

The search and rescue group of the Central Military District is a unique unit specialized with supporting launches and landings of manned spacecraft. For almost twenty years the group assisted in 78 launch operations and approximately 80 search and rescue missions, within a Soyuz programme. During this time, the SAR unit successfully located and evacuated from landing spots more than 200 cosmonauts.

The abovementioned ´Blue Bird´ (Синяя птица) is a Soviet (and then Russian) complex aimed for search and rescue operations in remote and inaccessible areas. Usually, it is being used for evacuation of cosmonauts and their landing vehicles after returning from space missions.

This complex include three all-terrain vehicles: ZIL-4906 amphibious truck with an open deck and crane, used for transportation of a re-entry capsule; ZIL-49061 amphibious truck with an enclosed passenger module; and ZIL-29061 auger type snow-and-swamp search vehicle. All trucks of the complex are painted in a characteristic, blue colour.

The importance of the specialized SAR group assisting with launches and landings of manned spacecraft was already proven operationally several times. One of the examples is the landing of Soyuz TM-29 mission, that was returning from the Mir space station on 28th August 1999. When the space vehicle touched the ground, an ignition of dry grass followed and the capsule was surrounded by a ring of fire – for the first time in history of manned space flights. Fortunately, through a quick response of the search and rescue group, the fire was put out in a minutes and cosmonauts were successfully recovered from the re-entry module.


Odyssey re-entry capsule while being loaded on ZIL-4906 truck

All photos © Russian MoD (Министерство обороны Российской Федерации), used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. MoD press information were used.