Caught in the act? An Ethiopian Cargo aircraft spotted loading in Turkey.
October 28, 2021
Multiple articles have recently shown that Ethiopia is in a process of building up a UAV arsenal, including Iranian Mohajer-6 and Chinese Wing Loong I UAVs. This is for example shown by Oryxspioenkop, also citing my work.
Ethiopia is currently involved in a civil war between forces of the Tigray Regional State on one hand, and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) with foreign assistance on the other hand. Although people in the Tigray have been claiming involvement of UAVs as early as late 2020, evidence has only surfaced more recently, for example by Wim Zwijnenburg in early August 2021.
Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport and Baykar
On 14 Oct 2021, a news report by Reuters stated that Turkey was in a process of selling Bayraktar TB2 UAVs to Ethiopia. This raises a question: did these UAVs already arrive to Ethiopia, and if so, when did they?
Several flights are known to have taken place between Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport, home to Baykar facilities, manufacturer of the Bayraktar TB2 UAV, and airports in Ethiopia. These flights will be further introduced below.
Recently, several foreign military aircraft have been seen flying to and from this airport after their owners acquired Baykar UAVs, such as various Royal Moroccan Air Force C-130H Hercules flights in September 2021.
On 18 Aug 2021, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, Turkey. In the period that followed, various irregular cargo charter flights flew from Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport to Harar Meda Airport in Ethiopia, the main air base of the ENDF.
The first of the flights was only two days after Ali’s visit, on 20-21 Aug 2021, and made an intermediate stop at Addis Ababa Bole Airport. Later flights occurred on 25 Aug 2021 and on 24 Sep 2021. All of these flights were operated by Ethiopian Airlines, which was recently linked to weapons transports by CNN.
This post aims to provide previously unknown information about the cargo of the first flight: Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777-F freighter reg. ET-AVQ as flight ET3544 on 20 Aug 2021.
During recent investigations, I came across an image taken on 20 Aug 2021 at Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport, while ET-AVQ was on ground. This image was uploaded around 08:15 local time, about 8 hours before the aircraft returned to Ethiopia. Shadows in the image show that the image was taken shortly before uploading.
A comparison of Google Earth imagery and the image proves that the image was indeed taken at Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport, as shown below. Sentinel-2 satellite imagery proves that a similarly sized and colored aircraft was indeed present on ground on the same location at the airport around 12:10 local time that day.
Like most Ethiopian Airlines aircraft, the last two letters of the aircraft registration are painted above the cockpit windows. The last of them is clearly visible in the image, and can be identified as a Q. The only Ethiopian Airlines 777 freighter aircraft that matches this description is ET-AVQ.
According to an Ethiopian Airlines fact sheet, the Boeing 777F (designated 777-200LRF) is the largest full-cargo aircraft in the Ethiopian Airlines fleet, with a maximum cargo volume of 23,051 cu ft (±653 m³).
The aircraft visible on the right in the background is Ilyushin Il-76TD UP-I7649 (S/N 3707, Production Number 0043449468), which has been stored at the airport since late 2020.
In the center of the image, a regular Turkish Ministry of Health (Sağlık Bakanlığı) Ford Transit ambulance can be seen, parked alongside the freighter.
In front of, next to and next to the rear cargo door of the 777, dollies and cargo can be seen. Three dollies (1-3) are loaded with wooden crates. 4 and 5 show a large amount of black boxes.
Unfortunately, I am unable to further identify this cargo, as the containers seem generic (especially the wooden crates).
Therefore, it remains to be seen whether these boxes can be linked to Bayraktar TB2 UAVs, other military equipment, or other types of cargo. Experts in the field may be able to link this cargo to different delivery of military equipment to Ethiopia.