Grounded cargo jet should leave Sawyer Airport in 3 to 6 months

K.I. SAWYER — A Russian cargo plane grounded at Sawyer International Airport five and a half years ago is finally close to flying out of the U.P.

Volunteers at the Sawyer Heritage Air Museum are helping the plane’s owners cut through layers of bureaucratic red tape.

The museum’s president says if everything goes smoothly, the jet will fly away within the next three to six months, but several things still need to happen, starting with test flights.

“They have to have permits just for the test flights,” Sawyer Heritage Air Museum president Bob Vick said. “To get into the air at all, it’s got to be approved, and that’s usually an FAA function. After that, then the paperwork to send it over to Ukraine (needs to be done).”

The plane cleared an important hurdle on Friday. Crews fired up all four of the jet’s engines to see if they were still operational. They all passed with flying colors.

“They brought them all the way up, and the team chief told me afterwards, ‘well above parameters’,” Vick said. “It’s great, so that’s nice, because then we didn’t have to go in and repair engines. They’re Russian engines, of course, and how do you repair them here?”

The jet stopped at Sawyer for fuel during a July 2009 trip from Texas to Pakistan. It never left because five of its nine crew members, including the pilot, were Ukrainian nationals with expired visas. Immigration officials deported them back to Ukraine.

The plane was reported stolen and was later tied up in an ownership dispute involving courts in Michigan, Texas and Missouri.