Photo Report – Zlin Z-50M, S5-DET

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Aching to get away – at least for awhile – from the unchanging selection of aircraft at Lučko, I had immediately jumped at the chance to visit Murska Sobota airfield (LJMS) in neighboring Slovenia as part of a photo op for Aeronautika, the aviation mag I write for. Bearing in mind the richness and variation of general aviation aircraft in Slovenia, I was naturally expecting to find at least one interesting aircraft there – and despite the field’s small size, I was not disappointed :).

Thanks to the very friendly and welcoming local pilots, after our op was done (more on that in another post) I was allowed to snoop around the field’s hangars – which, by the way, house five times as many aerobatic aircraft than there are in the whole of Croatia (5 vs 1) :D. Much to my (childish) delight, I had immediately homed onto a very, very rare Zlin Z-50M – an aircraft I’d been told (some years ago) was lurking around this field…

As aerobatic aircraft go, the Z-50 family is not a particularly rare sight today, being one of the most popular intermediate single-seaters in Europe (and in some cases beyond). A very advanced little design from the mid-70s, it was one of the first light aircraft to benefit from computer-aided design and optimization – and was also the world’s first composite material aerobatic aircraft. Despite its apparently diminutive size (it does appear to be smaller than it actually is), it was and still is a stellar performer, thanks in part to the 260-300 HP (depending on the version) Lycoming AEIO-540 flat six.

However, all that power in an aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of just 650 kg meant that the Z-50L – L for Lycoming – was a bit of a handful for the novice pilot. This became a slight problem at the end of the 80s when the need appeared to replace the popular basic aerobatic Z-526s in their single-seat versions, more and more of which were being relegated to non-aerobatic duties because of age. With the Z-50 being the only modern aerobatic design available at Zlin at the time, it was decided to “water it down” a bit to try and fill this niche – if anything as a stop-gap measure until something more appropriate could be designed.

To this end, the new Z-50M was re-engined with a 180 HP Walter M-137AZ inverted straight four, driving a two-blade constant speed propeller – pretty much the same configuration as seen on the Z-526. While this may seem like a big step back, it had made a lot of sense back then: for the target market was already well versed with that engine and had a developed maintenance and overhaul system. On the other hand, acquiring parts and finding licensed mechanics for the Lycoming engine was an expensive affair, which had immediately put any alternative Western engine out of the reach of many existing aerobatic pilots.

For visual recognition: a "standard" Zlin Z-50LX, flown here by a member of the Flying Bulls aerobatic team. Note the three-blade prop and the broad, oval cowling of the comparatively wide AEIO-540...

In the event, only eight Z-50Ms were ever made and preciously few are still flying. “My” example, S5-DET – the only one outside the Czech Republic I think – is one of the lucky ones, still being cared for and regularly flown… 🙂

Instantly recognisable from a mile away :). Looking quite handsome in its retro lively, S5-DET - serial number 0079 - is seen here undergoing some maintenance. I was told that within a few weeks it should be back in the air!

With the long Walter - and its cooling grills - up front, the normally pleasing and curvy design of the Z-50 seems to me a bit - agricultural :). But narrow and streamlined, it does have a certain grace and purposefulness about it. Note also the crowned spinner characteristic to Czech designs (or more precisely their engines)

Apart from the pointy nose, the M version differs little externally from the rest of the family. Underneath there are some significant operational changes though, most notably regarding the G limits, which are reduced to +7/-5 from the L's +8/-6

Rearing up and willing to fly :). I also adore the polished prop and main gear legs, they just look right on this...

Almost looks like a model alongside the big An-2 in the background. Note also how the engine is canted to the left to offset its adverse effects when spinning

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